Tequila is unlike any other distilled spirit. Originating in the vast reaches of the Southwestern desert, tequila has a romance and mystery all its own. While other spirits are made from food crops such as corn and potatoes, tequila is made from the stately blue agave cactus, which requires eight to 12 years to mature.
The traditional process of making tequila is nearly as time-consuming as growing the agave. Once the mature agaves are harvested, the cogollo, or bitter sprout, is removed, and the clean agave piñas are loaded into brick ovens, where they are baked for three days. An enormous wheel, handmade of volcanic rock, called the tezontle, crushes the agave into thin fibers and extracts the juices. After hours of grinding in a shallow pit, constantly tended by laborers with rakes, the agave fiber and juices are moved to fermentation pits. After three days, the mash is slowly moved through copper tubing to begin the first of two distillations. After each distillation, the "heart," or middle, of the distillate is chosen to continue on in the process, as this ensures the purest tequila.
This labor-intensive traditional process has, unsurprisingly, been completely abandoned by the commercial tequila industry for nearly a hundred years. Until now! Don Jesús Hernández, the master distiller at Tezón Tequila, has brought the traditional process back. Artisans have been employed to carve the giant tezontles, and each phase of the process has been re-created. The result: Tezón Premium Tequila, available in Blanco (not aged), Reposado (aged eight-10 months), and Anejo (aged 18-20 months).
Company representatives were here in Austin promoting their product in the fall and invited me to a tasting dinner. I went for the food, but what I remember is the tequila. All of the Tezón tequilas are a revelation; the quality and flavor easily surpass the other tequilas on the market today.
The Blanco is light with citrus notes: perfect for cocktails or tossing back straight. The Reposado is elegant, straw-colored and crisp, with notes of vanilla and spice. The Anejo is truly tequila at its finest, resembling a fine cognac, velvety smooth, with undertones of butterscotch and oak. Comparing Tezón to average tequila is like comparing parmesan reggiano to Kraft singles. Tezón is available at Twin/Reubens Liquors, Chris' Liquors, and King's Liquors; $45-70.