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Houston couple launches a new tequila in their hometown: Will quality be reborn with Izkali?

Houston couple launches a new tequila in their hometown: Will quality be reborn with Izkali?

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Ignacio and Nydia Flores with F. Paul Pacult. Photo by Ana Blomeier
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Izkali launches with three tequilas: Blanco, Reposado and Añejo. Photo via Izkali Tequila
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News_Izkali_tequila

There's been much hand wringing about the decline of quality tequila, especially at the hands of amateur American entrepreneurs.

But when Izkali tequila launched in its hometown of Houston this month, it had built-in legitimacy and a significant supporter in F. Paul Pacult, the spirits industry's most prominent journalist. Pacult's enviable palate has sampled countless spirits through his consulting work and his role as a founder of Ultimate Beverage Challenge, a nationally recognized beverage competition. He's perhaps best known, however, as the publisher and editor of F. Paul Pacult's Spirit Journal, an old-school, ad-less quarterly newsletter that reviews new spirits, wine and beer.

 Appropriately, the name "Izkali" means "birth" in the native Aztec language. Pacult says he advised the Floreses to birth their brand at home in Houston, then nurture it slowly and steadily before releasing it to other markets. 

Izkali was founded by Stafford-based couple Ignacio and Nydia Flores, who own a distribution company focused on bringing Mexican products to U.S. markets. Launching a tequila brand was a no-brainer then, they say.

The family doesn't own agave fields, but they knew a skilled distiller in Mexico's San Jose de Gracia — Hacienda Capellania.

Both Ignacio and Nydia were educated in Mexico, and each have backgrounds that make them particularly attuned to owning a tequila brand. Ignacio is a former chemist, for one, while Nydia has spent more than 20 years handling their business finances and day-to-day operations.

For the past three years, the couple have traveled Mexico every few months to sample their work and make plans for the brand's launch, which includes a blanco, reposado and an añejo.

The blanco (also called a silver tequila) tastes like raw salt and dill with hints of black pepper. All the Flores' tequilas are made with 100 percent blue agave sourced from Mexico's lowlands, where the iron-rich soil lends to the spirits' suppleness. Each tequila is distilled to 110-proof and then brought down to 80-proof, or 40-percent alcohol, for bottling.

Both bartenders at the tasting at Hilton Post Oak were graduates of Pacult's own training company, and crafted us a tequila-forward traditional margarita with only the blanco, squeezed lime juice and agave nectar for sweetness. A lesser tequila couldn't have made it on its own between such accessory ingredients, but this one did.

The reposado — which won the Chairman's Trophy in Pacult's 2011 Ultimate Cocktail Challenge, but we'll get to that — is considerably sweeter. It spent around eight months in American white oak barrels formerly used to age bourbon, and it shows in the touches of maple, vanilla, cloves and a hint of cinnamon. For the reposado, we're made a classic Paloma with grapefruit soda and a hint of lime — the same cocktail that earned Izkali Reposado the Chairman's Trophy, the beverage competition equivalent of Best in Show.

But it's the añejo, as always, that's my favorite. Barrel-aged 18 months in a teensy 200-liter barrel, it hugs the glass and is heady with baking spices — nutmeg, almond and more vanilla.

Izkali isn't close to the first or the only brand Pacult has helped launch, but he's clearly committed to the product. The companies he consults with are usually much larger — think Cointreau — but Pacult says that he and his wife liked Izkali immediately. He trusts his taste, but they decided to put it to their peers at the Ultimate Spirits Challenge. If the tequila did well, they'd take the Floreses on as consulting clients.

On a scale of one to 100, with 100 being the best, the blanco and reposado each scored an 87 and the añejo scored a 93 as first-time entrants.

"It's not a tequila for the masses," Pacult says, and he means that in the most complimentary way. If one doubted that a broad critic of wine, beer and spirits can really know good tequila, Pacult offers that a five-star tequila, in his estimation, is Partida Reposado.

Appropriately, the name "Izkali" means "birth" in the native Aztec language. Pacult says he advised the Floreses to birth their brand at home in Houston, then nurture it slowly and steadily before releasing it to other markets.

Izkali is currently only available at the Midtown Spec's and retails for around $28 for a bottle of blanco, $34 for reposado and $38 for añejo. Want it at your local grocer or favorite Mexican joint? Request it — we will be.