I have been whining the last few times about Tequila not doing it for me anymore, and why is there “no one” making tequila the way “it should” be made according to my own taste bla bla bla. The explanation I have given myself for not appreciating Tequila the way i used to is quite simple. A few years back now I started experiencing Mezcal, which has been a great ride, and i find true happiness in drinking it. It gives me what Tequila used to give me, a full on tasting experience ending in a big smile.
Mezcal is usually at a higher proof than Tequila, so it made sense for me to start the evening by drinking Tequila and finishing off with Mezcal, but after a while, the Tequila started feeling blunt and too smooth, and it is not only the taste that differs, it is the whole experience, which left me very puzzled in the beginning. But it is really quite simple. To some extent it comes down to the proof of the distillate, higher proof gives more concentration of taste, we all know this so that is nothing new. But for a while that was it, though I was never really happy with that story. So one day I took one of my favorite Mezcals to see what happens if I diluted it. I started to add a few drops of pure water to see if the reaction was similar to that of whiskey. The Mezcal in this case should try to push the water away and open up for aromas, and the experience should become richer. with the first few drops and nothing much happened, I added a few more and a few more after that, the end result should be a decrease of approximately 4%. The only result I got out of this was that the Mezcal I had in my glass was now diluted and the alcohol burn got stronger. Bummer, not what i expected. Though I had a good idea about it. I got similar result with Tequila and could not understand why. Eventually i went the long way around and did the same experiment with other spirits, and the conclusion was that spirits made from all kinds of starch converted to sugar, seemed to give an reaction, dramatic aroma changes, smoother fuller flavors etc, while the agave which does not contain starch but instead fructose and glucose felt more harsh, more diluted and not as fresh and enriching as before. So simple as, agave does not mix well with water, at least not if what you are after is a rich, full-bodied, yet smooth agave distillate. To go further with this idea, I had to get a bad Tequila and see what happened if i separated the water from the alcohol. So me and Lorry fired up the still to get some high proof Tequila and what we got was somewhere around 70% (which by law is not a tequila anymore, a maximum of 55% abc is allowed). Starting with a very poor product the end result was surprisingly good. The agave got full on, very sweet, straight from the oven kind of flavors, very strong though.
The conclusion of this must be that agave distillates and water should not mix. Agave should always de distilled to proof in my humble opinion, based entirely on my own conclusions, experiments, common sense and no what so ever scientific proof. As i found out over the years there are a few distilleries that do distill to proof even if that is 40% and you can clearly taste difference. that said, one producer could be better than the other. There is however two people that to some extent do agree with me, Tomas Estes and Carlos Camarena who together just released hands down the best Tequila I have tried since I can remember, Ocho Cask Strength Single Barrel Anejo at 54.5% abv. On top of that Carlos is releasing a Tapatio Blanco at a full 55% abv, Look forward to that, a liter of liquid smile!
Thats all for this time. Salud!
It has been a while now since I wrote a little something here, and I guess I could excuse myself, but I am not. It is for a really good cause. Right now I am building my first bar, a real dream come true moment, and it is still a bit hard to get a grip on that this is actually happening. The bar is called The Barking Dog, and will as the name might indicate not be an all about Tequila bar, but more of a traditional bar. Of course I will make sure to offer the best agave spirits in Denmark. As most people could imagine it is a lot of work building a bar, and I will not have time to keep this blog active for a few months. I will however do some repost’s so that new comers to the blog have a chance to catch up.
The first repost is one of my earliest, I got on the phone with Tomas Estes to get inspiration. For a long time I felt stuck professionally, and having a real good conversation with an expert on the subject always seems to clear things up a bit. Read: On the phone with Tomas Estes..
The last year or two Olmeca has made a lot of noise in the Tequila world, especially working together with Tahona Society on a global Tequila training program. Basically they have been all over the world, sharing their passion for Tequila. International margarita competition was a part of that as well, where finalists were taken to Mexico to get to know the real culture and get a feel for what the Tequila life is all about. Unfortunately Pernod Ricard has not yet seen the potential of Olmeca Altos in Denmark.
But this we all knew, so what is it that is cooking. Olmeca Altos has just partnered up with Tequila ambassador Tomas Estes, and will become a priority brand in his restaurants, Pacifico & La Perla. According to the brand, Estes works closely with the Mexican National Tequila Chamber and has “contributed to the growing success of Tequila globally”, which I think we can all agree on. So what does it mean to be a priority brand, well in this case it means, customer awareness, new cocktail menu, staff uniforms and a mural in the restaurant. Olivier Fages, international vice president of Olmeca, said: “Olmeca Altos is already available in many top-end outlets in the UK, and this partnership will enable us to target new consumers in a cocktail environment, while feeding into our ambitious plans for continued growth in Europe.”
