Albeit with a light hand, Santera Tequila folds some edgier processes, like additional filtration steps and even some blending, into what, at its core, is a compelling dedication to traditional agave distilling. I mean, here’s the checkbox on age-honored technique, all overseen by master distiller Augustin Sanchez:
-100% blue Weber agave harvested from the rich volcanic soils of the dormant Volcan de Tequila in the Jalisco highlands
-Hand harvesting at perfect maturation (about 40 pounds per plant), and hand-trimming of the pinas
-Up to 54 hours of cooking in traditional brick horno ovens
-Cooked pinas are shredded and juiced in old-school molino mills
-A proprietary fruit yeast is pitched into the source spirit liquid and slow-fermented to 5-9% alcohol content
-Time-consuming, single batch, double distilling in alembic pots to the 40% ABV release potency
Santera’s blanco ($46) doesn’t give too many clues about what’s coming when you nose it. Its aroma is fairly neutral, with a hint of fruity crispness. In motion, the vibe changes profoundly into an appealing mix of agave sweetness, to the point of some soft, syrupy taste and texture, along with subtle botanical and fruit smoothness. The distiller claims to use an additional propriety filtration process to round out the often harsh flavors of a blanco, and if that’s the secret, I’m buying it. This is one smooth blanco, with a capital “S.” As such, sipping, mixing, or any use you’d like to try is on the table.
Again, a fairly neutral, but somewhat deeper, nose starts the Santera reposado ($51) experience. The color, after an up to seven month rest in American Oak, is appealing and vibrant. And, I would say the wood takes center stage on the tongue as well. More minty/herbal notes are brought out, accompanied by some dominant oak/spice flavors. This complexity fairly eliminates the syrup-y aspects of the blanco version, delivering an excellent sipping reposado with a lot of crisp, high notes to enjoy. And its smoothness also pegs this for some experimental cocktail work, as well.
Full disclosure: I am a reposado fan, and generally, in a series tasting, you’ll find me leaning into the light barrel-aged expressions (while occasionally favoring next-gen blancos that get a brief, if unorthodox, rest in the wood). But there is an air of thoughtful completeness, as opposed to overwrought fussiness, to Santera’s superb anejo offering ($59). It’s aged up to 16 months in American Oak—not the longest barrel-rest for an anejo, but that stay delivers a kind of double-agent brew: dark and robust in color, but accessible, natural and smooth on the tongue. Again, the nose is fairly neutral, with only a hint of what I’d describe as “scotchiness.” On sipping, you’ll notice a remarkable sweet smoothness right off the bat that transitions into a “wide” woodiness; not a sharp woody hit, but a blanket of smokey-barky flavor that creates, appropriately, a table for additional herbal notes and a sophisticated sweetness, of the toffee/caramel variety. Blending is traditionally not a key element of tequila-making, but more and more distillers are experimenting with the idea: Santera’s anejo gets a touch of extra-anejo tequila married to the mix that one has to think enhances the overall complexity, without overdoing it. Normally, I’d never suggest a cocktail for an anejo, but this unique expression begs some experimentation of that stripe. Santera’s website features a very nice online cocktail booklet with the anejo getting into some modified Manhattan/Old-Fashioned territory that will undoubtedly work well.