I’m guessing more than a few people have that one story about that one night with that one alcoholic product which pretty much ruined that product for them forever and ever. For me, it was tequila. Really cheap, really bad tequila. I remember the night being a lot of fun, except for the few parts I don’t really remember, which in hindsight, isn’t a lot of fun. And I remember the morning after which was absolutely no fun at all. For years, the mere mention of the word tequila made me queasy, and outside of tolerating an overly sweet margarita once in a while, even the faintest whiff of the spirit could cause a little nausea. But over the last several years, I’ve tried decent tequilas, and even a Mezcal or two, and I’ve noticed my aversion slowly waning. It’s not gone completely, but I’m making progress. Being the terrifically brave and heroic person that I am, in the spring this year, I decided to give tequila another try. I’ve been enjoying making many different cocktails lately, and there was a whole wing of the cocktail library that I was shutting myself off from thanks to that one misguided night.
So I took the plunge. The idea of a summer filled with Palomas, that stalwart tequila, grapefruit, lime, and salt tall drink, proved difficult to resist. I went on a search for an inexpensive, cocktail-versatile 100% Agave blanco. I ended up with this Espolòn Tequila Blanco. Tequila certainly has a lot of tradition and history, it’s arguably one of the oldest distilled spirits in North America. Espolòn is a relatively new brand made by a relatively new distillery. Founded in 1998, Distiladora San Nicolas is located in the highlands of Jalisco, Mexico. It did well enough in its first ten years that in 2008, the distillery and the Espolòn brand were sold to the Campari Group.
A side benefit of getting some Tequila and writing about it is that I get to read up on and learn about the tequila-making processes and traditions. Basically, tequila is a spirit distilled from the fermented mash of agave plants, specifically the agave piñas – the large central core of the plant. Traditionally, the piñas are cooked in earthen ovens, crushed with stone grinding wheels called tahonas, fermented in uncovered wooden washbacks, and distilled in pot stills. Espolon’s process seems to be a relatively modern one. Once their piñas are harvested, they’re cooked in large stainless steel pressure cookers, and then ground by mechanical mills. The mash is fermented in covered stainless steel tanks and then distilled in both pot and column stills. Along with this Blanco, the Espolon range also includes a Reposado (“rested” in oak for 3-5 months), an Anejo (aged for 10 months is new American oak barrels, then finished for 2 months in Wild Turkey barrels), and an Extra Anejo (aged for six years in American oak barrels). Now, it seems good, 100% agave tequila is usually broadly lumped into two categories: Highland or Lowland. The growing environments and conditions of the agave from these regions lend a distinct terroir to their related spirits. A “highland” tequila is thought to have a fruitier, lighter flavor profile thanks to its clay-rich soil. A ‘lowland” tequila generally has an earthier, weightier profile due to the volcanic soil of that region. Distiladora San Nicolas and Espolon are considered a Highland product.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this bottle’s label which may or may not have played a small part in my decision to buy it. As a fan of all things printmaking, I was certainly drawn to the José Guadalupe Posada-inspired artwork. Posada, a lithographer and illustrator, is one of Mexico’s most important artists. His La Calavera Catrina is considered the inspiration for the skeletal Día de Muertos imagery now known worldwide. Posada’s socio-political illustrations also inspired the Mexican Muralism movement in the early 1900’s which was led by José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros.
The Nose: Very fresh, vibrant, lightly sweet nose with a bit of alcohol heat. Initially a nice balance between pithy citrus, powdered sugar, and yellow summer squash, a little very floral honey and a touch of saline. Agave’s vegetal notes are sometimes described as cooked, and I can see that here I guess, but it only a faintly reads as “cooked” to me. In the background are hints of fresh-cut grass, toasted almonds, and lime zest.
The Palate: Lightly oily mouthfeel that begins with more sugars, honey and citrus, candied orange and lime cordial. The vegetal notes are more prominent here than on the nose, but only just so, they’re still pretty integrated and subtle with earthy vanilla bean, roasted summer squash, and green walnuts. A nice wave of peppery, slightly ginger-y spice rises up at the end.
The Finish: That peppery quality dominates and lingers longest with a little of that sweet citrus and earthy agave making an early appearance.
Thoughts: Seeing as I bought this mainly for cocktails and had no real hopes past, “man, I hope I like this in cocktails,” this definitely exceeded expectations. If tequila can be generally divided into either “highland” or “lowland” styles, I’d agree that this one certainly has the characteristics of a highland tequila. I found it to have a nice balance between the fruitier notes, the spice notes, and the more earthy, vegetal notes, with the later perhaps turned down a bit so as not to be too off-putting to the formerly Tequila-adverse like myself. As a dip of the toe into the Tequila pool, I think I did well. For around $18-$20, this one seems like kind of a no-brainer, really.
How I’ve been drinking it…
- As I said, initially this was purchased for making un-fussy, medium-to-low-brow Palomas*, and it worked marvelously there. Holding its own against the sweet soda, and gaining a bit more agave depth thanks to that dash of salt, this made for a dangerously easy drinking and delicious cocktail.
- It also worked well in a basic Margarita, though I did find myself wishing that 40% ABV was a bit higher. I think that would’ve provided more backbone.
- I drank this straight for the review. I enjoyed it for the most part…I guess. I’m not quite ready to do that on a more regular basis, but I did feel like I was able to appreciate it. I’m pretty sure inexpensive blancos are not supposed to be drunk neat…
Espolòn Tequila Blanco, +/-2019
* I like this version of the Paloma from Jacques Bezuidenhout and Liquor.com, it’s simple, unfussy, and crowd-friendly…
Fill a highball glass with ice then add:2 oz Blanco tequila1 pinch SaltA squeeze of lime (and drop the wedge in the glass)Top off with grapefruit soda like Jarritos or Squirt
- “Espolon.” Espolon | Campari Corporate, https://www.camparigroup.com/en/brands/tequila/espolon?legalRadio=1#legalage.
- “Espolon.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Espolon.
- “Espolòn Tequilas Range: Blanco, Reposado and Añejo.” Tequila Espolon, https://espolontequila.com/tequilas.
- Hevrdejs, Judy. “A Taste of Place – From Highlands to Lowlands, Tequila Flavors Distinct.” Chicago Tribune, 1 May 2011, https://web.archive.org/web/20130514182526/http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-05-01/features/ct-sun-0501-drink-tequila-20110501_1_blue-agave-tequila-silver-tequila-distillers.
- “José Guadalupe Posada.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/José_Guadalupe_Posada.
- “La Calavera Catrina.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Calavera_Catrina.
- “Mexican Muralism.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexican_muralism.
- “Story of Espolòn 100% Agave Premium Tequila.” Tequila Espolon, https://espolontequila.com/story.
- “Tequila.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tequila.
- Tequila, Long Island Lou. “Tequila Regions – Highlands (Los Altos) & Lowlands (El Valle) – WHICH IS YOUR FAVORITE?” Long Island Lou Tequila, Long Island Lou Tequila, 2017, https://longislandloutequila.com/tequila-regions/#.Xdb_t5JKjOQ.
- “The Process: Espolòn 100% Agave Premium Tequila.” Tequila Espolon, https://espolontequila.com/process.
- Tyson, Joseph. “Destiladora San Nicolas, S. A. De C. V.” Tequila Source, 8 Nov. 2008, https://www.tequilasource.com/destiladorasannicolas/index.html.