[indent]By the afternoon of day two, we were mellow, full of JCRF and good food. The after-effects of last night's drinking were wearing off (hair of the dog and all that), and people were feeling good. My cold was still in abeyance, but I would have probably chosen to go back to the hotel and have a nap before our next stop. But, like the troopers we were, we pushed on.
The next stop was Tequileña - housed in a former rum factory (Harry said) - down the road, but still within the town. We could have walked the few blocks from Mundo Cuervo, but given the group's meandering ways, the bus was the best choice to keep us together.
Mauricio Amignon of Tequileña greeted us, along with the very photogenic Elena, a young woman (manager of their Mexican operations) whose dark-haired beauty had a salubrious effect on the testosterone levels of some our our male tour participants. Tequileña makes, among others, Pura Sangre, Patria, and Don Fulano, of which the only one I can recall buying (and enjoying) in the past is Pura Sangra.
Once again we had a tour of the plant. Tequileña uses a different oven - really a giant autoclave - not the traditional brick oven. There are conflicting points of view about these autoclaves, whether they make as good a tequila as the traditional hornos. But if taste is the measure, then the difference may be more in the minds of the traditionalists.
Tequileña also has a tall, stainless steel column still that towers over the courtyard, a leftover from the rum business. It's again different from the traditional pot-style stills and copper stills we saw at other fabricas.
After the tour, we had another tasting, accompanied by Mexican appetizers - antojitos - and entertainment provided by a mariachi orchestra that marched into the compound to play for us. I can't recall all they played, but I recognized several songs, including the perennial classic and one of my favourites, Malagueña Salerosa.
The tequilas up for sampling included Asom Broso's products - all three types - and Tequileña's blend of añejos called Tres Quatro Cinco (a blend of three, four and five-year-old tequilas) that usually sells for $350 USD. Everything was served in plastic cups, which didn't lend themselves to serious sniffing. Besides, plastic often lends its own character to any contents, where glass is neutral.
When first announced, Asom Broso got into a bit of a squabble over their bottle's shape - accused of looking like a penis, it's actually copied from a piece of 18th century glassware. The controversy may have helped them by getting media attention, however. I didn't think it looked all that phallic, but maybe others have a more prurient mind...
Asom Broso took a bold step and aged their reposado tequila in barrels previously used for red wine. The colour from the wine is leached into the tequila. The result is a tequila with a ruby-red highlight, and a somewhat sweeter nose, with a slightly nutty flavour. I enjoyed it. It's called La Rosa, and should be available in the USA by now. Canadians can only wish for it.
We were the first to taste this new 'red' reposado - Asom Broso had a bit of a challenge getting the CRT to accept that it was naturally, not artificially coloured. It was released to the world only that day, so once again we had a historic tasting. Unfortunately, it wasn't for sale in Mexico, only in the USA, so participants couldn't buy any at the plant (I would have picked up a reposado right away!).
Some of us questioned why the Asom Broso tequilas had been chilled first, before the tasting. I didn't mind - I'm just getting comfortable with chilled sake, so I'm willing to be open about chilled tequila. Besides, it wasn't bone-cold.
We were not able to buy any of the Asom Broso and most of the Tequileña products, except for the Tres Quatro Cinco, which as generously priced at $170 USD (normally $350). I'm not sure if anyone took them up on that offer - it was a good product, but some of us were already concerned about crossing the border with more than our duty-free limit.
We encountered a similar reluctance at several distilleries to sell us some tequilas - apparently there is some tax issue (advantage?) in selling only to the export market, but it means tourists and visitors can't buy the products at the distilleries. That's a shame.
The afternoon ended with a subdued, happy group. We'd had a spectacular day, been fed and tasted many tequilas, and toured three sites, and still had something to look forward to. We got back on the bus for the short ride to the hotel, where we retreated to our rooms to get ready for the evening. I wolfed down a granola bar (always carry a few in my luggage), expecting to get dinner sometime later.
At 7 p.m., we were gathered in the restaurant beside the hotel to hear a presentation and get a tasting from Penca Azul, another small, boutique distillery making tequila in the old fashioned way. Harry introduced Penca Azul as "the start of Napa Valley in Tequila." The kitchen was used to prepare a selection of Mexican foods, as well as some traditional Mexican drinks (jamaica, made from hibiscus flowers, and horchata, a rice drink).
Carlos Jose Phillips, whose family (Ruiz) has been making tequila for more than 100 years, gave us a PowerPoint presentation about the product, and about the industry. "We want to be the best of the best," he told the group. "We are true believers that tequila should be treated like wine. We try to do it as pure as possible."
Carlos laid out a flight of excellent tequilas for us to taste. In keeping with the historic theme of the trip, our group was the first to try Penca Azul blanco.
Penca Azul uses only agave that are 8-10 years old, and weigh more than 50 kilos, which means ripe plants with lots of agave sugars. They do everything in small batches, with natural fermentation (no added yeasts) and traditional methods. They don't have a distillery, yet, so their products are made in another fabrica, which they take over for two weeks. They do, however, have their own white oak barrels used strictly for their products.
Penca Azul reposado is aged six-eight months, and their añeo for 30. They make a very small amount, selling 2,000 cases of tequila in the USA, saving only five for Mexico (none of which are añejo).
In his talk, Carlos said the reposado has notes of anise, agave and green pepper, while the blanco had evergreen, brine, lime and mint. We tasted the PA tequilas in a wine glass, similar to the official Reidel glasses. I noted alcohol in the nose, but not the taste. I noted some butterscotch in the reposado, too. The añejo was lighter in colour than most others, with no copper in it at all.
One of the major differences between distillers, Carlos said, is the water, which affects the tequila. "It makes a big, big difference." He also noted that, since they are based in the highlands, "there's a huge difference between what you do in Los Altos, than what you do down here," (meaning Tequila).
One of the visually appealing things about Penca Azul is the handcrafted bottle, made by Hipolito Guterrez, with its artistic representation of a blue agave in the bottom, and each signed by the maker.
Carlos also handed out a little pamphlet called "The Little Crazy History of Tequila," which contains a basic history of the drink, some production notes, and a few references (including my site). I was honoured to see a quote from my site was included! But few of the group were looking at it - instead everyone was eyeing the 200ml 'mini' bottle - with the tiny blue agave inside - of Penca Azul reposado Carlos gave everyone. I'm saving it for a treat in our upcoming tasting, in late April.
Carlso said PA plans to build a B&B in an old hacienda for tourists to "experience what tequila is all about." He also talked at some length about the new CRT regulations, and sugar content requirements.
The evening slowly unwound with some members staying to ask questions (good ones, too), and to purchase some of the Penca Azul, and others drifting slowly outside. With nothing planned, a lot of the group ended up in the lobby, and pretty soon tequila bottles were coming out, as an impromptu tasting got underway.
After a few minutes of pleasant conversation, and a few sips of some of the products the others had picked up, I declined an offer to go out on the town again. Figuring discretion was the better part of valour, I headed back to my room for a relatively early night, to read a book and swallow a couple of cold caplets. Day two, successful and entertaining, came to an end.