Introducing Fuenteseca - A Marriage of Very Old Tequilas

Wow. Where to begin? How long have we been working on this thing? Let me give you some context here:

A few years ago I met Jacob Lustig, the former tequila expert for Southern Wine and Spirits in the U.S. Basically, he was the guy who educated the sales reps for the country's biggest distributor about the tequila they were selling. Jake eventually started working on his own label and bought into a Oaxacan distillery where he began his own brand called Don Amado. However, Jake didn't come to K&L carrying mezcal, he came with a bag full of tequila. ArteNom was a label Jake started to help bolster his fledgling mezcal company. He had returned to three producers he had met during his SWS days and asked them each to produce one tequila for his brand. Each of the three, the blanco from Rancho El Olvido, the reposado from El Ranchito, and the añejo from Enrique Fonseca, instantly became the staff's personal favorites.

Jacob's approach to tequila was refreshing: let's market tequila like single malt whisky, focusing on the distillery and its specific production methods, rather than a flashy brand name. No one else was using the independent label approach in the tequila game and customers responded with glee. Not only was the tequila unadulterated and pure, but Jake could tell you exactly why the flavors tasted the way they did. Whether it was the elevation of the agave field, the natural yeast used in fermentation, or the type of barrel utlized for maturation, there was a clear and honest answer for each product. The ArteNom añejo from Fonseca was an instant customer favorite and would go on to become the best selling tequila in K&L history. It was all so new and exciting.

As the relationship between K&L and ArteNom continued to thrive, Jake and I became fast friends. We had so much in common and we both loved travelling to Mexico. We talked about possible exclusive projects with ArteNom that would push the selection a bit further and offer something new to tequila drinkers everywhere. That's when Jake told me a little secret about Enrique Fonseca - apparently the guy had been laying down tequila for the past two decades, using refill barrels so that the spirit wouldn't get overly woody. I had never even heard of a tequila older than five years old at that time, but, according to Jake, Fonseca was sitting on juice with more than 20 years of age. In February of 2012, we got a box of samples in the mail from Enrique and we started tasting. I posted this blog that day. The original plan was to pick a single cask and bottle it exclusively for K&L, much like our whisky program had been working. The job was simply to find one that worked.

That's when things started to stall.

We didn't have a name. We didn't have a label. We didn't have pricing. Enrique had never even considered selling these before. It was only due to his friendship with Jake that he was even offering us the samples. He had no idea what to charge for something of this magnitude. Then there was the problem with the samples. I wanted to bottle something old and rare, to be the first retailer with a 20 year old tequila, but the younger ones were more tasty on their own. The super old tequilas had an amazing herbacious character, but they were overwhelming when tasted alone. Then the pricing finally came back. Enrique definitely wanted to make sure he was compensated for his booze. I couldn't imagine selling a $500 bottle of tequila, so we were stuck in limbo. That's when Jake proposed the idea of a blend.

Jake is not a blender. I am not a blender, but I'd hung around Dave Smith, Jim Rutledge, and John Glaser enough to know how it worked. I thought maybe we could give it a try and see what happened. Jake and I picked a date to sit down with the samples and catagorize each one. We would work out a price per selection based on the milliliters used in the marriage, and then group each tequila by its main flavor profile. The rich and buttery tequilas in one group, the peppery in another. We worked out forty or so different possibilities and kept tasting them, over and over. Finally, after considering price, richness, and general accessibility, I worked out a blend using 4, 7, 11, 14, 18, and 21 year old tequilas. The four year old had all the caramel and butterscotch, so I wanted to use about 30% of that as the base. The other 70% would be the more mature tequilas, each adding in their own unique accent to the recipe.

Somehow, it all came together.

Jake and I retasted our final batch over and over. I had the staff taste it. I had my wife taste it. I had my father-in-law taste it. We sent it down to Enrique, he tasted it. Everyone agreed. It was decadent. The tequila was rich and soft enough to please the general palate, but packed with enough spice, pepper, salt, and savory flavor to inspire multiple visits. It tasted like tequila, there was no mistaking it for anything else, yet it transcended anything we had previously experienced. The brandy-like nature of the palate is stunning because you've never tasted anything this soft with this much punch. As far as I know, this is also the first tequila to hit the market with anything older than 10 years old in it. We can't put an age statement on the bottle because we don't want to label it as "4 year old," but I can tell you that 50% of it is 11 years or older.

When I look at the comparable tequilas on the market, Don Julio 1942 at $120, Deleon Extra Añejo at $250, even Casa Dragones for $250, I have to laugh because none of those three are even close to the quality of the new Fuenteseca. They're not as clean. They're not as flavorful. They're not as old. They're not as interesting. Those three tequilas are all about one thing: smooth. They are selling the luxury of supple booze. With the Fuenteseca, we're offering the opposite: big, bold, explosive flavor in a delicate package. The Fuenteseca Reserva isn't as much smooth as it is ethereal. It's a concentrated core of tequila vibrancy wrapped in delicacy. That's the best way I can explain it.

As of right now, we're ready to begin pre-arrival orders. Our initial plan is to make 200 bottles total, however, we might make a little more if the demand outsells our expectations. As usual, we're going to offer customers a discount for ordering in advance on pre-arrival. We can't come in anywhere near the bargain pricing we have on the Don Julio 1942 right now, but we'll be waaaaaay under the Casa Dragones and Deleon. We'll be working with Haas Brothers here in San Francisco to get everything home. Here are the official notes below. We're expecting delivery sometime this Fall, hopefully by late October.

Fuenteseca Reserva K&L Exclusive Extra Añejo Tequila $169.99 (PRE-ORDER) - It's finally happening! After more than two years of planning, false starts, negotiations, tasting, and finally blending, we've finished up our exclusive tequila project with Jake Lustig and Enrique Fonseca, the producers behind the top selling tequila we carry: the 1146 Añejo. Fonseca is an anomaly in the tequila world. He was the only producer in the entire region with the foresight to use refill Bourbon barrels and put spirit down for a long-term aging process. While other companies might tell you that the oldest tequila in the world is ten years old, it's only because they don't know about Enrique Fonseca's treasure trove of old casks, most far more than 11 years old. Our original intent was to bottle one single barrel, much like we do with whisky, but after tasting through these ancient selections we realized a blend was the best way to go. All had unique flavor profiles, unlike any other tequila we'd ever tasted before, so as long as we combined them well we'd be in great shape to offer our customers not only the oldest tequila ever made, but also one of the best tasting. We ended up with a marriage of 4, 7, 11, 14, 18, and 21 year old tequilas in the final product and it's jawdropping stuff. The nose is a blast of pepper, agave, sea salt, and caramel. The first sip is rich, but never sweet or supple, moving quickly to savory herbs and spices, The finish is long and soft with butterscotch and white pepper. This is historic tequila, epic in every way possible. Orale!

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll