It’s hard to know what to make of just about any alcohol product that trades on the lingo of cannabis as a marketing strategy. With some, the association is clear—the major beer makers have been rushing for the last few years to get products to market that actually contain THC, wherever such a drink would be legal. But when you get past THC, and into the quasi-cannabis market of CBD, “terpenes” and beyond, it becomes especially hard to distinguish how much importance to place on that kind of marketing speak. Are cannabis consumers the intended marketplace? Or is the playing up of “terpenes” in a bottle of tequila just part of a broader, new age-y “health benefit” ideal?
I still don’t really know the answer, when it comes to the new El Sativo Tequila brand. What I can say is that this tequila, regardless of terpene content, is absolutely delicious. And that’s a pleasant surprise—no marketing gimmicks are necessary when at its core, a spirit is as good as this one. The quality simply speaks for itself.
El Sativo is a new brand that has quickly made waves among tequila fans, immediately winning two double gold awards in 2020—and that includes Tequila of the Year at the San Francisco Spirits World Competition, one of the most commonly cited award shows for spirits. Tasting it, I can see why—this is an extremely clean, friendly, flavorful tequila that excels at delivering a classic tequila profile.
El Sativo is distilled in the lowlands of Amatitán, Jalisco, by Tequilas Las Americas. It is a single estate, organic tequila made from agave on the distillery’s own estate, “harvested solely in our fields and never sourced,” which is how the company assures its organic certification. That agave is slowly steamed in small batch stone ovens, fermented with natural yeast, and blended with reverse osmosis water filtered through volcanic rock. The resulting tequila is bottled at the standard 40% ABV (80 proof), with an MSRP of $40-45. As far as I know, the brand only has a blanco tequila, and no aged (reposado or anejo) varieties as of yet.
The aromatic/flavor compounds of terpenes, meanwhile, are implied to be captured and maintained by some novel process that El Sativo does not fully explain. I inquired about this particular point, and received the following reply from El Sativo co-founder Dr. Robert Summers: “Our Compound Focused distillation process uses historical practices but improves it by targeting and maintaining specific beneficial elements in the agave. These terpenes are known to have mood lifting and energy boosting properties.”
I’m sure there’s probably someone out there who would be happy to challenge whether these terpenes “are known” to have a handful of positive properties, but that’s beside the point. What I do want to get across is how tasty this tequila is, so let’s get to the tasting.
On the nose, El Sativo Tequila is exceedingly bright and fresh, with lots of juicy pink grapefruit and lightly resinous notes, along with some salt, minerality and sweet agave. It smells lightly sweet and extremely inviting, quite citrusy and a bit angular—you couldn’t call anything about this “dull.” Ethanol on the nose is very muted, even for the low proof point. It smells, in fact, like you could just take it at a gulp.
On the palate, this proves to be a pretty accurate assessment—El Sativo is full of flavor, but is ridiculously easy to drink. Lightly sweet and citrus forward once again, with additional stone fruit notes, it combines slightly sweet herbaceousness and fresh agave with dried herbs and ever-so-slight roastiness and saltiness. Peppery spice rounds things out, but once again the ethanol presence is exceedingly well integrated into the flavor profile, making the tequila dangerously quaffable. The flavor profile isn’t necessarily the most complex, but it’s extremely poised, gentle and accessible, while nailing many classic tequila notes.
Ultimately, I find myself thinking that I’d like to see the proof point bumped up a bit higher on El Sativo, just because you barely even feel it here—you could take it to 90 and make the flavors that much more assertive, and it would probably be even better. Likewise, I’ll be very interested to see if the distillery will have aged variants coming down the pipe in the future, but in the meantime this is just a great, extremely inviting tequila. I’m sure it will mix beautifully in a variety of cocktails, but it’s hard to resist the temptation to just drink it neat.
Which is to say: I still don’t know if the terpenes are important, but I really don’t think it matters when the tequila is this tasty.
Distillery: El Sativo, Tequilas Las Americas S.A. de C.V.
City: Amatitán, Jalisco, Mexico
ABV: 40% (80 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $40-45 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.