I don’t drink much tequila. It probably goes back to some bad experiences with the cheap stuff – the kind you drink when you’re on vacation in Mexico and maybe not yet 21 and being egged on by a crowd of fellow tequila-swilling-probably-not-yet-21-party-people until you drink an amount of said cheap tequila that is potentially lethal and definitively harmful until you wake up in a state of tequila-induced torture that only exists in certain touristed parts of Mexico near the beach but not close enough to the beach that the waves of ocean water are able to wash away the sins and stupidity of the prior evening. You know what I’m talking about, right?
Like I said, I don’t drink much tequila. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy tequila. I do. It’s hard to argue with the beauty of a well made margarita (no mixes, please, and nothing frozen but the ice in the shaker). And I’ve tasted some knockout sipping tequilas over the years, as well. But I’m no expert when it comes to tequila.
The good thing is, I have few preconceived notions of what good tequila should be. Which is maybe why I really like the new port cask finished tequila reposado from Herradura. The use of port barrels (or sherry, or Pedro Ximenez, etc.) for aging or finishing is not common in the tequila world. The very notion of it is probably heretical to many. But it’s a technique often found in the world of rum, and very often found in the world of Scotch. And this experiment in port finishing is the the first in what Herradura says will be a series of annual, small batch, experimental releases – dubbed the Coleccion de la Casa.
When I first heard about this, and saw that Casa Herradura (around since 1870) now falls under the Brown-Forman empire (since 2007), I immediately thought of fellow Brown-Forman brand, Woodford Reserve, which has a similar line of special releases (many of which play with different types of barrels for finishing) which they’ve labeled the Masters Collection. So it’s likely that there’s some sharing of techniques and ideas going on behind the scenes here (Masters Collection? Coleccion de la Casa? You don’t have to speak Spanish to see the thread). I can’t say that I’ve loved the Woodford Reserve special releases so far, but I don’t think that cask finishing is inherently a bad thing. So, the question is, what will it do for tequila?
Herradura starts all their tequila with blue agave. Once distilled, it goes into medium-char American oak casks for aging. For this special release, they left the tequila in oak for just under a year (thus reposado, which means it was aged between two months and a year), then transferred it to vintage port casks from Portugal for an additional two months of aging. The stuff is limited to a one time release of 2000 cases, and priced around $90 a bottle, but if you’re inclined to explore what port cask finishing can do for tequila, and not averse to dropping that kind of money, I think it’s worth a shot. Tasting notes follow, from a sample sent by Herradura. Simply put, it’s impressive what those two months in port casks can do.
Tequila Herradura, Coleccion de la Casa, Reserva 2012, Port Cask Finished Reposado
Approx. $90 Retail
Tasting Dates: June/July 2013
The cool thing about the nose here is that you clearly get both the tequila foundation and the impact of the port cask, with layers of banana, prunes, and nutmeg-ish baking spice piling on to a good bit of heat for 80 proof. There’s a green wood element to this as well, but nothing overbearing as far as the oak or port cask impact.
Sipping neat, room temperature, you first get a sandalwood kind of warmth, then cigar box, then a bit of that prune, with an agave baseline running throughout. Those baking spices show up again, now a bit sharper and almost peppery through the finish. The finish is long and warm, mellow and smoky. Very nice.
Thirsty South Rating: Excellent*. Is this for tequila purists? No, not really. But it’s clearly very good quality tequila with an unusual twist. And the port and tequila seem to enjoy each other’s company quite well. Which is more than I can say for my stomach and the cheap tequila of days past.
* Thirsty South Rating Scale:
Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck