The Tequila Masters 2016 results
Producers of Mexico’s iconic liquid remain determined to shake off the party-hard, shot-slamming image of Tequila as it slips into refined cocktail menus and on to super-premium shelves the world over.
Owing to a combination of high-end expressions, sleek packaging and celebrity backing from the likes of Justin Timberlake and George Clooney, Tequila’s very real struggle seems to be waning. As a new wave of agave aficionados express interest in the category, producers seek to win consumers’ hearts and palates with targeted campaigns and inspired signature serves that prove the category is just as edgy and approachable as gin or rum.
In a sector that has its foot in the door of the luxury market, it can be all too easy to lose the essence of the agave flavour by over-ageing or over-sweetening the spirit as producers strive to create something different – a trend our panel kept a watchful eye out for as they rewarded some of the best Tequila expressions available on the global market.
Jon Anders Fjeldsrud, brand champion for agave and aquavit at Amathus Drinks; Paola Bridge-Collins, representing Tequila Fest; and Raffaele Marino, bar manager at The Arts Club, gathered at authentic Mexican bar and restaurant Mestizo, with Kristiane Sherry, editor of The Spirits Business, chairing proceedings.
The day’s tasting began with a slightly flat flight of premium blancos, leaving judges encouraged but by no means
wowed. However two entries stood out from the crowd, each earning Silver medals: El Jimador Tequila Blanco impressed with its “salty, liquorice” palate while El Domador Silver Tequila won points for its complexity. Marino said: “It’s got a bit of everything; agave, pepper, spices, and a nice, clean finish.”
Moving up a price point to Super Premium, judges declared a notable progression in flavour from expressions that would satisfy consumers’ expectations of a blanco Tequila.
“You don’t want carrot tasting of potatoes,” said Fjeldsrud, “you want it tasting of carrot. You need to taste the agave in the Tequila you’re drinking. When it is real agave flavour, without the use of additives, it’s pure gold.”
The first Gold medals of the day were awarded to Olmeca Altos Plata Tequila for its “smooth vanilla” flavours, and Herradura Tequila Blanco; a “sweet, floral” expression with “peppery, grassy” undertones. The round also unearthed two Silver-worthy expressions, El Mayor Tequila Blanco, and Circulo Tequila Silver.
Bridge-Collins surmised: “It’s the nature of the agave plant; it comes from the earth. The growing, the plant, the harvest… When you drink it you still need to have the spirit there. You need the romance of the agave. You have to fall in love with what you’re drinking.”
To round off the Blanco category, judges tasted a small flight of Ultra Premium expressions, awarding a Silver medal to organic Tequila brand 17.02.09, and Gold to Herradura Directo De Alambique. Of the latter, Marino said: “The finish is very light, smooth and sweet, but still long enough to tell it’s very good.”
Of the flight, Marino said: “Every Tequila on the market should be more or less premium or super-premium; the quality should be there. You get to the point where 90% of cost is on marketing the brand and not the product itself. So it’s good these Tequilas stand out and there’s something different about them. They’re worth the higher price.”
Departing clear spirits in search of something woodier, judges were presented with a flight of Premium Reposado, which delivered a mixed bag in terms of quality.
Fjeldsrud explained the difference in character: “The distilleries making Tequila don’t really understand wood, and there are only a few playing about with different types. Most of them would just buy some barrels, stick some Tequila in there and hope it comes out nice, and the smaller distilleries don’t have the funds for a wood programme.”
Wood woes aside, Tequila Exotico Reposado attracted a Gold medal for its “smooth sweetness” and “soft agave” palate, and El Jimador Tequila Reposado attracted Silver. Summing up a turbulent flight, Sherry said: “There was good variety among the premium reposados, although some of them appeared over-aged. It’s not inherently a problem if the style is communicated well on the packaging, but some of the expressions had añejo qualities which I wouldn’t always expect. Overall, it’s interesting to see that brands are trying something different, even if it doesn’t quite hit the mark in every instance.”
The Super Premium round that followed once again stirred opinions on value. “We should be focusing on good quality products, rather than calling the same style of product different names,” said Fjeldsrud. “There are brands that won’t put premium on the bottle, but will keep making great Tequila unless they get bought up. Then you have brands run by businessmen who buy in the juice, put it in an expensive bottle, and charge £50 for it. Tequila might have super premium on the label, but that doesn’t have anything to do with quality.”
A disordered flight, nevertheless some gems were uncovered – particularly Gold medal winner Olmeca Altos Reposado Tequila, a “peppery, spicy, citrusy” offering, along with three Silver medalists.
Marino said: “Reposado is one of most difficult categories to nail. Whether it’s missing the woodiness, or has too much barrel influence, it can be hard to get right.”
It seems when it is right, it’s excellent, as the next flight, Ultra Premium Reposado, revealed. The first and only Master medal of the day Sierra Tequila Milenario Reposado ticked all judges’ boxes, deemed “a fantastic example” of a reposado in its price category.
Marino said: “There’s a bit of everything on the palate and it has fresher notes than reposados in previous flights. They nailed it!”
