September 2011

Clear Vision

By: Jenny Adams

In this day and age, it would be redundant to mention that tequila is no longer relegated to shots, slugged down with a sour face and some salt. As an industry, we are well past that perception for this category; fine tequilas are the norm, not the exception.

Bottles of Don Julio 70 Añejo Claro at the Tequila Don Julio Distillery,  La Primavera. Tequila Don Julio still hand-fills its bottles.
As tequila remains vodka’s biggest threat in terms of sales, it’s also a category that’s finding its own unique pace, as well as some well-executed innovations in terms of distilling—all well-received thanks to legions of devoted bartenders and consumers. Don Julio is one such brand, not only forging a new path as a luxury brand, but bringing tequila fans new, exciting, truly innovative endeavors to savor.

Strong Roots

Don Julio González was raised in the agave fields of Atotonilco el Alto, in the Los Altos region of Jalisco. As a young man, he began learning the art of the mezcaleros, and in 1942 he purchased his first distillery and planted his first crop of quality blue agave plants. That first tequila was called Tres Magueyes.

Eventually, through trial and error, hard work and long hours, González grew a fledgling operation into a business he felt worthy of bearing his own name, Tequila Don Julio. Today, González’s innovations in distilling have become classic practices at the distillery, and his product is recognized globally as a tequila worthy of craft cocktails and neat pours alike.

“Tequila Don Julio has revolutionized the tequila category and has always been an innovator when it comes to liquid and category innovation,” explains David Barnett, Vice President for Tequila Don Julio Global. “When Don Julio González began crafting his namesake tequila, he enacted brand standards with regards to the way we grow our agave, age our variants and bottle in a premium manner—all of which are practices that have impacted the tequila category as a whole.”

Impacting the category as a whole is something the brand continues to do, and this year they are unveiling an entirely new product: Don Julio 70. What better way to honor Don Julio González as an innovator than to mark the brand’s 70th anniversary with a true innovation? Make way for Don Julio 70, the world’s first añejo claro tequila.

Celebration and Expectation

“The 70th anniversary of the year Don Julio González began his tequila making journey is a momentous occasion for the brand, so we created this celebratory tequila from our Master Distiller’s Special Reserve,” explains Barnett. “Añejo claro tequila means ‘aged clear’ tequila. Don Julio 70 is an añejo, which by definition means that it is aged for at least one year in wooden barrels. However, Don Julio ages its añejo for more than 18 months, exceeding the aging minimum set by the CRT [Consejo Regulador del Tequila]. This is something Don Julio does for each of the variants in the portfolio, and it makes all the difference in our taste and flavor profiles.”

Master Distiller Enrique de Colsa with his latest creation, Tequila Don Julio 70—the first-ever añejo claro tequila.

“For this new añejo claro,” he continues, “we take our aged añejo and then filter it in a special process that restores the agave flavors that are typically muted during the aging process. The result is a clear añejo tequila that has qualities and flavors of both an añejo and a blanco.”

The resulting liquid was created from start to finish by Don Julio’s Master Distiller Enrique de Colsa and his team. He’s the man responsible for another company innovation, Don Julio 1942, created in 2002 for the brand’s 60th anniversary.

“When they asked me for ideas on something different for this anniversary, I proposed an añejo,” says de Colsa. “But, in aging, you lose some flavors from the blanco because the barrel covers them. Through filtration, you can return those agave flavor. The Don Julio 70 starts with notes of raw agave and pepper. There’s some citrus that’s slight, and because it’s an añejo, we maintain the smoothness and that part of the wood that gives it almonds and vanilla, milk and dark chocolate. Some of the honey is gone, but it’s replaced with those wonderful raw and cooked agave blanco flavors that come back.”

A Cocktail’s Cohort

For an SRP of $70, Don Julio 70 fits nicely between Tequila Don Julio Añejo and 1942. Add to this its citrine, nearly clear color and an original flavor profile, and bartenders get a spirit that’s marketable neat and stunning in cocktails.

“On the nose, you immediately get vanilla bean and beautiful cooked agave flavor,” offers Brian Van Flandern. As Don Julio’s Global Mixologist, he was afforded the perk of tasting the new product straight from the barrel and the first license to work with it in cocktails. “In a cocktail, this is such a versatile spirit,” he adds. “All the mixologists out there are working with cognacs, whiskies and aged tequilas, because we want that depth of flavor. I’ve found that one ingredient that works really well is honeydew. I’ve also been working with a lot of Indian spices as well as coconut milk. From a mixologist’s standpoint, being able to use something so intensely full-flavored yet clear is always exciting.”

Any way you pour it, Don Julio 70 is set stage center to shake up the industry. “We expect that bartenders, once they try it and are surprised by its unique flavor profile, will enjoy it for sipping occasions. But I’m sure they will love to experiment with it in cocktails as well,” concludes Barnett. “As Enrique always says, there’s no wrong way to enjoy Don Julio—as long as it’s enjoyed in good company and, of course, responsibly.”


Dominic Venegas serves up his creation—the Quetzal Luxury Drop—to crowds at the “Party Like a Don” event, held at Le Phare in New Orleans as part of Tales of the Cocktail 2011.
Each year, tens of thousands of industry insiders gather in New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail. During the five-day event in July, guests encounter a multitude of brands, from scotches bearing 25 years in wood to new spirits fresh from the still. Don Julio 70 was the star of a signature event at the city’s hotspot, LePhare, where Master Distiller Enrique de Colsa led small groups through professional tastings on the new añejo claro tequila.New York bartenders Jason Littrell and Hal Wolin also plied the crowd with signature cocktails, and San Francisco-based mixologist Dominic Venegas served up a signature Luxury Drop. The Luxury Drop program challenges bartenders to come up with a new way to experience tequila,beyond the old salt-and-lime method, by creating miniature cocktails. Venegas won over the crowd with his Quetzal Luxury Drop.   

The Quetzal Luxury Drop

■     1¼ oz. Don Julio Reposado
■     ¼ oz. hazelnut liqueur
■     Cayenne pepper
■     Cinnamon
■     Ground pepper
■     Oaxacan chocolate
■     Sliced strawberry for garnish

■     Combine cayenne pepper, cinnamon, ground pepper and Oaxacan chocolate to create spice mixture. Combine Don Julio Reposado and hazlenut liqueur in a shaker. Shake and strain into shot glass; dust strawberry in spice mixture and place on rim.

Matt Fleeger, Mixologist at Tres San Francisco and the creator of the El Ultimo Trago Luxury Drop, joins Executive Beverage Director Ashley Miller for a tour with the Don. 

   Don Julio At Tres, San Francisco

The San Francisco cocktail scene is ahead of the curve as always with the hottest new concept sparking palates city-wide: The Luxury Drop. Essentially a cocktail masquerading as a shot, Luxury Drops have become bartender favorites and crowd pleasers at Tres, where Beverage Manager Ashley Miller gives credit where credit is due for the birth of this trend.

“Kudos to Don Julio for creating this whole concept,” says Miller, explaining that the brand’s industry-only Luxury Drop cocktail book has spurred city-wide inspiration and collaboration among mixologists. “It’s an underground industry thing, and it’s very cool to be able to talk to other mixologists and compare Luxury Drop recipes.”

But Luxury Drops aren’t just for professional ‘tenders; consumers, especially customers at Tres, love them. “It’s an elegant way to drink tequila shots, and they’re really popular,” explains Miller, who serves up El Ultimo Trago to customers looking to ease into tequila for the night. “It breaks in the palate, gets people ready to go and they sort of ease into it before moving on to margaritas or other cocktails.” —Rachel Burkons

El Ultimo Trago
   created by Matt Fleeger of Tres, San Francisco
■   ¾ oz. Don Julio Reposado
■   ¼ oz. crème de mûre
■   2 dashes Angostura Bitters
■   ½ oz. cava
■   Combine Don Julio, crème de mûre and Angostura over ice. Shake and double-strain into a DOC glass, then add the cava. Garnish with lime wedge.

Mariena Mercer pours The Verbena, a cocktail so popular that it’s the bar’s third-highest seller — without being on the menu!

