No chaser needed
The Holy Grail of Mexican tequilas finally hits the Houston market: This is no spring break shot
If tequila conjures images of shot glasses and spring break: You’re doing it wrong. Houston is about to receive agave nectar to sip, not shoot, and it’s thanks to local cocktail pros who won’t shake up a subpar tequila-based creation.
With Houston being a leader in the food and drink industry, it’s only fitting that the city would welcome Mexico’s top distillery, La Altena, the 75-year-old company that finally decided to distribute its fine tequila in the States this past summer. Resistance to American distribution came from a fear that the company would experience a supply shortage if it expanded to another market.
In the meantime, star bartenders from the United States visited the distillery, sought out bottles wherever they could and hoarded samples for personal consumption only.
“Patron is a very nice brand . . . for beginners."
Two local mezcal-loving industry experts, Anvil’s Bobby Heugel and Alba Huerta, once master mixer at Anvil and the lady behind the upcoming Julep, have both made the trek out to the family-owned business in Arandas, Mexico. After being warmly hosted by master distiller and owner Carlos Camarena, the two returned the favor by inviting him and the tequila brand's ambassador Tomas Estes to Blacksmith for a tasting event featuring La Altena’s Tequila Tapatio and Tequila Ocho.
At the tasting, both Tapatio and Ocho were served in snifters (not shot glasses) in three expressions: Blanco, which requires no aging, reposado, aged for at least two months, and añejo, aged for at least one year. Añejo is the smoothest variation since the extended aging helps hide flaws in the spirit, working as a “makeup for the tequila.” Those who prefer full-bodied, spicy spirits will lean towards Tapatio, and those who prefer more subdued, crisp sipping will order a second snifter of the Ocho. Either way, these were made to savor and appreciate, not to chase with lime and salt.
Along with a pour of each spirit, the guys brought little bit of trash talk and a whole bunch of education.
“Patron is a very nice brand . . . for beginners,” joked Camarena, noting that what many consumers pay for is the pretty bottle. He takes pride in his own modest packaging that holds a well-crafted spirit. Along with Altena’s simple label, the product itself has not changed since the company’s inception.
“We are very small and want to preserve everything done in the traditional, artisanal way,” Camarena says.
The amount of tequila they produce won’t affect Americans’ impression of Mexican products, but the caliber of the product will.
He went on to explain that tequila has terroir, just like wine, despite what some skeptics might think. Special emphasis is placed on topographical factors that affect not only the quantity of product produced but the quality as well. Camarena’s background in agricultural engineering has given him a better understanding of how his organically-grown agave plants thrive and how they produce a finer product.
With one of his house tequilas having been voted best in the world, Camarena says he takes special pride in his craft not just because of his family name, but because he cares for how the Mexican import is represented. He notes that the amount of tequila they produce won’t affect Americans’ impression of Mexican products, but the caliber of the product will.
Even though the elusive spirit is the best tequila I’ve tasted in the States, at about $37 for a 750-ml unit of Ocho or a 830-ml unit of Tapatio, it’s actually less expensive than bestselling brands like Patron. But then again, Patron does sell its tequila in great-looking bottles.