Spirits lifted, it was time to sample two flights of añejo Tequila, beginning with the Premium expressions. Just one offering – Hornitos Black Barrel – stood up to the test, attracting a Gold medal for its complex flavour notes of “toasty caramel”, “wood” and “banana”. Sherry said: “It’s great to know that there are excellent, more accessibly priced añejo expressions available, and consumers should be encouraged that top bang-for-buck Tequilas are out there.”
The second flight welcomed a selection of Super Premium Añejos that impressed judges, each Tequila offering full-bodied character and championing the agave notes superbly.
Sherry noted: “Each expression was distinct with a lot of character, but all three were enjoyable. It will be interesting to see how the category plays with different barrel types. Will it go a similar way to the whisky industry?”
Here “fresh, floral” Herradura Tequila Añejo was honoured with a Gold medal, while El Mayor Tequila Añejo and Sierra Tequila Antiguo each won Silver.
A solitary flight of Ultra Premium Extra Añejo Tequila followed and it was the “chocolaty, creamy” notes of Sierra Tequila Milenario Extra Añejo that won the expression a Gold medal.
Fjeldsrud said: “One thing I’ve been very happy with is the lack of added sugar, except for in some of the blancos. Most of the time añejo and extra añejo are overly sweet, but none have been, and that’s good. Maybe the industry is changing.”
There was little time to ponder as our panel progressed to the next sub-category, Mixto, which – although successful amongst bartenders worldwide – has struggled to find favour with Tequila aficionados.
“Mixtos have a bad reputation because they’re often not made correctly,” said Fjeldsrud. “The category is something that importers and consumers haven’t looked at much, and we really should. The problem for a lot of people is that we think 100% agave Tequila is the best, and that’s not true. That just means it’s made from 100% agave. You could have something 100% agave made in a column still and strip all the flavour.“
Despite preconceptions, every mixto scored a Silver medal, which goes some way towards debunking the myth that mixtos are lacking in flavour or quality. Lokita Tequila Silver was deemed “fresh and fragrant” while Sierra Tequila Silver won praise for its “grassy, floral” palate. Sierra Tequila Reposado was “elegant and warm, with a long finish”, rounded off with “light, balanced” Lokita Tequila Gold.
Our final tasting of the day was a fanciful Flavoured flight. Sierra Spiced Tequila – described by Morino as “one of the best chilli liqueurs that I’ve tasted” – won a Gold medal, while Sierra Gran Café Tequila secured Silver. He added: “It’s great that you have this product on the market. It’s niche, but they do sell.”
Speaking to The Spirits Business following the day’s judging, Jair Bolanos Mayorga, operations manager for Mestizo, explained why a renewed focus on quality is the next step for Tequila. “These days everyone can create good quality Tequila, so the quality has to be there. When 100% agave Tequila first became big, it was to improve brands, improve sales, and improve the market for the product. I think we should keep it this way and keep pushing it up.”
Click through to the following page for the complete list of medal winners from The Tequila Masters 2016.
|Compay Premium Blanco||Product||Medal|
|Brown-Forman||El Jimador Tequila Blanco||Silver|
|Delhaize||El Domador Silver Tequila||Silver|
|Super Premium Blanco|
|Brown-Forman||Herradura Tequila Blanco||Gold|
|Pernod Ricard||Olmeca Altos Plata Tequila||Gold|
|Luxco||El Mayor Tequila Blancoa||Silver|
|Esencia y Sabor de Mexico||Circulo Tequila Silver||Silver|
|Ultra Premium Blanco|
|Brown-Forman||Herradura Directo De Alambique||Gold|
|Beam Suntory||Hornitos Black Barrel||Gold|
|Luxco||Exotico Tequila Reposadoe||Gold|
|Brown-Forman||El Jimador Tequila Reposado||Silver|
|Super Premium Reposado|
|Pernod Ricard||Olmeca Altos Reposado Tequila||Gold|
|Brown-Forman||Herradura Tequila Reposado||Silver|
|Luxco||El Mayor Tequila Reposado||Silver|
|Esencia y Sabor de Mexico||Circulo Tequila Reposado||Silver|
|Ultra Premium Reposado|
|Borco International GmbH||Sierra Tequila Milenario Reposado||Master|
|Super Premium Añejo|
|Brown-Forman||Herradura Tequila Añejo||Gold|
|Luxco||El Mayor Tequila Añejo||Silver|
|Borco International GmbH||Sierra Tequila Antiguo||Silver|
|Ultra Premium Extra Añejo|
|Borco International GmbH||Sierra Tequila Milenario Extra Añejo||Gold|
|BBC Vins & Spiriteux||Lokita Tequila Silvero||Silver|
|Borco International GmbH||Sierra Tequila Silver||Silver|
|Borco International GmbH||Sierra Tequila Reposado||Silver|
|BBC Vins & Spiriteux||Lokita Tequila Gold||Silver|
|Borco International GmbH||Sierra Spiced Tequila||Gold|
|Borco International GmbH||Sierra Gran Café Tequila||Silver|