Goblets of Fire

by Diane Denham / photos by Hardy Wilson

It was an unusual invitation, too intriguing to pass up: lunch and a tasting with El Tesoro de Don Felipe® Tequila's Master Distiller, Carlos Camarena, at Slow Burn Glass Studio in Oakland, CA. The logic behind the choice of location wasn't immediately apparent; it might even seem a bit dangerous. But as Carlos explained the painstaking craftsmanship that goes into making El Tesoro®, it became clear why Slow Burn Glass studio proved to be an inspired setting for the tasting, which doubled as a glass-blowing seminar for a group of the Bay Area's finest bartenders.

Glass-blowing is a multi-step, time-consuming art. As we were to discover, even blowing a simple stemless wine glass requires absolute attention to detail at each step. The results of such care can't be mass-produced to the same quality. 

The making of El Tesoro de Don Felipe® is no less an art. Carlos, whose family has been growing agave and making tequila in the Jalisco Highlands for five generations, explained that terroir is as important to fine tequila as it is to fine wine. "Conditions are completely different between the Jalisco Highlands and the Tequila Valley," he told us. "Our soil is rich with iron, so Highlands agave is sweeter than the Valley's because iron is a precursor to sugar formation in the plants. Iron also infuses the water source with minerals, lending minerality to the finished tequila."

Although the minerality was discernable in all four of the El Tesoro® tequilas (Blanco, Reposado, Añejo and Paradiso), it was less obvious in cocktails. Nonetheless, the Blanco and Reposado both mixed superbly in cocktails (see sidebar).

Glass-blowing apprenticeship finished and our artistic endeavors safely ensconced in the annealer to cool slowly, we sat down to an El Tesoro® comparative tasting. Carlos explained the "inefficient" methods the Camarena family still employs to make El Tesoro: slow cooking the agave; using a large stone wheel, the tahona, to crush the cooked piña; and double distillation in copper stills. "There are steps that most producers take to speed up the production process," he said, "but you will lose quality. And you cannot hurry the blue agave." It takes seven to eight years for the blue agave to mature.

In the tasting, the unoaked El Tesoro® Blanco showed the purest expression of the Jalisco Highlands terroir. It exhibited a slight but detectable sweetness, as predicted. The Reposado and Añejo, both aged in used American oak, displayed complex flavors and aromas of berries and herbs. Vanilla was more pronounced in the Añejo, which ages up to three years. Butterscotch and herbs dominated the lovely Paradiso, which is aged up to five years and is the first tequila to be aged in Cognac barrels.

Listening as we debated whether El Tesoro® was better served neat, over ice or in cocktails, Carlos added a final thought as he raised his glass to us: "There's no wrong way to drink El Tesoro . . . except alone. Always drink good tequila in good company like we are here. ¡Saludos!"

The Shade

by Yanni Kehgiaris

◗ 1½ oz. El Tesoro® Blanco
◗ ¼ oz. Green Chartreuse® Liqueur
◗ ¼ oz. lime juice
◗ ¼ oz. agave syrup (agave nectar cut 1: 1 with water)

Build all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake well. Strain into an iced glass.

The Sun

by Yanni Kehgiaris

◗ 1½ oz. El Tesoro® Reposado
◗ 1 oz. Aperol® Apertif
◗ 1 oz. grapefruit juice
◗ ¼ oz. agave syrup (agave nectar cut 1: 1 with water)

Build all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake well. Strain into an iced glass.

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