I have long been a loyal whiskey and brandy woman. But in the last few months - as many of us are quarantined at home - I haveReallyopened my heart to tequila. (Not that I needed much convincing.)
I first visited the tequila distilleries in Jalisco in 2018, and the whole experience - from meeting the jimadors and maestro tequileros to eating pre-Hispanic Mexican delicacies - was profoundly brilliant. Nowadays, I find myself reminiscing endlessly about that trip. So I'm either drinking an extra pure añejo or stirring a blanco into a cocktail recipe.The new book by Ivy Mix, tequila now features regularly in your rotationmy night cocktail.
But, as with most spirits, there's always a lot to learn. And the discovery process never ends – like everything else in life, if you live it fully.
So I reached out to self-proclaimed “agave nerd” Janice Bailon, who is first and foremost an educator—in addition to being the founder ofPowered by Agaveand the barman emBourbon and San Francisco Branch. I wanted (really needed) more recommendations that went way beyond what's available at my local liquor store - because even in New York, the good selections can be very limited. And Bailon generously thanked him.
“When I entered this industry in 2001, tequila options were incredibly limited. What I always saw on the shelves were the big names in tequila today: Jose Cuervo, Sauza, Hornitos, Herradura and rising star Patron,” says Bailon. "These were my steps into the world of agave. In my travels through Mexico, I experienced the ritual of the process and the heart it takes to make that spirit… knowing the history for me was a more authentic way of offering choices to those I served. As my taste buds and the industry have expanded, I've come to know some of the smaller producers personally - and tend to lean towards them. Especially in these critical times, it's extremely important to support small producers. The United States is the largest importer of tequila , having more than80 percent of total world exports.»
Bailon's deep dive into the tequila world began when she started working at Tupelo in 2011, which admittedly wasn't exactly tequila: "The amount of whiskey I consumed there started to take a toll on my body and I quickly switched to tequila (and soon I'd serve tequilas side by side to understand the nuances of each one and fresh watermelon margaritas as if summer could never stop. Living in San Francisco, it would also be impossible for me not to praise Julio Bermejo , who has been an incredible tequila guru to me. I am forever grateful for his friendship and knowledge. During my journey from server to bartender, tequila was my drink of choice. But it wasn't until I joined the bar staffDevil's FieldIt was in the fall of 2015 that my palate really opened its guard to a new experience. There I met your mastersPure Butter: Darren Crawford e Eric Giardina, which opened my eyes to the world of mezcal. Then I took a trip to Oaxaca in January 2016 and my life was changed forever. Eric and his team guided us topalenquesand sights of Oaxaca. Having immersed myself in the beauty and culture of Mexico, I was hooked. After that, I made the decision to dedicate my life to the love of all things agave."
Here, Bailon has listed its top off-the-radar tequila picks that would-be drinkers should consider. The list is a good mix of highs and lows - with one common denominator: great taste.
“I wanted a list that was accessible to all budgets and palates — but supported my ideals. Most of these bottles are still available and can be found in major markets, although they are more difficult to obtain in places like Ohio. I also reached out to bartenders in Georgia, Ohio, Chicago and Alabama to see what they had available,” says Bailon. “Living in San Francisco gives me a lot more variety than most markets, and I wanted to stay on top of that. Weber's 100% blue agave tequila is at the forefront of the criteria. Because gold or oro tequilas can contain up to 49% non-agave sugars, which are fuller-bodied than tequila. I also consider process and history. There are different processes that companies can use to extract sugars (i.e. roller mill, tahona, diffuser), but diffuser-type tequilas seem to have lost eight to ten years. If agave traditionally takes this long to grow, why not take the time to honor its growth with a slow cooking process rather than speeding it up with the possible use of hydrochloric acid? It looks like doom and gloom. Also: Over time, agave changes based on terroir and I have found that some years are better than others. This list takes into account availability and is more what's interesting and different about today's tequila industry than an all-time hits list. Texture, flavor nuances and salinity/acid levels are also taken into account.”
The Resting Arango (49$)
"This is one of the few tequila expressions that isn't Jalisco-based — Los Arango comes from Guanajuatom," says Bailon. "Flavors of light chamomile, ground black pepper and a hint of condensed milk in its sweetened style, refreshes with alcohol on the back - quickly cleansing the palate to be ready for another sip."
Rested Strength ($60)
“I'm a big fan of Fortaleza and everything they do,” says Bailon. “Guillermo's family heritage shines through in his brand, bringing back the process traditions of his predecessors. I've always been a big fan of their blanco, but recently I've been favoring their reposado. The slight hint of caramel completes some of the citrus notes found in the blanco and allows me to drink more than I'd like to admit. Drinking is like drinking a sunset.”
Grand Dovejo Red Cask Strength ($ 53)
“This limited release in Chicago has me screaming dulce de leche! That and notes of marzipan at the end. However, it (largely) keeps the agave in the foreground,” says Bailon. “The cask aging allows these flavors to show up on a larger shelf. Where Gran Dovejo Añejo also retains many of these nuances, the strength of the barrel shines through with the first sip.”
White Spur (25$)
"Let's be honest, many of these options aren't always available and the Espolón has become my passion in these situations," says Bailon. “Fairly priced and made from 100% agave, it's an easy sip with floral notes. Also, I enjoy a Batanga (tequila, coke, lime, salt) every now and then. I prefer to use Espolón for that. Creamy in the mouth and present agave.”
