You may remember my article from a few weeks back about our attempt to bring in tequila made by the same people who market it. Much like we do with our Champagne selection, we have chosen to seek out smaller grower/producers who are interested in tequila and the process of making it, rather than just the money from selling it. Today, I met with Jacob Lustig who works for Haas Brothers in San Francisco. He's the guy who brought us Cyrus Noble Bourbon and a few other interesting mezcals. What I didn't know about Jacob was that his principle position at Southern Wine & Spirits for more than a decade was as manager of the "Latino/Hispanic" products i.e. tequila and mezcal. Jacob was actually born in San Francisco, but moved back and forth between Oaxaca and the Bay Area beginning as a 6 year old. He and his mother would plant agave for fun while there and Jacob took a serious interest in the plant. When he attended UCSC as a college student, he specifically studied the history of the Mexican liquor business. While working at Southern, Jacob noticed that all of the relationships between U.S. conglomerate companies and Mexican distillers ended with all the boutique producers left in the dust. Everything was about bulk, rather than quality. After 11+ years at SWS, Jacob finally decided to use his long-standing relationships and his encyclopedic knowledge to help bring his favorite producers into the country. He quit his job and started working as an importer.
With his new Tequila ArteNOM Seleccion line up of artisan spirits, Jacob has created a series of bottles that lets the consumer know exactly where the tequila is from, who distilled it, and where the dstillery is located. In fact, each tequila is named after the actual NOM of the distillery that produced it (Norma Oficial Mexicana - given to each distillery and printed on every bottle of tequila and mezcal). This is exactly the kind of transparency I've been begging for! Consumers (at least our consumers) want to know where there booze is made! They want to know the differences between the facilities and the type of agave they are using. Jacob is well aware of this and, more importantly, he is able to articulate them. I was so blown away with his presentation today that I will once again be resurrecting the K&L Spirits Podcast for a one hour conversation about tequila this evening. All of the following tequilas were made especially for Jacob and his label. Here's what we tasted and what will be arriving this week:
Seleccion ArteNOM 1079 - Jesus-Maria, Jalisco (Mountain Agave 6,200 ft. Alt.) $TBA ($40-ish) - Rancho El Olvido is tequila's highest altitude distillery. The agave grown at this level hits a higher BRIX sugar level owing to a porous soil and a climate that stresses the agave more. The nose is packed with lime, pepper, and other citrus fruits, but it isn't overly zesty. It's there, but it's subdued and concentrated. Amazingly flavorful considering it's so mild! A delicate dance of black pepper and baking spices. Part of the elegance is due to the fact that these guys do not add agave nectar to re-ferment the mash (a practice that is currently legal and results in big, smooth, candied tequilas). Because agave nectar is 100% agave, the bottle can still claim to be 100% agave even though it's the same as chapitalizing a wine. This tequila offers purity, authenticity, and quality for a very affordable price. Highly recommended.
Seleccion ArteNOM 1414 - Arandas, Jalisco (Mountain Agave 5,400 ft. Alt.) $TBA ($45-ish) - Destileria El Ranchito has been owned by Feliciano Vivanco since the post-revolutionary period of 1919-1929. They hold 2,000 acres of estate grown agave and distill everything on traditional pot stills. Their fermentation process is what makes them very unique - something about the yeast and their climate creates a bready, yeasty, banana nut aroma and flavor. This is an incredibly understated reposado that absolutely blew me away with its uniqueness and mild-mannered profile. Nutty, bready, with cinnamon bursts and spicy cloves on the palate. Very unique and very, very good.
Selecction ArteNOM 1146 - Atotonilco El Alto, Jalisco (Mountain Agave 4,620 ft. Alt.) $TBA ($55-ish) - Casa Tequileña is owned and operated by Enrique Fonesca, known as El Arquitecto. A fifth-generation grower and master distiller who holds one of the largest plots of agave in the industry, this añejo is made to showcase the oak without overshadowing the agave. The nose is amazing! Again, subdued and needing to be coaxed, but incredible when it finally arrives. Nutty aromas with toasted vanilla, but neither rich nor oaky. Warm baking spices on the palate, which is incredibly lean for an añejo! Black pepper and fruit on the finish with more roasted nuts. Divine!