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Don’t you just love change? Let’s face it, most of us don’t, which is why it can be downright scary when theres a change to your favorite tequila. When the bottle changes you can’t help but worry if the tequila has changed as well. One such case is the mega-popular Don Julio 1942, which saw a change to its bottle AND recipe a few years ago.
Don Julio 1942 Tequila Bottles Old and New
I first tasted Don Julio 1942 back around 2006. It came in a cool wooden “coffin” box and the bottle was tall and slightly rounded with an agave leaf shape blown into the glass. It had a blue label and a screw top. I drank this like a mad man for several years.

When they changed the bottle to the taller, darker brown design of today, I smelled it and realized it was different! To be honest, I got angry, and I childishly refused to drink it ever again!

I thought to myself: “Why did they mess with such a good thing?!”

Years go by, and after we launched the Tequila Matchmaker, we saw Don Julio 1942 shoot right up the charts to become the most popular tequila according to our users. All these people can’t be wrong, so we decided to give it another try. We wanted it to be absolutely fair, so we used the “blind rating” tool within the Tequila Matchmaker. This is a cool feature built into the app that makes it possible to rate a tequila without any biases.

We were shocked to discover that Scarlet and I both liked the NEW version better!

This was totally unexpected. When a tequila brand changes a bottle or recipe, it’s usually because they are trying to save some money at the expense of quality. But this was clearly not the case here.

The new Don Julio 1942 has a little more vanilla, and slightly more caramelized baked agave to the aroma. The older formula smells great, but the new stuff smells even better. The flavor is deeper, richer, rounder, and has a slightly cleaner finish.

We were so surprised by this that we had to get other people involved. So over the course of several months, we invited 12 different tequila enthusiasts to our house and gave them 2 glasses marked “A”, and “B”. We didn’t tell them what it was, and asked them to tell us “which do you like better?”

Only 8% said they liked both equally, while 25% said they liked the old stuff, and 67% said the new Don Julio 1942 was better. Validation!

Don Julio 1942 - Taste Test Results

Afterward, we told them what they had just tasted, and almost everyone was surprised.

So, the next time your favorite tequila changes something, don’t panic! Just remain calm, do your own blind taste test, because you may be pleasantly surprised.

We’d love to know what you think, too. Log into the Tequila Matchmaker and share your ratings with us!

– Grover

blind-judging-50-ml-bottles

Imagine sitting down at a table with 2 glasses of tequila (or any high-proof spirit) in front of you. Your job is to smell and taste both, and then decide which you like better. Sounds like a fun time, right?

Spirits of Mexico - Rating ScoresheetNow imaging having to taste 50 tequilas (or any high-proof spirit) in a single sitting and within a few hours, and choose which you like better. Do you think you could do it? I was given that opportunity recently as a judge for the Spirits of Mexico competition in San Diego, the biggest and most prestigious tequila event of every year.

Together with about 10 other judges, sitting in the same hotel conference room, I went about the task of evaluating 99 different agave-based distillates over the course of 2 days. This task was not easy. I found that after about 6 tequilas, my abilities were diminished. By the 12th tequila, I felt like I was no longer able to trust my judgment. Not because I was drunk (we were wisely instructed not to swallow), but because of palate fatigue.

Some of the others in the group were ‘professional tasters’ who seemed to be able to get through all of these spirits without issue. When things started getting really rough (especially when we were tasting the flavor-saturated extra añejo tequilas), they would swish vodka around in their mouths as a way to reset their palate between glasses. (Hardcore!)

Spirits of Mexico - Blanco Tequilas

I’m definitely not a professional taster. I love tequila, but I’m just an “end user”, fan, loyal customer, and an advocate for the spirit. I never claimed to be an expert taster, so I can only assume that I was selected to participate as a contest judge because my only experience is that of a consumer of tequila.

My respect goes out to those unique individuals who can taste and evaluate at this level. Their abilities are impressive, and they clearly have special talents. The experience was indeed fascinating, and I don’t regret any of it. In those two days, I learned a lot from them, and I am grateful.

In the past several years, I’d heard from other contest judges that palate fatigue was their biggest challenge, too. When asked if they would judge another spirits competition again, their answer is always “no, I don’t think so.” Now I can relate.

I couldn’t help but start to think that maybe there was a better way, and that our app could help.

A year ago, we met Crystal Murphy and Omar Mercado who run the Monterey Tequila & Mezcal Expo. They had just completed their contest judging, and it followed the traditional process with all of the judges in the same room at the same time. I heard talk of palate fatigue among the judges once again, so I offered to help. Crystal and Omar immediately accepted my invitation.

Tequila Matchmaker Group Blind Ratings Process

The Tequila Matchmaker app has always had the ability for a user to rate a tequila blind, but this feature didn’t work for more than one person at a time, so we added a new feature that would make “group blind ratings” possible.

No more palate fatigue.

Tequila Blind Rating ScreenWith this tool, the Monterey Tequila & Mezcal Expo broke new ground. The judges were sent 50ml bottles, labeled “A”, “B”, “C”, etc., which corresponded to an item inside of the app. They could review the samples over the span of month, from the comfort of their own home, and use the app to step them through the process and provide a common set of criteria.

Since I knew all of the tequilas in the contest, I wasn’t able to participate as a judge. However, Scarlet was one of the eight judges so I had a front-row seat right from my own home. She had no idea which tequilas she was tasting. She followed the judging instructions carefully. She took her time, tasted 3 at a time, and sometimes went back again if scores were close to refine her ratings. She rated everything in the same room, at the same time of day, using the same glassware.

I was also able to watch what all the other judges were doing through the back-end administration console used to run the group blind rating function. This way I could identify any judge who may be having technical problems, or needed extra time.

Another issue of concern with traditional competitions, especially among brands who entered the contest, was the issue of transparency. This was yet another area we could address with our app simply by disclosing all of the scores from all of the judges, and making this information public.

By displaying this information in graphical form, you can actually see trends among the judges, their own flavor preferences, and any biases they may have. It provides the justification to the awards.

No more mysterious ratings.

Although there are many spirit competitions in the world, many brands refuse to enter them. Faith in the fairness of the process is usually the reason. Brands that already have an established reputation don’t stand to gain from contests. A win is expected, anything else can only hurt, so why bother?

In a traditional competition, the goal is to award a medal. That’s basically it. If you win, or if you don’t, you aren’t going to learn anything from the experience. There is very little a brand can take away from the experience that will help them improve their product or marketing.

I can’t help but wonder if brands knew they would get useful data from the experience, would more of them enter?

Monterey Tequila Competition - Results[ View complete results: Monterey 2013 ]

Using the app, we are able to extract the ratings information and show a brand exactly why they rated they way they did. Perhaps they scored high on aroma, but low on finish. Perhaps their tequila is priced too high, or too low? Maybe their tequila is too sweet for several of the judges. By sharing the data, brands can find out.

Contests should be more than medals and awards. They should help improve the category be providing actionable data and objective feedback.

– Grover

Suerte Tequila

I remember how excited I was when I tasted my first 100% agave tequila. Up until that point, I was like most people in that I had bad college experiences that kept me away from tequila. It wasn’t until a certain female (who I later married) encouraged me to give it another try that I realized just how good it could be.

After that first taste (at Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco) I went to Costco and bought every single brand and type of tequila they had, marking the start of a new obsession.

In those days, it was exciting because everything tasted so new and different. There were many brands, blancos, reposados, añejos, and I was overwhelmed with the amount of “learning” that was in front of me.

As I tasted more and more tequilas, I started to realize that many (but not all) tequilas tasted basically the same. I was able to identify an average, generic, basic tequila profile that was just simply OK. This profile can be found easily, especially in brands that tend to care more about marketing than tequila.

Tequilas makers that dare to be different by crafting their own unique flavor profile are the ones that have my respect and admiration. It takes guts to create something different. There are several out there, and one of them is Suerte Tequila, a relatively new brand whose name means “luck” in Spanish. With so many tequila brands flooding the marketplace, that seems like a very appropriate name (and I wish them a lot of it.)

There are a few things happening in their production process that make Suerte taste different than most. They roast their agaves in brick ovens instead of quickly steaming them in stainless steel autoclaves. They crush the cooked agave slowly using a tahona wheel (a large heavy stone wheel) instead of quickly in an industrial shredder. They also rest the blanco for 2 months in stainless steel tanks before it hits the bottle.

Most brands pump their blanco tequila through charcoal filters to mellow it out, but Suerte uses slow-moving gravity-fed hoses and micron filters because they want their blanco to retain as much of that original flavor profile as possible.

In other words, they are not rushing through the process.

Suerte smells and tastes different from other tequilas, and I find that really exciting. The blanco has a sour, citrusy and somewhat grassy aroma, and the flavor is rich with cooked agave. (See my tasting notes below.) The blanco was my favorite of their three expressions, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it evolves over time and how they use this blanco to create truly exceptional aged varieties as well.

This brand is still very new to the market, and I fully expect it to find its place in the tequila world. The flavor profile they have today is a great start, and it will evolve over time like any truly artisanal product.

Keep your eyes on this brand, because with a little “suerte”, they’ll be able to claim their own unique place in the tequila landscape.

- Grover


About our ratings: We do not claim to be “tequila experts,” and the ratings numbers included in this review only indicate how well they match with our own personal preferences. We used the Tequila Matchmaker app, to calculate the ratings. A low score does not necessarily mean that the tequila is bad. In fact, if we feel there was something wrong or bad with a tequila, we would not spend the time it takes to review it as we’ve done here. Any tequila we review on our blog is worthy of your consideration.


Suerte Tequila Blanco

Suerte Tequila Blanco

Tasting notes:

Grover:
“I am a huge fan of tequilas that don’t smell and taste like every other tequila. (As long as it’s not a mistake.) This tequila has an interesting and unique aroma that is slightly cinnamon and grassy with a sour, citrus base. I like the smell, and the flavor is full bodied and tastes of cooked agave. This tequila is different. It is subtle, intentionally unique, and I appreciate that.”

Suerte Tequila Blanco Review Scores


Suerte Tequila Reposado

Suerte Tequila Reposado

Tasting notes:

Grover:
“Aromas of vanilla and celery, an interesting combo of 2 of my favorite things. It has a touch of Christmas spice on the nose and palate. The sourness of the blanco is still present but very slight. Smooth and creamy flavor, really nice dry finish.”

Suerte Tequila Reposado Review


Suerte Tequila Anejo

Suerte Tequila Añejo

Tasting notes:

Grover:
“The signature sour aroma found in the blanco and reposado are not present in the añejo (which is kind of a shame, because I was really enjoying that part of it). Butter and cinnamon on the nose make this variety appear to be from different blancos. (Since this is a new brand, it’s understandable that this could be the case.) The finish is very dry, spicy and a little rough in spots. Not a bad añejo, but it isn’t nearly as fun as the previous two.”

Suerte Tequila Anejo Ratings


Suerte Tequila is widely available in Colorado and New York City.

You can buy it online through DrinkUpNY (special sale prices listed): Suerte Tequila Blanco ($33.99), Suerte Tequila Reposado ($39.99); and Suerte Tequila Añejo ($63.99).

More information can be found on the Suerte Tequila website. Consider following them on Twitter and/or Facebook.

Have you tried Suerte yet? Please contribute your thoughts below.

We’ve never had to start off a story with a disclaimer before, but here it goes: DO NOT attempt to make this cocktail recipe at home. This is the “most dangerous tequila cocktail in the world.”

Luckily, we had Dustin Haarstad, a trained professional (and a bit of a pyromaniac) create this cocktail for us. He’s from Blind Tiger Cocktail Company and pulls these kinds of crazy cocktail stunts all the time.

We met up with Dustin at tequila mecca Cantina Mayahuel in San Diego. He showed us how to create a “Tequila Blue Blazer,” cocktail using tequila, mezcal, and a whole lot of fire.

Dustin used Siete Leguas reposado tequila and Del Maguey Vida Minero mezcal to create a combustible mixture that puts on quite a show.

Here’s the recipe, but don’t try this at home!

1) In a metal pitcher combine:

 - 1 ounce reposado tequila

 - 2 ounces of high-proof mezcal

2) In another metal pitcher add:

 - 2 ounces of boiling hot water

3) Use a long lighter to light the tequila/mezcal mixture and let it sit for a few seconds

4) CAREFULLY pour the flaming contents into the other pitcher and pass the liquid back and forth between them several times

5) Put the flame out by covering the top of the container with the liquid in it, taking away the oxygen needed to burn

6) Add the following ingredients:

 - 3/4 ounce of lime juice

 - a few dashes of bitters to create an added complexity

7) Mix the liquid again by passing it back and forth between the pitchers

8) Pour into a small brandy-snifter style glass and let it cool down a bit before serving

This cocktail is served warm and is great for cold days. It’s a nice, bright, flavorful tea-like cocktail that is not overpowered with alcohol.

dulce-vida-tequila-horiz

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.

Dulce Vida tequila bottles

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.

Richard Sorenson of Dulce Vida Tequila

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.

– Grover

casamigos-tequila

George Clooney + tequila. Do we have your attention yet? The group behind the new Casamigos brand sure hopes so. They released a viral video campaign featuring Clooney, his girlfriend Stacy Keibler, Cindy Crawford, and her husband Rande Gerber, all falling into bed together after a night of drinking. (Clooney and Gerber are behind this brand.)

And the Casamigos website makes claims that caught our attention as well, including “The best tasting, smoothest tequila” and “a tequila that is smooth with no burn.”

So the question we wanted to answer was, “Is Casamigos worth all the hype?”

We initially learned that this tequila was coming to market several months ago, when a store clerk poured us a sample from an unmarked bottle he had stashed behind the counter. He told us it was George Clooney’s new tequila, and solicited our feedback. We couldn’t spend much time with it in the store, so we didn’t rush to judgement, but thought it was something that deserved examination in a better environment, using the proper glassware, and giving it plenty of time.

casamigos-NOMWhen we got home, we wanted to learn more about it, so the first thing we did was try to find out the NOM. The NOM is a four-digit number issued by the Mexican government to each legal entity that produces tequila. The NOM must appear on each bottle of tequila, and helps you identify the distillery where it is made. By looking for the NOM, we can start to figure out what a tequila may taste like based on where it was made. Casamigos is made at NOM 1416, which is the same distillery that makes well-known brands Avion (the “Entourage” tequila) and Clase Azul, among many others.

(By the way, if you want to have the ability to quickly look up a tequila and see what else is made in the same place, download the Tequila Matchmaker app for iOS and Android. It’s free and VERY useful. A lot of mass-produced brands that call themselves “artisanal” would rather you not have this information.)

The next thing we examined was price. BevMo in California is charging $45 for the blanco and $46 for the reposado, so it’s competing in a space where Fortaleza Blanco lives. The reposado is more expensive than another one of our favorites, Casa Noble Reposado, which retails for $43.

This price range set our expectations pretty damn high, so we picked up a couple bottles hoping for the best.

casamigos-tequila-bottles

The Blanco

Before the blanco opened up we got faint aromas of mint and green agave. After a few minutes, some cinnamon started to come through, but for the most part, the aroma wasn’t very prominent.

Upon visual examination, the tequila clung to the side of the glass like a nice, oily tequila should, but once it hit our mouths it didn’t quite measure up with what we were expecting. It is sweet and slightly watery and lacks the sophistication and complexity of a tequila that commands this price range.

Casamigos Blanco is a relatively simple tequila with mint and cinnamon flavors, and a finish that is remarkably short.

The Reposado

Casamigos Reposado brings all of the characteristics of the blanco, but with a heavy dose of caramel (which smells very good, by the way). It is aged 7 months in American Oak. It has a smoother mouth feel in the front, but has a slightly rougher (or ‘scratchy’) finish.

The Verdict

After spending a couple hours with Casamigos Tequila, we decided that although it was pleasant and sippable, it really didn’t live up to its price tag.

The question now is can its celebrity endorsements keep the brand afloat?

- Grover & Scarlet

Everyone has a bad college experience that somehow involved tequila. (Go ahead, admit it, you have one too.) As a result, people can be hesitant about tequila later on in life. We run into this situation all the time, and have developed a process for re-introducing people to tequila.

