There’s a new tequila on the block, as Pernod Ricard–producer/importer/marketer of such well-known liquor brands as Absolut, Glenlivet, Jameson, Malibu, Kahlúa, and Seagram’s, among others — has expanded distribution of Olmeca Altos to Washington State as of last month. The new spirit is 100-percent blue agave tequila from the Los Altos region of Jalisco, Mexico, created by Master Distiller Jesus Hernandez with the input of several tequila-loving bartenders from around the world.
Hernandez and bartender-turned-brand ambassador Steffin Oghene were on hand recently at Cactus South Lake Union for a tequila taste test. In a land of single-malt lovers, Oghene is a self-described “tequila geek” and probably one of only a few Scotsman who sports an afro. According to Oghene and Hernandez, the reason for geeking out over Altos is the artisanal process, which creates a full, smooth taste for sipping as well as mixing.
The good people at Olmeca own or have long-term leases in the Western-Central Mexico highlands, which allows them to control the treatment of the agave plants over their lifespan. After the plants are hand-selected by jimadors for harvest at the optimal time, the agave piñas are brought back to the Destileria Colonial de Jalisco for processing. In order to avoid scorching, the agave is cooked slowly, at a low temperature for two days before being gently macerated by a two-ton Tahona millstone.
The stone gently squeezes out the sugary juices of the agave, which is fermented by cultivated wild yeasts — not bakers’ yeast, which is common due to being inexpensive, but produces inconsistent batches of tequila. Then the tequila is distilled twice, slowly and carefully, in copper stills which keep the intensity of the aromas and flavors intact without the harshness or aggressiveness of some other tequilas.
The end result is two premium tequilas: the Plata, Olmeca Altos’ Blanco, bottled straight-away, and a Reposado, bottled after aging for eight to ten months in used bourbon barrels made of American oak. A 750mL bottle goes for a reasonable MSRP of $24.99. (There are plans for an Añejo in the works, but these things take time.)
Enough with the info, it’s time for the drinking! Sampling tequilas side by side, the Altos tequilas were more accessible and tasted more fruit-forward, balanced, and clean, when compared to such other brands as Cuervo 1800, Cazadores, and El Jimador. Even in a blind taste-test, the Altos difference was clear. And unlike some other premium tequilas which get lost in a cocktail, the Altos flavors more than held their own. Give the Plata a try in a Mamacita Skinny Margarita, which is now on the menu at all four Cactus locations.
And if you’re looking for even more liquor in your life, hit up the Century Ballroom this Sunday for Speed Rack, a female bartender competition with proceeds going to fight breast cancer through education, prevention, and research. You’re not just getting drunk on Sunday afternoon — it’s for charity, goddammit! Rationalize it however you may and get your tickets now.