Michael reporting. We take a break from the usual wintry jazz to bring you the third installment of our 101 Achievements Tequila Tour 2013. (To bring yourself up to speed, you can review some tequila basics by reading our tequila tasting primer, and by checking out Act I and Act II of this Jalisco-flavored endeavor.)
Before I kick the tires, some legal nonsense: while Verde‘s massive wall of tequila inspired and made this suite of achievements possible, we are not being paid by Verde to write about said wall, and we buy the vast majority of our drinks ourselves. However, from time to time the awesome staff or the restaurant’s owner, Jeff, will buy us a taste, and in those cases, we’ll note it prominently.
And now we continue.
This post is going to have two legs to it — a survey of the priciest offerings (extra añejos and some other ultra-premium stuff), and a gathering we held called the Rapper Tequila Party. (And since we tasted a significant portion of the top shelf at the Rapper Tequila Party, there will be a quite notable area where these two legs meet. …Ahem.)
First, let’s talk about the extra añejos and some of their friends. If you’ll remember from the primer, extra añejo is the newest category for tequila, but representing the most aged (and most expensive) stuff. Does that mean it’s the best of the lot? Well, honestly, not all the time. Some of the extras are wonderful, some are overdetermined and overpriced. As with almost any luxury item, the highest price point does not necessarily equal the best experience. Sometimes, for instance, you’re paying more for the packaging and marketing than the actual tequila. Case in point:
That, my friends, is the freaking awesome artist-commissioned box for a bottle of Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia Colleción 2012. The tequila inside? It’s good — flavors of almonds, all-spice, pepper, a caramel finish. Is it $140/bottle good? That’s debatable. Here’s one of comparable price that I happen to prefer:
El Siembra Azul Suro Extra Añejo. Here’s a tequila that really benefits from the extra aging. I found that it had a nougaty quality at first, and then a smokiness that unspooled into something like maple syrup as it went down. My wife also found that the tequila went through a series of changes, noting, “sweet then lush then sultry then ahhhhhh.”
But, not all ultra-premium tequilas are created equal. Case in point:
Strictly speaking, Don Julio 70 Añejo Claro is not an extra, since it’s only aged 18 months, but to our palate it’s already been worked over a little too much. It has a smell like vanilla extract, and while the taste is more balanced, with some creme in there as well, it just doesn’t retain much tequila character. Don Julio’s true extra, the REAL, is more enjoyable, retaining a hint of minerality amidst all the vanilla and oak. But as for the Partida Elegante, it was again too sweet for our liking. It tasted like buttery candy or carrot cake. Thinking back to the other expressions, I’d recommend opting for the reposado instead.
Here, we measured Tequila Ocho‘s extra-añejo by putting it in a flight with Ocho’s blanco and repo. What we discovered was a blanco that was more smooth and honeyed than expected, and an extra añejo that had a more vegetal character than expected. The reposado had smoke and caramel going on — so while the extra probably tasted the best, the repo was more than interesting enough to make it the best value.
It can also be informative to do an all-top-shelf comparison. The above image ended up containing some of our favorite ultra-premium stuff, and some of our least. For instance, the El Mayor Extra Añejo reminded me of a nice tawny port, and would be well suited to have with dark chocolate at dessert time. It’s very well polished. Or, as Fox put it, “It’s tequila you can bring home to your Republican mother.” The Casa Noble Single Barrel Añejo ups the creamy, desserty characteristics we found in the other expressions, resulting in something that’s still robust and muscular, but with notes of toffee and maple. The Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia Platino is really just a decent-but-pricey blanco tequila (earthy, vegetal) whose name takes longer to say than the Familia spends aging it. However…the Casa Dragones on the end? The company prices it like it’s liquid gold, but in the estimation of my wife, “This shit tastes like a $275 jolly rancher with cough syrup thrown in.” We couldn’t do anything about the taste, but we did try to remedy the issue of there being no dragons on the bottle!
So, yes — top price does not always equal top flavor. (Unless you love jolly ranchers or cough syrup, in which case: thanks for visiting, Lil Wayne!) If you’ve got cash-money to burn, though, we’d recommend trying out the Herradura Selección Suprema.
The best of a great brand, this stuff is toasty and oaky, with a touch of spicy honey. It’s definitely only for special occasions — but whenever you have this stuff, the occasion kind of makes itself special, amirite?
If you want something fancy but are more budget conscious (or just wish to drink three times as much), you’d do well with the Don Julio 1942.
With two and a half years of aging, it’s not a true extra añejo…but wow, is it good. This was the first top-top-shelf stuff we ever tasted, courtesy of Jeff. It’s dangerously smooth, with flavors of cinnamon, vanilla, and passion fruit.
If you’re looking for something a little less sweet, though, try the Scorpion Mezcal Añejo 5 Year on for size. It’s super smooth, with a cool, hookah-like smokiness to it, and a little bit of sea salt. To me, it tastes like a terrific open-fire pig roast. To my wife, it tastes “like you went out for a ride on the freeway with Glenn Danzig but wore your best dress.” (So, basically the same thing.)
It took us about 9 months of this year to taste all we described above. As for the rest of Verde’s premium selections…we tried all of those in a single night. A glorious night of celebration and debauchery formally called…
Rapper Tequila Party.
At the Rapper Tequila Party, we drank a bunch of extra añejos, and also tequila brands that are either fronted or represented by musicians, or are just frequently name-dropped in rap songs.
Such as Patrón! (By the way, note the difference in light between those two pictures…Rapper Tequila Party ran loooong.) The blanco was rather smooth and had a hint of lime zest and pepper going on, while the reposado had a somewhat odd combination of caramel, toffee, and citrus. The añejo was creamy, butterscotchy, and retained that citrus-lime note, reminding me a citrus-based dessert. (So basically, I’m saying Jay-Z likes booze that tastes like key lime pie.)
We also tried a couple of Patrón’s ultra-premium offerings, Gran Patrón Platinum and Gran Patrón Burdeos. The Platinum was smooth and tasted somewhat like lemon meringue pie, while the Burdeos was crazy delicious, reminiscent of cognac and campfire S’mores. (It was also crazy expensive — at $450/bottle in Pennsylvania, it’s Verde’s most pricey offering by far.) Frankly, these were both outshined by El Tesoro’s Paradiso. At only 30% of the price of Patrón’s Burdeos, this cognac-barrel-aged delight is clean and peppery, with a floral undertone. Or, as I wrote in my notes, it tastes like “WHOA!”
So yeah, El Tesoro Paradiso is basically the best.
…Even if the bottle kind of looks like it wants to sell us a timeshare in 1990s Miami.
I should note here that, as would be fitting for a Rapper Tequila Party, we had a lot of friends make guest appearances. Linda (of the wonderful blog Dinner Plan-It) and her husband Mark cheered us on the whole way — and, thankfully, got us home safely at the end!
We decided to break briefly from the fancy stuff to rock out with a little bit of the Sammy Hagar-founded (and surprisingly decent) Cabo Wabo. The blanco had a good minerality and tasted of dark greens, with a slight sweet smokiness, like when you’ve just blown out a candle; the repo was sweet and cinnamony; the añejo was so smooth and creamy that I ended up bogarting 75% of my wife’s taste of it. Sorry (that you caught me), honey!
After that we dug into some Sauza tequila (incidentally, a brand whose ambassador was for a time DJ Muggs from Cypress Hill). We had the Sauza Blue blanco and reposado, and the extra añejo Casa Sauza XA. Like with the Cabo Wabo, Sauza’s blanco had a salty, bitter greens character (though probably not of the green DJ Muggs might prefer). The repo brought caramel and chocolate-covered cherries. And the Sauza XA? It was thick cream and toffee all the way, with a hint of banana peel underneath (just go with it, it was good!).
We turned things up a notch by creating a custom ultra-premium flight. We dubbed it “Penis-Skull-Unicorn,” for reasons you can probably deduce. The three tequilas there are AsomBroso 5-Year, Kah Extra Añejo, and Milagro Unico. The AsomBroso had a minerality and slight burn to it, with an undertone almost like gasoline; the Kah was slightly syrupy with hints of caramel; the Milagro Unico was totally scrumptious, with flavors of marshmallow and silky cream.
As the skies got dark, we had a round of Justin Timberlake’s 901 Tequila — so named because the minute 9:01 is “when the evening ends and the night begins” (gag). Tacky name aside, the tequila itself is actually fairly respectable. The blanco had a clean minerality, the repo a salty caramel character, and the añejo led off with butterscotch, with a slightly different, buttery popcorn finish. All in all, each expression finished stronger than it began. (Much like with the two halves the 20/20 Experience — ka-boom!)
Last on our official Rapper Tequila Party list was 1800. Represented by rapper Rick Ross, this is what I’d call a “value” brand. It would be solid as a mixer, though I wouldn’t shoot it. The blanco was a little burny going down, with hints of kale and Brussels sprouts; the repo was a little astringent, but smoother than the blanco, and the anejo was clean but rather flat. My wife described it as “nothing to write home about, but I’d enjoy it with croissants and Michonne on a horse.”
When my wife breaks out The Walking Dead references, I know it’s about time to call it. So we decided to wrap up the night by having bartenders Rachael and Cory pose for a quick prom picture.
After that point, there was nothing to do but go home and sleep it off…
Until our friend Max showed up, thereby forcing us to press on a little further! (Linda on the left, Max in the middle, Fox on the right classing things up.)
In honor of Max’s passion for Tiki drinks, we added on a flight of Voodoo Tiki. All three expressions had a level of astringency, decreasing with age. The blanco had your garden-variety vegetal character, the reposado had a sort of stony finish to it, and the añejo started with that slight astringency but finished creamy and smooth.
After that (and perhaps an extra cocktail), it was time to truly call it a night. And that is the story of our Rapper Tequila Party. Tune in soon for the next act of our 5-part saga, in which we cover that underrated spirit, Mezcal.