Estes said: “With the increased demand for high quality 100% agave Tequilas, the addition of Olmeca Altos to their [Olmeca] portfolio in 2009 was an exciting phase for the brand, and has established them as a preferred choice within the bartender community.
“Working closely with Olmeca’s cocktail experts Henry Besant, Matthias Lataille and Steffin Oghene, we look forward to creating a series of drinks for our menu that will perfectly compliment the wonderful qualities of Olmeca Altos as well as creating stimulating, educational activities around tequila.”
Which naturally leads us on to the next topic, Matthias Lataille who Pernod Ricard recently appointed UK brand ambassador for Olmeca Altos. (Congrats Brother!)
Lataille said: “Since joining The Tahona Society team, I have been raising awareness of the tequila category internationally and the unique qualities of Olmeca Altos.
“In this new role, I will focus on the vibrant UK cocktail scene and take Altos to the next level, through continued education of the category.
Hopefully this also raises awareness for Altos in Denmark. Our neighbours in Sweden are on it, so I guess it is a matter of time, bring it on! And until you do I guess I have to spend more time wanting to open the Altos Repo I have standing on my shelf at home, signed by master distiller Jesus Hernandez. One of the many treasures I got hold of this summer. This one was a gift from Matthias, gracias!
What better day to get a bottle of Ocho (spanish for eight) than on June 8th? Actually I got a sneak peek at the Ocho 2010 Los Mangos Blanco last night but from today Ocho will be available via my dear friends at Juuls Vinhandel. But let us get down to business, what is Ocho and what makes it special? Well, Ocho is a joint venture between Tomas Estes, the ambassador of Tequila in Europe and the Camarena family, who also produces Tapatio, El Tesoro and recently Excellia. What makes Tequila Ocho special is that they only harvest agaves from one field (rancho) at a time. Every field is different and have different characteristics, the french term for this as I am sure most of you know is Terroir. Terroir is used to describe the natural elements that have an effect on agriculture, notably grapes grown for wine production. These elements include, soil composition, altitude, temperatures day and night through the year, rain fall, humidity and exposition to sun and winds.
It is becoming more and more agreed upon that the concept of terroir also exists with the growing of agave and the Tequila made from it. In Jalisco, the largest Tequila producing state of Mexico there are two large regions of agave and Tequila production, the Tequila Valley and Los Altos (The Highlands). As a general guideline, it is said that Tequilas made from agaves from Tequila Valley are masculine, forward in flavour with an earthy, peppery, herbal taste profile. The Tequilas made from agaves grown in Los Altos are feminine, softer, rounder, more fruity and floral. Remember that this is a guideline, as in not always correct, and never a statement of quality. Tequila Ocho takes the exploration of ‘terroir’ in tequila one giant step beyond by producing batches of Tequila from single fields (ranchos) much the way fine Burgundy wine is produced.
The process of making Ocho is somewhat more similar to the concept of making Mezcal, in the sense that the process it not stressed in any way. There is simply no shortcuts to get the full flavor of the agave. This said there are quite a few Tequila producers out there doing the real deal. When I went to La Altena, the distillery of Tapatio and El Tesoro, we also took a tour down to what was to become La Esmeralda, the distillery of Ocho. When I was there it was pretty mych an empty shell, the holes were digged out for the two tahonas (stone mills). There is something very powerful about a distillery that is not functioning. I have only seen two, La Providencia in Arenal and La Esmeralda in Arandas, somehow it is very easy to imagine the history of what has been and what is to come when you stand there. Big gaps between walls, sand blowing around, the empty echoes and completely surrounded by agaves. Very peaceful.
The funny thing about the Tequila industry is that no matter what people tell you, there is always another story. La Esmeralda never started making Ocho, but was instead the phantom distillery for Ocho. Why? La Altena was on a contract not to make another Tequila that could compete with El Tesoro in the states. Ones the contract finished, the official story could slowly, very slowly make it out into the world. I have met many people in the Tequila industry involved with Ocho one way or another, and not many people seem to know that La Altena is the distillery producing Ocho. Theese are words from Tomas Estes himself, so let us put that in the pile or reliable sources. “I think La Esmeralda was the phantom distillery you were shown. It is now in operation making some of the best ever juice to come out of los altos. -Tomas”
I will make a short introduction to what Rancho Los Mangos is and why it gives such a special flavour. Rancho “Los Mangos” is close to Michoacan along the Rio Lerma. It is dry and very hot in summer and has brown soil similar to that in the Tequila Valley. The ranch is surrounded by mountains. The Camarena Family used to go from Arandas to Rancho Los Mangos for week-end holidays and Sunday lunches. The one and a half hour drive is beautiful going through mountains , quaint villages and agave fields planted on the hillsides. Just before arriving at “Los Mangos” the soil is absolutely black in colour. Before being planted in agave (for the first time with this harvest) this land grew mangos and cherries. Some of these trees are left but not many. The rancho belonged to Carlos and Felipe’s great grandfather, Refucio Curiel. Carlos planted agave on his uncle’s land in 2000 making the age of the agaves 9 years old at harvest. Average weight of the pinas was 47-48kilos with some being over 85kilos with an average sugar content of 29-30%, industry average being 26%. Altitude is 1600 meters and this ranch is the furthest away from Arandas of all of the Camarena’s ranches being in Ayotlan County which is part of the Los Altos de Jalisco.