Planting White Valleys (53$)
"David Suro has done a lot for the tequila industry, not only bringing to light the stylistic differences in the agave terroir, but also through his work as founder of the Tequila Exchange Program," says Bailon. “Through Siembra Valles, we experience what valley-style tequila can be. It's wet earth and moss with a clean finish. The topography of the valley contains different mineral qualities compared to agave grown at higher altitudes, giving us a nice change from a heavy, premium highland selection.”
G4 Branco (47 $)
“Frankenstein! Frankenstein! Frankenstein! That's the name of the mechanical tahona that Felipe Camarena uses to crush his agave. So unique in its process, the flavors I get from this expression are on par. Freshly cut lemongrass and sweetgrass—with hints of clay. This is a fun expression that stands out."
Eight Single Estate Agaves Tequila Picture Rancho Plata: Las Pomez ($43)
“Carlos Camerena and Tomas Estes are the genius team behind Tequila Ocho,” says Bailon. “For those who approach agave like wine, this is the brand to try. They own a single agave terroir so honestly that they change batch after batch. While I love the macadamia notes in El Bajío 2019, I really fell in love with Las Pomez. It's the combination of tropical fruit and pomelo that hooked me on this brand in particular, that conveyed what I love about this brand in general. It returns respect to the roots."
Arette Branco (24 $)
"The Oranendain family has been a devoted family of growers for a long time," says Bailon. “For me, my first experience with Arette was with a Tommy-style margarita. But my first love for the brand came when I woke up across the street from the distillery in Tequila City. Clusters of freshly cooked agave spilling out my window make me instantly thirsty just thinking about it. Bright citrus notes and a light lingering note of celery leaf balance this wonderful expression.”
El Tesoro Paradiso Extra Añejo (US$130)
“I can never say no to this bottle. In fact, it's rare that you find me crazy about extra añejos, as I really love the sparkle and spirit that can be found in the blanco style, but reallyamorParadise”, says Bailon. “An extra five-year-old style añejo that rests in barrels of ex-Cognac from start to finish, is a beautiful expression of what is well done with ageing. This expression plays with French oak to create a creamy caramel agave with hints of charcoal.”
Cazcanes No. 9 White ($90)
“I love sitting at Julio Bermejo's bar in San Francisco. Tommy's is a mecca for tequila lovers, and sitting in front of the legend himself is an invaluable experience,” says Bailon. “The wealth of knowledge I inherited just from listening to your bar is enough to drive anyone to my geeky spot. It was here that I tried Cazcanes for the first time. I remember the wonderfully round body from this moment and the sweet agave with a slight grapefruit tick.”
Fuenteseca White Harvest 2013 ($90)
“This blanco is a spiritual experience in a bottle. I can smell the Palo Santo in my nose, which immediately takes me to the next level. The medium body and texture are completely satisfying with a clean and balanced finish.”
Tapatio Excellence Grand Reserve Extra Añejo ($170 for 1 hour)
"Impressive. Incredible beyond words," says Bailon. "The agave front and oak crème brûlée is a unicorn you might find - and when you find it, it dances up and down the palate. I also appreciate all the attention to detail with this one bottle, including a short rest in five liter glass tanks before bottling. This is a precious gem to be cherished."
23rd Street Creole ($100)
“This is what I call my crazy bottle that I can't get enough of! I am so in love,” says Bailon. “Criollo is a subset of the Blue Weber agave strain, which grows in the highlands of Jalisco. At full maturity, agaves grow small with high sugar levels. The flavor that comes from this juice is very good. The flavors develop in waves and it is oily and heavy in the mouth. Mint and green tones, then cinnamon spice with a little oyster shell at the end. This is certainly a complex and special expression. Furthermore, Sophie Decobecq is a scientific 'G' agave (gangster and genius) and deserves all recognition as one of the few female producers dealing with a male-dominated industry."
La Gritona Rested ($25 for 375ml)
"Herbs and round, this is another distilled feminine expression that's easy on the pocketbook (and on the palate)," says Bailon. “Distilled by Melly Cardenas, they use recycled glass in some of the cutest packaging around. I discovered this brand during my time working at Cask in San Francisco and it remains a regular and affordable favorite.”
Arabian Branco ($32)
“I mean, it's Cascahuin. They do an amazing job with all of their expressions. Salty, papaya and silky minerality, I love drinking it in the backyard of the Lost Resort in San Francisco. Extremely long at the end, it's a good afternoon talk on the porch.”
Patio 110 White ($53 for 1 liter)
"Big, bright and beautiful, the Tapitio 110 is my cure-all," says Bailon. “At 110 proof, you'd think it would light up your face, but really, it's more like someone flashing a bright light in a dark room and you wake up instantly and you're ready to go. It's my go-to fuel when times are slow and you need a pick-me-up. It's a staple favorite of the Bourbon and Branch staff, needless to say I may have sparked that trend there.
Dom Fulano Amarelo (64$)
"Velvet and rich, cinnamon and dried fruit perfection. I find myself sipping this fireplace in the cutest robes. It's one of my favorite nightcaps."
Seven Leagues of Rest (60$)
“Another expression that has long been a favorite. Sips of golden heat balanced with subtle spice and ease. This tequila was first introduced to me as the tequila makers who initially helped make it a regular, with the first sip I was hooked."
This article was originally published byForbes.com. read itoriginal article here.