Sometimes 40% alcohol (80-proof) just isn’t enough. I say this not because of any need to hurry up and get a fast buzz on, but rather that a quality tequila made at 100 proof (50% alcohol) can be more true to the real nature of tequila than one that is at the traditional 40% found in most stores.
In some cases, 100-proof (or above) tequilas are done for product positioning or marketing reasons. But this does not appear to be the case for Dulce Vida, a line of 100-proof organic tequilas that makes very effective use of that additional ten percent.
If you’ve ever been to a tequila distillery where they’ll let you walk right up and sample what’s coming directly out of the still, you may already know what I’m getting at. I was lucky enough to get this type of access at the distilleries that produce Casa Noble, Siete Leguas, and Fortaleza tequilas.
A blanco tequila that comes directly from the still can be anywhere from 50% to 70% alcohol, which is extremely “hot” and can be difficult to drink. But a very small amount in your mouth goes a long way. After the initial wave of alcohol fades, you are often left with an intensely pleasant burst of oily flavor that is sometimes fruity, sometimes vegetal, or sometimes earthy.
You usually can’t experience tequila like this with normal store-bought tequilas because just before bottling they are run through a charcoal and/or micro-fiber filters, and then water is added to bring the alcohol level back down to 40 percent.
I say “usually” because there actually is a way to experience this without making the journey to Jalisco and sweet-talking a master distiller. Dulce Vida Blanco is a 100-proof tequila that brings me right back to those stills. It is loaded with sweet and fruity aromas of cooked agave and a touch of citrus, and it coats the mouth with a nice, long, minty finish.
Tasting a reposado or añejo tequila that has come directly from a barrel is another rare treat for a tequila fan. After the blanco tequila goes from the still to a barrel, it is aged for anywhere from a few months to many years. As it ages, the amount of alcohol (usually) increases.
If you taste a quality tequila directly from a barrel, you will experience an initial wave of alcohol, and then intense aromas and flavors that have been introduced by the wood (common flavors would be butterscotch, nuts, coffee, chocolate, oak, vanilla, and caramel). The high level of alcohol seems to maximize the delivery of these flavors to your palette.
I found the aged varieties of Dulce Vida to be very pleasant, making effective use of its 100-proof. Both the reposado and the añejo are aged for 12 months in used Makers Mark and Jim Beam whisky barrels. Once I let it rest in the glass a bit, the Dulce Vida Reposado had an aroma similar to that of cream soda. I experienced a wave of flavors, including nuts and cinnamon.
But as good as the reposado is, the añejo is even better. The tequila is aged for 24 months and it smells absolutely fantastic. It’s got a rich, thick taste, with a wave of subtle vanilla and a touch of spicy crispness, as well as a long, enjoyable, nutty finish. The cooked agave from the blanco is still there, greeting you like a familiar friend.
Sadly, for us, this tequila isn’t available in California yet. I hope this will change soon. Richard Sorenson, the founder of the brand, is based in Austin, Texas where the brand is plentiful. But you can also buy it online at The Party Source.
The entire Dulce Vida lineup gets a thumbs-up here in our house. Don’t let the 100-proof scare you. Just close your eyes and imagine you’re in a Mexican distillery, sampling right from the still or barrel. No airfare or passport needed.