Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Tequila seems to have to fight for respect more than other spirits, such as whisky, rum, brandy and even vodka. Perhaps it's because Tequila seems to be more associated, in the U.S. with benders and beach parties rather than snifters and sommeliers.
But one of the small-volume craft Tequila producers helping to raise Tequila's image beyond the margarita is Casa Noble, a brand whose history dates back to the 1700s.
Casa Noble, which produces about 150,000 litters of Tequila of different ages each year, produces from a holding of about 3,000 acres of blue agave, about one-tenth that of Tequila giant Jose Cuervo (curve also buys blue agave from other growers). And Casa Noble's blue agave fields are mostly on slopes and hillsides, which stresses the plant, and the company believes produces a more complex tasting agave plant.
Another difference in Casa Noble's process to set it apart is the three distillations to which it subjects its spirit--traditionally, Tequila is distilled twice.
If the taste of Casa Noble's Tequilas seems deeper and slightly more complex than other brands, one of the reasons, says owner Jose "Pepe" Hermosillo, is the slow cooking of the blue agave "pineapples" before the juice is extracted. Some larger scale Tequila producers cook the agave in just six to eight hours in an autoclave, which works like a pressure cooker. Hermosillo compares the 36 hours or so of slow cooking in stone ovens to slow-cooking beans overnight in an iron pot versus using a pressure cooker. "Anyone can tell you the slow-cook method imparts a deeper, slightly smoky and sweet flavor that you can't achieve in fast cooking."
The majority of all reposado (aged Tequila) is aged in second-fill American Bourbon barrels. But Hermosillo says the charcoal on the inside of Bourbon barrels is too much for the flavor profile he is going for. Casa Noble uses new French oak barrels with a very light char on the inside. The distillery's Anejo Tequila spends two years in the barrel before bottling. Casa Noble Black spends five years in oak.
Tequila that is to become Anejo (minimum 1 year aging) goes into new casks. The Reposado (2 months to 1 year aging) goes into refilled casks. (More often at other distilleries, they will use newer casks for Reposado Tequilas and older ones for Anejo so that the wood affects the spirit more in a shorter time for the Reposado.) They refill the casks for Reposado 7 to 8 times.
It's important to remember that one year of aging in the Jalisco region of Mexico where all legitimate Tequila comes, is like five years of aging in Scotland because of the much warmer climate in Mexico. Indeed, most distillers say more than nine years of aging, unless it is done in hyper-controlled temperatures, sends the Tequila over the edge with too much wood in the flavor profile and mouth feel.
Casa Noble is also certified organic, the second brand in Mexico to receive the certification. That means it employs no fertilizers or chemicals in the cultivation of its blue agave, or in its distilling process. The distillery also has a treatment plant on site to render the waste liquids and solids as either useful compost or ph balanced liquid that won't foul the soil.
Fermentation of the agave liquid before distillation takes place with yeast as well naturally occurring yeast from the many fruit trees surrounding the cassia Noble hacienda and still house. Mango, lime, lemon and orange trees surround the quaint compound of buildings. This process is far preferable to the method of aiding fermentation in the 19th and early twentieth century: un-bathed workers swimming around the vats of liquid imparting their sweat and even urine to the mix.
Hermosillo believes that the U.S. market, the biggest for Tequila, is changing, and moving toward craft brands like Casa Noble. "As crafted Tequila like ours has entered the scene, more people are open to drinking Tequila on its own, in a nice glass, and experience the flavors and character...not just as a shooter or in a margarita."
Casa Noble was the first silver Tequila to get a double gold medal at the World Spirit Competition and was selected Best Tequila in Mexico by the Mexican Tequila Academy.
Here is the breakdown of Casa Noble Tequila expressions:
• Crystal (Silver) Tequila--$40: Tastes of minerals, white and red pepper, cinnamon, ripe mango, floral agave. Rounded and balanced flavor and finish. This is the un-aged 100% blue agave spirit.
• Reposado Tequila--$50: Aged for one year in French oak, the already excellent "bianco" takes on notes of vanilla,white chocolate and marzipan from the barrels.
• Anejo Tequila--$60: Aged for two years in French oak, the taste and finish here has added spice to the flavor profile of the Reposado.
• Single-Barrel Tequila $70-$100: Casa Noble ages its single-barrel Anejo five years, ($100) and two years for the single barrel Reposado ($70). The Anejo is especially complex with notes of dried fruit, butterscotch, vanilla, dark chocolate, brown spices, and smoky wood.