It’s always easy to write tequila off as the beverage of poorly chosen shots and spring break binges, but it’s really no more the case that tequila is one dimensional than it is for whiskey or wine. Olmeca Altos boasts a team that includes bottling engineers from Kentucky and cocktail forerunners from the London bar scene, but at the end of the day, the project is really all about the process.
Agave, unlike a grape or wheat crop, takes closer to a decade to properly mature. That means the soil and growing conditions have more impact on the final product than fermentation, distillation and aging combined. The growing region of Los Altos is situated 6,900 feet above sea level and has mineral rich volcanic soil—ideal for growing flavorful agave.
Olmeca Altos says that between seven and eight years after planting, the agave is harvested, cooked in a brick oven, and then pulped using the traditional, but now rare, tahoma method, of “crushing the cooked pinas with a two-ton volcanic millstone, to draw out the sweet juice and syrup from the fibers.” The agave liquid is then distilled using a pot still.
The result of this labor comes in two final expressions: plata and reposado. Both have an herbal nose. Plata, which is unaged, is aromatic and sweet with citric and cooked Agave notes, well balanced with peppery heat and has a long lasting, fruity finish.
As the world rediscovers diversity in the spirits world, the second-use barrel market is reaping the benefits. Whiskey and wine barrels have always been the popular choice for tequila makers, but bourbon seems to have lent its own unique mark to Olmeca Altos Tequila’s Reposado expression.
The Reposado, which is aged 6-8 months in 200 liter ex-Bourbon white-oak casks, comes off sweet, fruity and fresh on the nose, with citrus complemented by cooked Agave, vanilla and woody notes. On the palate it’s bourbon smooth and bourbon sweet, and then citric again—it’s uncomplicated, but pleasant and balanced.
If you’re looking at this for Cinco de Mayo (and you should be, because we’re less than a month out), yes they’re great for cocktails. Curiously, both the Reposado and Plata made decent margaritas. The Reposado in particular gave the whole cocktail a honeyed sweetness that changed the dynamics of the drink, but didn’t throw off the balance.
Distillery: Destileria Colonial de Jalisco
Region: Jalisco, Mexico
Style: Pot Still Tequila, Plata and Reposado