To those of you who still are interested and want to know more about the production of Ocho, do not worrie, just keep on reading. If not, then you should have a very good base to stand on.
Piñas are cut in half on the ‘patio’ after arriving to distillery directly from the fields. The cogollos (center) are removed from the male plants as they will add a bitterness. The halved piñas are cooked at low heat (around 80-85 degress Celsius) for 48 hours and sit in the oven for an additional 24 hours (total 72 hours in oven). By cooking slowly at such low heat, the Camarena’s are insuring that the sugars do not get burned and thus caramelized. The juice that results from the first 12 hours cooking is called ‘bitter honey’ and is discarded (it contains dirt from the agaves’ exterior surfaces as well as some of the agaves waxy green coating, which would impart bitterness to the final product).
The cooked agaves are then passed through a mill and sprayed with spring water to extract the remaining juices. The mill effectively mills or shreds the agave fiber and strips it of most remaining juice.
The resulting juice or nectar from the above two processes is known as ‘agua miel’.
Before going to the fermentation tanks, the agua miel will have spring water added to it in order to reduce the brix level so the yeast will be able to ferment properly. The ideal brix level for the agua miel to be reduced to for fermentation is about 9%.
Fermentation takes place in small (around 3,000 liters capacity) wooden vats (most distilleries have large, stainless steel). Fermentation lasts between 4-5 days (96-120 hours), depending on the season. Fermentation is all natural, using no added accelerators, chemicals, enzymes, or even yeast. Fermentation is ‘wild’ using natural yeast in the air. The mosto is kept at a temperature of about 35° C, a good temperature for the yeast. At the end of fermentation the mosto muerto will be pumped into the still for the first distillation.
The first distillation takes place in a 3,300 liter stainless steel still. The still is heated very slowly (using steam running through a coil). The first distillation will be relatively quick (1-2 hours maybe), and the alcohol coming out of it will be about 25% abv. and is known as ordinario. To be called tequila it must be (at least) twice distilled (and be between 35-55% abv). The distillers cut the heads and tails from the distillate, which ends up being about 5% of the ordinario. The heads will be re-used for the second distillation, because they contain superior alcohols (very high abv. Content) and will thus evaporate and pass through the still first, acting as a cleaning for the still since the last thing to pass through would have been the tails of the last distillation, which contain harmful elements (ie. Methanol).
The second distillation takes place in a very small copper still (300 liters) and will take about 4 hours to complete. The still is quickly heated to 65°C and then the steam is nearly shut off, only being allowed to very slowly heat the still. The tequila will start coming out of the still when the still reaches the temp. of about 78°C and will contain a high level of alcohol (about 76%) AND FLAVOR. The first 5 liters (about) are removed (heads). Once the still’s heat gets up to 91-92°C, the liquid coming out of the still is barely alcoholic and has a somewhat unpleasant taste. At this point the liquid coming out the still is deemed to be tails and is cut.
By distilling Ocho so slowly, the Camarenas are insuring that no harmful elements end up in their tequila.
After the second distillation (at which point the tequila is about 48% abv.) the tequila will be brought down to proof (40% abv.) using demineralized spring water. Most other tequila brands distill to 55% abv. Tequila Ocho (blanco) is then stored in stainless steel vats until bottling.
The Ocho destined to become Reposado will put in barrels (ex-bourbon; either Jack Daniel’s, Jim Beam, or Wild Turkey) to age for 8 weeks 8 days (just four days over the minimum (60 days) by Mexican law).
The Añejo is aged for one year exactly (El Vergel Añejo was one year one day, because the CRT could not make it on the right day!).
So now you know. Salud Amigos!
Tomas Estes is one of the most influential persons in the Tequila industry, apart from the distillers themselves. Tomas was chosen by the Mexican government to be the face of Tequila in Europe. Awarded with a life time achievement award from Theme Magazine, he is still putting in work, paying the dues, by talking to me on the phone.
