Sunday, May 06, 2012

Agave-Based Spirits


Every year when Cinco De Mayo rolls around, New York City’s Union Square Wines & Spirits holds its annual tasting of agave-based spirits. A great selection of fine tequilas and mezcals are always on the menu, sometimes even served in cocktails. While I wish I could’ve tasted them all – especially the Fidencio Mezcal – this year, I only had the opportunity to taste two tequilas – Don Julio and Siete Leguas – and one mezcal, the legendary Del Maguey. Ah, well. There’s always next year. But then again, this year wasn’t so bad either. Here’s a summary of the spirits I had an opportunity to try.


Don Julio

The 100% Blue Agave plants that Don Julio uses to make its tequila are not purchased from farmers, as is the case with many other tequila producers – instead, the plants are grown right there on the Don Julio estate itself.



I started the tasting with this one and found it to have an extremely sharp bite and somewhat acidic quality. If you want to make a cocktail and really be able to taste the tequila in it, then I would highly recommend this one.


The reposado was immediately distinguished from the unaged blanco by its smoother, sweeter taste that has considerably less sting. Aged eight months in American Oak barrels, it has notes of caramel, chocolate and some people event said they detected mint. Of all the Don Julio offerings, this one was by far the favorite.


Also aged in American Oak barrels, añejo remains in the cask longer than reposado. Aged 18 months, it is spicier and more full-bodied than the reposado, although I found the difference between the añejo and the reposado to be more subtle than the difference between the blanco and the reposado.


Siete Leguas

Despite an agave shortage that caused about one third of the plants to die, Siete Leguas has still been able to make its tequila to their usual high standards by waiting for the plant to reach seven to eight years of age before being harvested for the spirit.


This blanco might be described as a kinder, gentler tequila compared to the Don Julio as it has much less bite. Fans of Patron might like this one as this company originally made that brand before Patron decided to mass produce their product.


Aged in large bourbon barrels for anywhere from nine months to a year, their reposado offering is sweeter, smoother and mellower than the blanco.


For two years, the añejo is aged in much smaller bourbon barrels; the point of the smaller casks is to allow greater contact with the wood, resulting in more flavor to the tequila. With hints of caramel, its taste has been described as somewhat more tannic than the reposado.


Del Maguey

With a reputation as one of the best mezcals around, Del Maguey’s product is single distilled and high in alcohol. Their mezcals are made from agave plants that are always over eight years old.



With agave plants grown at 6,000 feet above sea level, it has a pungent aroma with a very sharp taste.


The higher above sea level, the thinner the air – and this seems to have a direct impact on the agave plants used in this mezcal, which are grown in soil that is 7,000 feet above sea level. The yeast and sugar changes the profile of this offering, along with the local herbs and spices indigenous to the area.

Santo Domingo

In addition to the thinner air at the higher levels, plants are in closer proximity to the sun; this results in the agave producing more sugar, causing the spirit made from them to be sweeter. Such is the case with this mezcal, whose agave plants are grown 8,500 feet above sea level. With all of its mezcals made from crushed agave plants roasted in a pit, Del Maguey’s products tend to be extremely smoky; the exception, though, would be the Santo Domingo. So, if you prefer a mezcal that’s a bit lighter on the smokiness, you might want to give Santo Domingo a shot.



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