Our month of Agave Weekends continues …
As a keen fan of tequila, I ought to have known more about El Tequileño, a distilling operation that started before I was born—especially given its estimable provenance. In 1959, Don Jorge Salles Cuervo (yes, of that Cuervo family) founded the operation, named after the Jalisco town that gave the agave-based spirit its name. Don Jorge: While one of the company’s taglines is “Mexico’s Best Kept Secret,” I am glad to finally make your acquaintance. While the founder passed away in 2000, the traditions of the distiller, and its entry into boutique hospitality, are respectfully overseen by Don Jorge’s grandson, Master Distiller Jorge Antonio Salles.
A disclosure: I was immediately intrigued by El Tequileño’s offerings, because, unlike almost every other tequila maker, it does not market an añejo expression. The company leans hard into the flavor possibilities of blancos and reposados, in multiple variations, and often using some fairly experimental and unorthodox methods. So, I was drawn to this maker before I even took a sip. And once I took a sip of each of El Tequileño’s five expressions ? Well, read on.
El Tequileño’s standard blanco kicks off with a notably deeper nose than many unbarreled tequilas, with the expected alcohol-forward hit, but a pleasing, almost floral aspect, as well. And once in motion, it drinks like a solid blanco, with a distinctly sweet cooked agave flavor. I’d peg this a cocktail tequila, but a very good one.
Blanco Platinum ($50)
So, a) I can’t think of another distiller that bothers to do a second version of a blanco, and b) this maker’s Blanco Platinum gets a very brief rest of 14 days minimum in American Oak. That makes it a very young reposado, right? Well, its flavor characteristics are pure blanco, and the color is as clear as water, but the brief rest brings out abundant floral, sweet, and herbal notes, especially when nosed. Botanical and spicy flavors are also enhanced when you slide it down, with a kind of underlying creaminess uniting the experience. Straight or with a rock, this is an outstanding sipper for a blanco, and will serve nicely in cocktails, as well.
El Tequileño’s core proper-reposado-labeled brew gets a three-month stay in American Oak—again, making it relatively young. While its color approaches a very light yellow, that barrel-rest introduces some vanilla notes to the nose and amps the natural pepperiness and anise flavors of the agave, wrapping it all up in a delicious dry and woody envelope, with that familiar creamy undercurrent.
Resposado Gran Reserva ($50)
And here’s another somewhat unorthodox approach: the Gran Reserva reposado is blended with a very small amount of añejo tequila. And this touch of the blender’s art, which doesn’t typically play a role in tequila production, just plain works. The base spirit gets a minimum of eight months in oak, which edges it towards an añejo aging period. But the result is a more typical reposado flavor profile and color. The nose is sweet and herbal, with a distinctly woody edge on the tongue. This wood bite enhances smoothness, but the abundant botanical funkiness you want in a reposado is not aged out at all.
Reposado Rare ($200)
In a typical distilling situation, a six-and-a-third-year rest in American Oak should yield a dark, perhaps overly-complex añejo, or extra-añejo, tequila. But at El Tequileño, you end up with a superbly best-of-both worlds, dark reposado. Larger pipon casks are used for the barrel aging; maybe that’s the secret. While the Reposado Rare leans a bit toward añejo characteristics in terms of depth, this award-winning limited-edition product is still a pure reposado that delivers a clean, exceptionally smooth sip to accompany the wood-enhanced botanical sweetness.
Of course, what better way to enjoy all this agave innovation than in a perfect, tequila-inspired venue in the town of Tequila itself? While a visit to the distillery’s on-site Casa Salles Hotel (rates from $150 a night), opened last year, wasn’t feasible before press time, by all reports it is THE boutique experience in tequila country.
While located adjacent to El Tequileño’s home La Guarreña distillery itself, Casa Salles is nestled on its own scenic grounds and gardens, complete with 150-year-old mango trees, on the edge of the town of Tequila. Its 25 guest rooms sport a light, sunny atmosphere with a clean, modernist design. Naturally, guests can take advantage of special curated experiences at the distillery, but the location is also ideal for exploring the rest of the town and for excursions into the rugged land that rises from the Rio Grande Canyon. Mango Cocina de Origin, a lively restaurant which has developed recipes using the fruits of the distillery, as well as a world-class spa and pool plaza, round out the appeal.
“Tequila for me is not just a spirit, it’s a culture,” says the hotel’s director Gina Quirarte Salles. “Casa Salles immerses you into the culture of tequila; you can see it made, you can smell it, you can feel it. A visit here really makes you part of this historic story.”