I got the idea to write about some of Tomas work when i spent yet another night sleepless on the computer searching for answers of everything and nothing. I have for a while felt i a bit stuck professionally, and been trying to figure out where to go from here. And Tomas came to mind, the times we have met he always seemed like a very down to earth guy, and i really do admire all the work he put in for Tequila.
I sent a email asking if he was interested in answering a few simple questions, and a few emails later we figured out that no matter how good email is today, nothing beats a good ol’ conversation. The following day Tomas called me, and the conversation flowed from beginning to end and before we knew it almost an hour had passed, Tomas ran out of battery and i completely forgot to ask most of my questions. So taking it from there it just came quite natural to kind of sum up the conversation, so it goes a little something like this.
B) When did you fall in love with Tequila?
T) I fell in love with tequila early on , when i was about 19. I used to go to Ensenada in Baja California and dig Mexico . I loved [and still do] Mexico because it is immediate and real, there is a sense of life there that gets to me.
B) So it started out as a good time, the surroundings, but it is quite a big step from there to where you are today, what was it that gave you the urge to spread the word about Teuila?
T) I got the urge to spread the word when I realized how important Tequila was to my restaurant/bar business. This was about 1996. At this point I got focused and serious about studying and developing my relationship with Tequila. Tequila at the time did not have the recognition it deserved and I had a feeling inside me that i could do this. I could help change people’s wiev on Tequila.
To change the thought to action, I realized that if i wanted to really be involved with tequila [and be a person central to all things tequila] i would need to ‘pay my dues’, do the research, visit tequileros, take notes , be there, listen, ask questions, write, talk, be tequila. From there I tought my bartenders first of all, made sure that they knew a lot about the brands they were serving, and the differences between them, so that they could sell them to the public in a very responsable way, personalise their choice of tequila, by asking questions around the customers prefered flavours. Explaining what tequila is, and the difference between them. To do this every way possible from face to face in bars, media or via blogs. I organised tastings where the guests got to play a bit with Tequila. I got them a little bit drunk, I let it have some life, energy and passion and not at all like a school. I was trying to get people to write about Tequila, but that seemed impossible at the time, so i did it myself. The problem now was to get i published. I called in all favours i could to get it out there.
B) Being out there living the Tequila life sounds like a great amount of time invested, a lot of good times i am sure. You must have an endless amount of stories to tell about this time, but what is it that makes Mexico and Tequila so different?
T) My first trip to Old Mexico was in 1966 to Mazatlan. After that I was to make numerous trips to Baja and Old Mexico, living there during the summer months, camping on the beach, digging just about everything Mexico had to offer, its food, drink, people and especially its way of life. I was feeding my fantasy, giving myself into my inspiration.
What Mexico is, its romance, its edgy adventure, its otherworldlyness are all embodied in its national drink, tequila. Tequila is Mexico. The energy of so many days, years under the powerful Mexican sun accumulates in the agave and transmits this and its earthly struggle through the fermentation and distillation processes into the glass and into the heart, the psyche of the drinker. In tequila remains the sorrows, the joys, the dark longings of Mexican existence. In tequila is life, your life, tequila will show you your inner state.
B) When you look back at your accomplishments today, what do you see?
T) I am proud of my accomplishments. I have dared to go out in the wildlands in front and explore. This I have done for my personal challenges, for my own growth [the same reasons why I went to mexico]. My goals were to follow my creativity and inner independent stirrings and not to gain money.
B) Last but not least Tomas, what does the crystal ball of the future say?
T) More and more Mexican owned companies will sell to foreign giants. This has and will continue to have profound effects on all aspects of Tequila production, marketing, sales and consumption. think about what this means. the tequila industry would do well to work more closely together for world-wide pan-category promotion. This means individual brands working together to promote tequila as an entire category, to gain market share from other spirits categories such as vodka, gin, rum etc.
B) Thanks a lot for your time Tomas!
T) Carl, all the best to you and the bar family there with you in Copenhagen, Tomas.
We got to talk about a lot more than this, but it was kind of the idea i had for this in the first place. Tomas is at the time writing a book with the working name ”Tequila – The Drinkers Guide” which will be a book from a Tequila drinkers point of wiev. ”Kind of a scrap-book full of Tequila related stories, experiences, recipes etc.” The book will be slightly different to most books written about alcohol, it will be controversial and a bit ballsy, ”What would a book be if we couldnt write what we wanted in it?”. This is all in collaboration with Simon Difford, and a release is thought to be in spring 2011.
Buenas Tardes Amigos y Amigas!