The Spirits of Mexico Festival, which is already an annual event in San Diego and New York, came to Chicago for the first time this week. It kicked off Wednesday with a tequila tasting and dinner at Adobo Grill; Thursday night was the main event, a tasting of tequilas and mezcals from about ten different distillers at Zocalo. Most were sampling their silver (aged less than two months), reposado (aged between two months and a year), and añejo (aged between one to three years) tequilas; a few also had an extra añejo (aged more than three years), and one focused on flavored spirits (along with regular tequila). After the jump, some favorites.
I'm familiar with Sauza's Tres Generaciones, since it's a friend's tequila of choice, but I've never tried it straight before, only with mixers. The silver is very smooth, a surprisingly good sipping tequila, and I actually preferred it to their reposado. It's recently been certified organic, and the bottles labeled as such (pictured) will be hitting the market soon.
Don Modesto (not pictured) is a relatively new brand, started a little over three years ago in Jalisco. From what I've read it's been well received, but their blanco and reposado tequilas were too minerally and bitter for my taste, almost medicinal in flavor. Age seems to have smoothed out the añejo, though—smoky and spicy, it was one of my favorites.
The silver tequila from Chinaco has a briny, distinctive flavor that, according to their representative, is due to terroir. Rather than being produced in Jalisco like most tequilas, Chinaco is made in the state of Tamaulipas. Their reposado and añejo tequilas possess the same saltiness, but the flavors of the wood from the barrel aging makes it less pronounced.
"Doing a shot of this is the equivalent to doing a shot and a line of coke," the brand representative told us before we tasted Los Amantes mezcal. I didn't do a shot, so I can't say whether that's true (also: no basis for comparison), but it's a flavor that will definitely get your attention. Mezcal is usually produced in much smaller batches than tequila, and while the process is similar, the agave heart is roasted, which makes it taste smokier. It's often considered a challenging liquor to get into, but I like its earthy, smoky, slightly salty flavor. I did prefer the joven (young) Los Amantes to the more aggressive reposado, though.
Not among my favorites, but pretty: the line of flavored tequilas from EC Charro. The blackberry was the best of them, more natural-tasting than the others (mandarin orange, kiwi lime, and raspberry pomegranate).
We tasted all of the tequilas from Don Julio, from the unaged silver to the five-year-old Real. The strangest was the Don Julio 70, which was released last year—it's the añejo, but it's been put through a super-top-secret filtering process that makes it clear again and completely changes the flavor so that it tastes nothing like the añejo. With no wood flavor, it's kind of like a silver tequila, but . . . not. It wasn't bad, but it was my least favorite of the offerings. I liked the Don Julio 1942 best, an añejo aged longer than their regular one (two and a half to three years as opposed to 18 months). It's buttery and a bit nutty, with strong notes of toffee and caramel. The extra añejo, which they call Real, was also excellent—but assuming I could afford any of them, I think I'd pick the 1942, which retails around $100, over the $300-$400 Real.