In the dense fog of tequila lore, it is speculated that within a decade or so of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, European-style distilling practices were applied to the ancient indigenous tradition of agave fermentation to create something probably very close to the tequila we know today. Espanita, an artisanal tequila maker, strives to honor the somewhat hybrid history of the spirit with its fine offerings in traditional blanco, reposado, and anejo versions.
The distiller uses 100% blue agave, harvested in the highlands of Jalisco, and slow-bakes the hearts in traditional horno masonry ovens to release the plant’s natural sugars and impart additional flavors. A propriety yeast strain and water are added to the mashed, cooked agave plants, and the mixture is double-distilled in small-batch pot stills after fermentation. Lightly charred oak former bourbon barrels are used for the reposado and anejo expressions. And these meticulous methods yields some pretty fine cactus juice.
Bottled straight from the still, Espanita Blanco ($36) is a rigorously complex plata that can stand up to a simple, neat shot point of entry as well as any aged tequila. The crisp botanical hit and peppery undercurrents are constant, but mellowed by a sweet agave syrup flavor along with some unexpected rosemary and mint highlights. While it performs wonderfully in cocktails, do yourself a favor and try it unadulterated or with a cube and enjoy the journey. It’s not often that I find the blanco to be a stand-out in a series tasting. This one is.
A bit of rest in lightly-charred casks makes for an appropriately light and easy drinking Espanito Reposado ($37). There is a distinct creaminess to the start that adds to the expected botanical flavors. As it plays out on the tongue, that creaminess and a hint of salinity create an unusual structured flavor profile overall, bookending the woody, the sweet, and the herbal flavors very nicely. Like any good reposado, it will add a special element to any cocktail, but again, try it neat, and do so many times.
An 18 month barrel rest and light-char containers make for a slightly lighter color in the Espanita Anejo ($38) than some other anejos. Side-by-side with the reposado, there is more intensity in hue, but it is not appreciably darker. This appearance belies the complex tasting experience. The nose presents a very woody, scotch-y note, without overdoing it. Some anejos can approach a degree of fussiness if over-aged; not so of the Espanita. The barreling actually enhances some of the source agave botanical notes, especially pepper, but some grassiness and a kind of herbal tea quality break out in this expression. A succulent wood and honey envelope wraps it all together for a contemplative sipping session.