     Don Julio at Chandelier Bar, Las Vegas

As General Manager of Chandelier Bar, the stunning three-tier focal point of the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas resort, Mariena Mercer can take her pick from the ever-growing array of quality agave-based spirits on the market. But her love of Don Julio is unabashed. “One of the first tequilas I fell in love with was Don Julio Blanco,” she says proudly.

“I feel like Don Julio captures the essence of what tequila should be,” says Mercer, who, as a former Tequila Goddess at Richard Sandoval’s Isla, knows her agave spirits particularly well. “They haven’t deviated from their original recipe, they use very old school methods—it’s obviously a labor of love.”

Mercer’s favorite application of Don Julio is the Verbena, her USBG award–winning cocktail garnished by the uncommon tastebud-tingling Szechuan button (which is actually sourced from Africa). The drink is the Chandelier’s third-biggest seller, despite not even being on the official menu. “It’s our ‘speakeasy’ cocktail,” Mercer explains with a wink.

After biting down on the button, the flavor profile transforms: “As you sip, it’s like a rollercoaster in your mouth, with different tastes emerging.” Indeed, the sweet cooler with each sip evolves from lemony to creamy to perky and so on. The “Luxury Drop” is another popular application.
Mariena is bullish on Don Julio 70, the brand’s new añejo claro. “I think it’s going to become another class by itself,” she predicts. “The button is also incorporated into Mariena’s signature Luxury Drop.”  —E. C. Gladstone

The Verbena
      created by Mariena Mercer

■   1½ oz. Don Julio Blanco
■   1 oz. hot ginger syrup
■   2 oz. yuzu juice infused with Kaffir lime leaves
■   1 oz. fresh lemon juice
■   6 leaves of lemon verbena
■    Muddle verbena with the ginger syrup; add remaining ingredients, shake and strain over crushed ice. Garnish with Szechuan flower.

Push Your Buttons
    Luxury Drop created by Mariena Mercer

■   Ask a bartender on 1.5 (that’s the middle level of Chandelier Bar) to “push your buttons.” It’s
Don Julio Reposado  served with a buzz button to start and pineapple cilantro sangrita to complement.

     Don Julio at The Macao Trading Co, New York City

The Macao Trading Co., named after the Portuguese port colony in China and decorated like a 1940s warehouse/opium den, might be an unlikely place for Don Julio tequila to find a happy home, but when the master of the bar is Dushan Zaric, anything can happen.

Dushan Zaric at The Macao Trading Co. in NYC.  

Here, Don Julio is incorporated in a number of drinks that, while Mexican-themed, are informed by Zaric’s vast knowledge of international flavors and ingredients. Indeed, his cocktail recipes often include detailed tasting notes—as exacting as a chef or a sommelier.

Of his “No Mames” (a Spanish idiom for “No way!”) cocktail, which uses Don Julio Reposado, he notes honeyed lime, medium-high complexity, allspice contrasting with chipotle salt and a medium finish of grapefruit oil.

For the 1942 expression, Zaric has created a two-part dessert cocktail that’s nothing short of mind- and palate-blowing. The rich tequila is served straight and followed by a chocolate mole chaser, which brings out its smokiness and rich layers. Zaric calls it “liquid bliss.” That little glass of happiness will set you back $30, but if you’re a gambling kind of person, it’s worth a shot.

Zaric says the Don Julio spirits are among the most versatile at the bar, and attributes their success at Macao to Diageo’s distributor education. “Diageo understands the need of the trade. We have a lineage system and it starts with the brand folks. When they share the story and let bartenders be part of the story, it’s a success for us all. The marketing fluff has to go. What’s in the bottle? Why is it unique? Does it play well with others? I want to know if this has a heart.”
Don’s heart? Big, says Zaric.  —Lana Bortolot

No Mames
    created by Dushan Zaric

■   1½ oz. Don Julio Reposado Tequila
■   1 oz. honey liqueur
■   3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
■   ½ oz. ruby red grapefruit juice
■   Splash of St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
■   Chipotle salt for garnish, half rim
■   Apply the chipotle salt on half of the rim of a chilled cocktail glass. Put the rest of the ingredients into a mixing glass. Add large, cold ice and shake vigorously for ten seconds, then strain and serve.

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