Kilinga Bacanora Blanco Review

Drink Reviews mezcal
Kilinga Bacanora Blanco Review

Denominations of origin, otherwise as DO, can be a tricky thing in approaching the spirits world. They’re intended to give a product an official class and sense of place, marking it as the product of a specific area. But at the same time, they can sometimes split hairs in terms of what really differentiates any spirit from another category. At first glance, this seems to be the case with bacanora in the Mexican state of Sonora, but the spirit nevertheless has an interesting history all its own.

Bacanora, like Mexico’s most famous spirit tequila, draws its name from a particular town in the region where it originated, but its makeup is more reflective of mezcal than it is tequila. With that said, it does use a single type of agave, as tequila does, though that style is technically espadin, which is among the most common species used to make mezcal. However, the espadin used in bacanora production are the plants grown on the edges of the Sonoran desert, plants that have evolved and adapted to an entirely different climate and developed different nuances in the process. Modern Bacanora is only made with this agave angustifolia, commonly known as the Pacifica or Yaquiana agave, though historically it may have even been blended with non-agave plants such as Dasylirion, the “desert spoon” plant used in the production of mezcal’s sister spirit sotol.

The fact of the matter is, these are all pretty modern distinctions, because from 1915 to the early 1990s, production of bacanora was prohibited in the state of Sonora, and the spirit was primarily known as an illicit one produced by farmers and bootleggers out of sight of the authorities. Only since 2000 has the spirit developed a modern commercial identity in Sonoran culture, where it is increasingly recognized as a local mezcal-adjacent variant to be proud of.

Into that scene we have the U.S. launch of Kilinga Bacanora, a new commercial brand that looks to take this new agave twist stateside for the first time. This particular bottle is labeled as “Blanco,” but it’s actually not the introductory bottle for the brand–they also produce Kilinga Silvestre, which is made from younger, 7-9 year old agave. Blanco, on the other hand, is made from particularly mature 10-12 year old agave pinas, while the brand also has reposado and anejo expressions, aged in American white oak and French oak barrels respectively. As in mezcal production, these pinas are roasted in wood-fired ovens–many bacanoras are made with mesquite–which tends to contribute the expected earthiness and smokiness. Kilinga Bacanora Blanco is bottled at 42% ABV (84 proof), at an MSRP of $50.

So with that said, let’s get to tasting a bottle that is, for me, my first ever bacanora.

On the nose, I think most people would pick this up pretty quickly as mezcal or certainly something adjacent to it–there is moderate aromatic smokiness and significant earthiness, with a slightly rubbery note and plenty of sweet, roasted agave. There are also more unusual elements, though–there’s a certain butteriness to this nose, with roasted hazelnut and mild spice. It’s also joined by more resinous, fresh character that evokes certain aspects of sotol in my memory. It’s an unusual combination of elements, but one that draws you in and makes you curious.

On the palate, the smoke here is somewhat assertive–the brand downplays the prominence of the smoke flavor as an element, but I find it fairly bold. The smoke is joined by minerality that contributes some modest degree of astringency, joined by herbal and resinous sweetness and cooked agave. Poached pear fruitiness is a nice addition, alongside some citrus, pepper and a slight, lingering meatiness. This again helps Kilinga Bacanora Blanco to stand out in a way that sets it apart from most other agave spirits I’ve come across in recent memory.

All said, this is a very interesting bottle. It’s ready to substitute into classic cocktails where one would use less smoky mezcals, or even tequila. Agave geeks who have yet to experience any bacanora will want to make a point of sampling some, to see what distinctions they draw between this and the mezcal/tequila with which they are most familiar.

Distillery: Kilinga Bacanora
Region: Sonora, Mexico
Style: Bacanora/mezcal
ABV: 42% (84 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $50 MSRP

Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.

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