Feel free to use the same process:

Step 1: Set the stage with an informal tasting

Don’t just hand them a shot glass with tequila – this will surely bring nasty college flashbacks. This is exactly what you want to avoid. Skip the salt and the lime, this isn’t a race.

Instead, create a unique experience. Slow down, get nice glassware, and encourage them to sip it. If possible, have a few different types of tequila available so they can see that all tequilas are definitely not the same. Treat the tequila as you would wine, and you’re taking a good first step toward a happy re-introduction.

Step 2: Educate them about tequila and how it is made

The more you know about something, the more you can really get into it. Study up on the tequila basics so you can explain what makes it different from vodka, gin, or whiskey.

Also be ready to dispel some of the tequila myths out there – like tequila being made from a cactus (it isn’t), or that each bottle of tequila contains a worm (it doesn’t), or that you are required to eat the non-existent worm (you aren’t).

Step 3: Choose the right tequila

Give them something of high quality, because chances are that it will taste like something they’ve never had before. We’ve been down this road countless times, and our tequila conversion success rate is remarkably high mostly because we carefully select what they will be tasting.

It’s probably a safe bet to start with some aged tequilas, like the Casa Noble Reposado, Excellia Reposado, or Fortaleza Añejo. (Our favorite conversion tools!) As soon as your friends smell these tequilas, they will already know that they’re in for a much different experience.

Which are your favorite “conversion tequilas?” Please share with us by leaving a comment below.

Salud!

- Grover

Where can you find well-known high quality tequilas sharing shelf space with obscure little-known brands that you can’t find in the United States? Be careful, or you may miss it.

El Buho, a small tequila store located just outside of Guadalajara in Tlaquepaque, Mexico, is jam-packed with tequilas that meet the approval of the store’s owner, Emilio – who personally tastes everything before it wins a spot on his shelf.

Each time we visit the Guadalajara region, El Buho is always on our list of places to visit. Surprises are always waiting for us because Emilio is always on the lookout for new and interesting tequila brands.

Not sure if you’re going to like a particular tequila? Just ask Emilio, and he may even let you sample it on the spot. Many of the brands in the store are available for in-store tasting. (Try that in the United States!)

I had the opportunity to interview Emilio in the store (video above.) We talked about some of his favorite personal tequila discoveries – a few of which can only be found in Mexico.

If you want to score some of the rare finds at El Buho, you’re gonna have to make the trip to Mexico. They aren’t able to ship tequilas to the United States. For tequila tourists, this store is a requirement.

Tequilas El Buho
Juarez 164-B
Tlaquepaque Centro
Jalisco, Mexico

Telephone: 36590863

A few blocks from the central square in the town of Tequila, Mexico, is La Capilla, a small cantina with a rich history and a steady stream of tequila tourists. This must-see tavern is owned and operated by a man in his nineties — Don Javier Delgado Corona, the creator of the popular tequila cocktail “The Batanga.”

The walls of the cantina are filled with photographs of tequila industry giants who have pulled up a bar stool, sipped on a Batanga or a shot of tequila, and listened to Don Javier talk about Tequila’s rich and colorful history.

Don Javier is no stranger to tourists. His guest book, now on its third volume, is thick, heavy, and full of the signatures and stories of his visitors.

As tequila tourists ourselves, we recently made our pilgrimage to La Capilla to meet Don Javier. We asked him to make a batch of Batangas for us (and our camera.) He told us the story of the drink, how it got its name, and the little-known “secret” to its flavor.

 

The Batanga: Tequila Drink Recipe

  1. Use a highball, or tall glass
  2. Use a lime wedge to coat the rim of the glass
  3. Dip the rim in a dish of salt to coat
  4. Squeeze the juice of 1/2 lime into the glass
  5. Add ice to fill the glass to the top (preferably with large-sized cubes)
  6. Add a really generous shot of blanco tequila to the glass, filling it about halfway
  7. Top off the remainder of the glass with Coca-Cola
  8. To honor Don Javier, stir with a big knife, the secret to its flavor

.

If you’re planning to visit the town of Tequila, make sure you carve out some time to meet Don Javier, order up a Batanga, and listen to a few stories. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, it’s still a rewarding experience.

La Capilla Cantina
Calle México and Hidalgo
Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico