Manufacturing and putting out a reposado tequila is a tough challenge. You need to get things just right so that the flavors are all in balance, the color is just so, and it still works well in a cocktail. That’s a high bar to clear, but today’s review, Don Julio, has been trying to perfect that recipe since the middle of last century — so lets see what they’ve learned over that time.
Don Julio González-Frausto Estrada was born in Jalisco, Mexico in 1925. Very early in his life, his father died and left the 15 year old son to become the sole breadwinner for his widowed mother and six siblings. He tried his hand at working on a farm but realized that the wages were simply too low to support his family, and so instead started his own business roaming around the country on horseback selling tequila from barrels.
After two years of success selling tequila, Julio took out a 20,000 peso loan and purchased his own distillery (dubbed “La Primavera”) to start producing his very own tequila instead of just selling other people’s products. He spent the next 40 years tinkering with the production process, making some tequila mainly for local consumption, and in 1985 the family owned business decided to launch the Don Julio brand of products for larger scale sale and distribution.
In 1999, the Seagrams corporation invested in the business and helped bring it to the United States. That ownership stake would eventually be purchased by the British spirits giant Diageo, who continues to own the brand to this day.
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As a tequila, this starts with a crop of agave plants — specifically, blue agave plants that are grown on the family estate in the highlands of Jalisco, Mexico. The plants are harvested and have their leaves shaved, which leaves behind only the hard fibrous core. Don Julio uses only 100% blue weber agave plants for their production and does not add other sugars, as is common with cheaper production methods.
Don Julio uses a more traditional method of processing these cores: the company cuts them into smaller chunks and loads them into brick ovens for a couple days to roast. This softens the hard core, converts the fructans into fermentable sugars, and adds some unique flavors to the material. Once properly cooked, the agave cores are crushed to release the sugary juice, which is then mixed with water and fermented to create an alcoholic liquid.
The alcoholic liquid is distilled into tequila and, for this reposado version of their product, the spirit is then aged for eight months in American white oak barrels before being shipped out.
This is an interesting take on a bottle design we saw previously on their blanco tequila. It feels a bit more rustic — I’d go so far as to say that the bottle is reminiscent of the brick ovens typically used to cook the agave cores before they are turned into tequila. But in any event, the design is square and short — and very similar to the Patron tequila bottles. The bottle sports a short neck with a flared lip and a wood and cork stopper.
I really don’t like that the bottle is colored. For a blanco tequila, this is fine because there’s no color to the spirit to evaluate. But once you get a little color on the spirit, I really want to see that color of the product I’m buying. Coloring the glass just keeps me from seeing what I’m getting, and in the end what flows out of the bottle is significantly lighter than the bottle itself. It is annoyingly deceptive.
This reposado version has just a hint of color. It’s lighter than even the lightest of scotch whiskies I’ve ever tried.
Coming off the glass are the usual tequila aromas of herbal agave and lemon citrus, but there’s also some barrel aging components coming into play as well. There’s some good caramel and vanilla that mixes with the other elements in the aroma, but thankfully don’t overwhelm them.
Taking a sip, just like with the blanco version, the flavors here are muted and poorly saturated. The herbal agave and lemon citrus are the only things I can pick up from the raw ingredients, but thankfully the lack of a longer aging process means that the barrel elements are similarly weak and don’t overpower. There’s just a dash of vanilla in here and some light brown sugar — enough to sweeten the flavor profile without going overboard.
On the finish, I’m primarily getting vanilla and brown sugar with a dash of black pepper spice, and just a teeny bit of bitterness.
This is where the rubber really meets the road with a reposado. The trick is getting the aging components to be just loud enough to survive the addition of some ice, but without being punch-you-in-the-face overpowering sans ice. And here, I think they fell short of the mark.
Since this was fine taken neat, you can probably guess that the failure here is the ability to stand up to the ice. Pretty much everything from the barrel has vanished. I get way more of the tequila notes — herbal agave, fresh cut grass, lime zest, and black pepper — but there’s only a tiny hint of vanilla to let you know that this had seen a barrel at some point. And I mean tiny. Miniscule. Barely there.
I think this is actually a worse margarita than a margarita made with the blanco version.
The cocktail starts out perfectly fine, with the standard flavors (earthy and herbal agave, that fresh cut grass sort of thing) mixing with the bright and cheerful lime juice to make for a delicious and purposefully off-balance cocktail. But then, at some point, this intense bit of bitterness kicks in and damn near ruins the drink.
The goal here is to have a good margarita with some added depth and complexity thanks to the barrel aging characteristics. Instead, all I get here is a bad marg.
As I said at the top of the article, a reposado is a tough spirit to pull off. You need just the right balance of barrel aging flavors and earthy tequila components such that one doesn’t overpower the other taken neat, everything has to hold up and maintain that balance with the addition of ice, and the barrel aging components hopefully add something unique and distinctive to cocktails.
That’s a lot of criteria to try and hit, so my guess is that, in this case, the distiller optimized for the first: a pretty good sipping reposado when taken neat — without regard for the second or third. This becomes a bitter and unpleasant addition to a cocktail, which is unfortunate.
|Don Julio Reposado|
Produced By: Don JulioProduction Location: Mexico
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $41.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 1/5
An unfortunately bitter version of a good blanco tequila.