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Stumbling On a Tequila September 9, 2008

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, Reviews.
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By Alex Sawit

10 September 2008

 

Left to Right: Don Alvaro Tequila Añejo and Blanco.

 

Although the Western world is littered with staggering bar-room drunks armed with salt and lime who can merrily relate to the title of this story, it is really intended to mean something else. For me, it’s an entirely sober headline that expresses the joy of discovering one of the finer examples of Mexico’s famed spirit drink.

There is always a sense of “Eureka!” when you stumble upon a find you weren’t expecting. Here you are, minding your own business and not looking for it when you suddenly trip over something that seems at first unremarkable. Then you examine it more closely and a spark of electricity wakes you up. That’s when you know you’ve found something good. So it was that, thanks to the kindness of one of our Cyrano friends, I was introduced to Don Alvaro Tequila.

It was another Friday night at the wine shop when Bochok’s younger brother, Pat Pavia, showed up, having just been picked up at the airport by his older sibling. While Pat has been residing in California for a long time now, he has been coming home to visit more regularly in recent years. Happily for us, Cyrano is now one of his stopovers whenever he’s in town.

Filipino traveler that he is, Pat likes to bring back the customary pasalubong for the crew, who erupted with “oohs” and aahs” upon seeing his latest gift. This was one sophisticated looking bottle of tequila, its refined appearance seemingly more suited to expensive perfume than an alcoholic spirit. As the finely crafted glasswork accumulated everyone’s fingerprints, I focused my eyes on the wording “Don Alvaro Tequila Blanco Reserva Limitada.”

Yet even as helpings were poured into our waiting glasses, I must confess that I was at that point more taken by the luxurious design of the bottle than by the promise of its contents. This was tequila, after all, and I had never been won over by any of the stuff I had previously tried.

For years I’d hoped to encounter tequila in its highest form, the connoisseur’s tequila, the kind I’d heard that Mexican hacienderos bragged about as their birthright, which they sipped from brandy snifters while leisurely enjoying themselves on their lavish plantation estates. Alas, this fabled drink had never presented itself and ages of waiting had left me feeling apathetic, even skeptical. Who could blame me? Our country may be a notable market in Asia for the Mexican product, but we remain a dumping ground for the ubiquitous Cuervo Gold and a host of other wannabes, all equally mediocre and all perpetuating the use of tequila as a brain-retardant for college kids and stressed-out office workers, whose battle cry of “Lick, shoot and suck!” defines the limitation of their palates. Even the arrival in recent times of the much-hyped luxury brand Patrón, currently the status symbol tequila of American popular culture, proved to be a severely offensive disappointment (having once tried the top-of-the-line oak-aged Patrón variant, I cannot help but wonder if wood varnish would make for a more suitable after dinner drink).

I’d almost given up… almost. I’m grateful that our amigos at the shop possess educated tastes and have the generosity to match. Don Alvaro Tequila changed everything, finally.

It started with one whiff. Expecting to be jarred by a harsh, raw smell, which is what I have learned to expect from the common stuff, I was instead gently roused by the fresh, floral fragrance of sampaguita, which was beautifully melded with the ripeness of guava fruit. But the best pleasure was in the sipping. Smooth in the way that I find Irish whiskey smooth, this had the effect of heightening the soft yet fanciful flavors inherent in this drink, which at times created suggestions of peaches and cream while at other times hinted of citrus and vanilla.

Prompted by my first delicious tequila experience, I went online to find out more. It turns out that Don Alvaro is one of a number of super-premium brands that are slowly redefining the global image of Mexico’s national spirit. With prices upwards of $50 a bottle, these tequilas are meant for discriminating devotees who accord their drink the kind of respect that rivals the way single malt aficionados appreciate their whisky.

Some questions lingered, though.

Tequila (it gets its name from the town of Tequila in Jalisco state, the town and its surrounding areas being the exclusive place from which tequila can be produced) is distilled from the fermented juice of the blue agave plant. I’ve long known that tequila is traditionally made in three types: blanco (white), reposado (rested) and añejo (aged). Tequila blanco or “white tequila” is simply the pure spirit that emerges from the distillation process, which is why it appears clear and uncolored. If this tequila is allowed a short “repose” in oak barrels, where it can relax and soften for a few months, then it is called resposado. Allow it to fully age in those barrels, where it can sleep for one to three years or even more, and then it becomes añejo. The longer it ages, the mellower and more complex it becomes as the wood not only absorbs the harshness of the raw spirit but slowly imparts its own flavor characteristics. Hence the color indicates how much time the tequila has spent in oak; a few months typically give reposado a faint yellow hue, whereas a couple of years will allow añejo to attain a deep gold or even amber appearance.

Yet I recall Pat mentioning that the Don Alvaro Blanco he brought us possessed a unique taste because, he said, it was made with oak. That statement puzzled me. Tequila blanco by definition isn’t aged, so where does the oak influence come from? Only after further research was I able to verify that tequila may be stored in oak barrels and still be classified as blanco, but only if storage does not exceed two months.

Right now I’m more interested in answering the question about whether the pricier Don Alvaro Añejo is the better version. It was implied that Pat didn’t bring this with him because he and his brother are purists when it comes to tequila. “You don’t get as much of the original tequila taste if it’s been aged in oak,” Bochok sort of said as far as I can remember, “because the wood can overwhelm the natural agave flavor.” Though I didn’t have the experience to disagree with him, I tend to qualify his statement as a personal preference rather than as a truth embraced by most tequila connoisseurs.

We shall see. It’s all the more joyous reason to search for the añejo version and make my own judgment. And this time I hope to stumble upon it sooner rather than later.

 

 

[Revised 13 September 2008]

[Re-edited 28 May 2012]

 

 

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