by Andrew Chalk
El Tesoro tequila is one of a number of premium and above-premium tequila brands competing for consumer dollars in an expanding U.S. market. A decade of fast category growth shows no sign of abating, despite close substitutes like mezcal and sotol grabbing consumer mindshare. How to distinguish yourself from all the other producers? That makes brand name promotion more important than ever. I am thinking now not of the consumer as a single bottle buyer sitting at home, but as a bartender selling dozens of bottles a week or a retail store selling hundreds. When the punter asks them for a recommendation for a top-shelf tequila it carries gravitas that may translate into a long-term buyer.
So I found myself as a media guest at a dinner of bartenders, retail store representatives, and beverage managers this week being entertained and enlightened by El Tesoro’s Master Distiller Carlos Camarena, supported by several brand ambassadors, over a three course meal at Javier’s, one of Dallas’s longest standing Mexican restaurants. I and the other attendees were left in no doubt that the Dallas-Fort Worth area is an important market for high-end tequila.
I have attended several tequila tastings in the last year, both here and in Mexico, so let me try and summarize my takeaway of El Tesoro, emphasizing its unique features.
El Tesoro is unashamedly competing at the top end of the market. Competitors have names like Patron, Casa Noble, and Espolòn. They are militantly traditional (with one exception, which we will come to later). The blue agave piñas are cooked in an oven, not a diffuser or an autoclave (to name just two of the ‘modernizations’ prevalent nowadays) then crushed with a tahona (a large stone wheel). In its one concession to modernity El Tesoro no longer pulls the tahona with a mule (or donkey), a John Deere tractor is used instead.
Post fermentation, the liquid is double-distilled in pot stills, and then only to proof. At that point, the blanco is bottled immediately. The reposado gets 9 to 11 months in used Bourbon barrels. The añejo gets 2 to 3 years in used Bourbon barrels. The extra añejo gets 4 to five years in used Bourbon barrels. The Paradiso, a proprietary tête de cuvée that qualifies as an extra añejo gets 5 years in French oak used Cognac barrels. This indicates that El Tesoro ages longer than the officially prescribed minimums and will stretch to (expensive) if needed.
At the other end of the tequila production process, in the agave fields, El Tesoro uses only estate-grown agave. Commercially, they hope that this will insulate them from the exponential rise in agave prices that started several years ago and provide security of supply. However, there is another important fact about their agave fields - their location. They are all in the highlands, rather than the valley, in Jalisco. Carlos considers this altitude to be the source of distinctive facets of the flavor in all El Tesoro expressions. Specifically, altitude gives floral, fruity notes to the flavors due to the iron-rich soil in the highlands. My tasting confirmed this. For example, I find most blanco tequila to be very herbaceous, and green on the palate. For this reason, I generally prefer a producer’s añejo to their blanco. El Tesoro blanco doesn’t have this herbaceous property. I found it my favorite expression, despite the oak-aged expressions being very good in their own right.
One final thought. El Tesoro has an alliance with Mexican coffee producer La Floresta. They do pair well, tequila and coffee. Below is a cocktail recipe as well (one of many on the El Tesoro website).
LA JOYA EL TESORO
El Tesoro™ Blanco tequila
Chareau® aloe vera liqueur
Start by combining large, rectangular ice with a cucumber slice in a Collins glass. Then add the tequila and the Chareau, mix with a bar spoon and top it with crémant wine. Garnish with fresh mint.