Congratulations to K&L utilityman Jorge Valencia. Today he became the first person in the world (besides the distiller himself) to taste a 21 year old Tequila. Where did we get such a crazy, mind-blowing sample of something so old and so rare? From Jacob Lustig, of course - the man behind the fantastic ArteNOM tequilas. Enrique Fonseca, known as El Arquitecto in Mexico, is one of the largest growers of agave in Jalisco. He's also the producer behind ArteNOM's añejo selection (ArteNOM sources each of their selections from a different distillery). He's been eager to do something special with his tequilas for decades, but the right opportunity has never come along. Jose Cuervo offered to buy all of it, but he declined to sell. It was an all-or-nothing proposition and Enrique wasn't ready to give up on his dream yet. He makes plenty of money from selling agave, so there's never been a need to bottle any of these super old expressions. They've remained locked away in his warehouse, some for more than two decades.
Now, after keeping these tequilas to himself for so long, Enrique has decided that Jacob along side Haas Brothers from San Francisco are the right people for the mission. That doesn't surprise me - Jacob knows more about tequila than anyone I've ever met and he's as puritanical as we are about quality. He wants tequila with no additives - just agave, yeast, water, a still, and maybe some oak barrels. Knowing how head-over-heels the staff went for the ArteNOM products, I begged Jacob to find me more amazing samples from Mexico that we could feature at K&L. He came back from Jalisco with unopened samples of such a superlative quality that I was quite speechless. We gave the first sip to Jorge.
According to Jacob, the oldest tequila he'd previously ever heard of was an 11 year old speciman, also from Enrique Fonseca's collection. No one else has tequila of this age sitting in barrel that we're aware of. Today, we went through 3, 5, 6, 8, 14, 16, 18, and 21 year old tequila samples - some from first-fill Bourbon barrels, the older ones from second-fill Tequila casks. They were incredible. The 3 year was dynamic and complex in the best of ways - green apple, spicy pepper, balanced richness. The 8 year old was the unanimous winner - candied orange, loads of clove and cinnamon, ungodly length on the finish. The 21 year was everything you hoped it would be - ethereal and graceful, flavors of such integration that only present themselves after two decades in wood. The best part - this will be an exclusive deal between Enrique, Jacob, Haas Brothers, and K&L.
Want to know the crazy part? These weren't rich, supple, creamy, oaky, smooth tequilas. They were all pure, clean, focused, and fresh, but none possessed the silky texture we've come to expect from extra añejo Tequila. How is it that a 21 year old tequila from Enrique Fonseca could be less rich than a two year old Tequila from a larger brand? The same way that the 60 year old Cognac from Dudognon was less rich and supple than the six year old Cognac we tasted from a big house producer - there are no additives in these tequilas. You've all tasted Bourbon before - even if you char the crap out of the barrel, you can oak a spirit to death, but you can't make it sweet and supple. Something extra has to go into the extra añejo to make it taste like that. The oldest tequilas available, the very ones we tasted today from El Arquitecto, are mature beyond anything the world has ever tasted, but they're not creamy or rich. They're vibrant, exuberant, and alive with fruit and spice, balanced beautifully by the slow addition of mild oak aging.
What will they cost and when can you get them? We're not sure yet. The goal is late Summer/early Fall, but we still have a lot of work to do. They won't be crazy expensive - we want them to be accessible. These won't be luxury brand tequilas, they will be historical documents that attest to the potential duration of the agave spirit. We think they'll be a very big deal. Hopefully the tequila community is ready for what's coming.