We’ve recently checked out Austin-based Dulce Vida Tequila’s blanco offering, and we weren’t too mad about the results. The bottle was deemed a worthwhile way to spend about $25: a smooth spirit containing all of the tequila flavors you expect. But the question I always have is: what will an un-aged spirit taste like if you slam it in a barrel for a couple years? Thankfully, we don’t have to wait years to find out since they also have an anejo version of their tequila that is available to try right now.
The story of Dulce Vida Tequila starts with the tech industry in Austin, Texas.
Richard Sorenson started out life in the finance department of healthcare and eventually telecom businesses, having graduated from The University of Colorado at Boulder with a degree in Finance in 1980. In 2005, he made the jump from the CEO of a telecom company to the COO of an organic beverage company, and that experience sparked his desire to strike out and try it on his own. So in 2008, Sorenson founded Dulce Vida Spirits with the intent to use his newfound experience with organic beverages and bring that same quality to the tequila industry.
Based in Austin (their corporate headquarters are actually in an office park just behind my favorite south Austin cigar lounge), Dulce Vida sources its spirits from Mexican a Mexican distillery and distributes their spirits in the United States. It prides itself on being the first and only tequila to be certified organic by the FDA, and is also certified as kosher.
- Learn More: What Is Tequila?
As with most tequilas, Dulce Vida tequila starts from a crop of 100% blue agave plants which take about seven to eight years to fully grow in the Jalisco region of Mexico. Once mature, the plants are harvested by hand and delivered to the distillery.
The next step is to cook the agave plants, converting the fibrous material inside the core of the plant into fermentable sugar and softening the plant to make extracting the sugary liquid easier. The traditional method of processing these plants involves brick ovens or even earthen pits; Dulce Vida takes a more modern and industrial approach by instead using autoclaves, which are stainless steel vessels that basically pressure cook the cores to achieve the same goal in a quicker time frame of about 20 hours (compared to days in an oven).
After the cores are cooked, they are “milled” which can be completed in a couple different ways — but the specific details regarding their process aren’t really disclosed by Dolce Vida. Traditionally, this is done using stone mallets or a stone roller mill, but given the modern autoclave usage I get the feeling that they mechanically shred the agave plants (a process that usually also involves some light acids being added to make the process easier).
Once the sugary liquid is extracted, it is then fermented in open air fermentation vats. This allows not only the cultured yeast that they introduce into the vats to start converting those sugars into alcohol, but also encourages some of the natural yeast in the air at the distillery to help out as well. This quite literally adds a bit of local flavor to the spirit.
That mildly alcoholic mixture of liquid is now ready for distillation to selectively capture and concentrate the alcohol and flavors that they want. Once again, Dolce Vida is a bit vague regarding this in their marketing materials and the videos they provide on their website. The claim is that they make their tequila in “small batches”, which would seem to imply a pot distillation process of some sort where each specific run of tequila is closely monitored… but I’ve never seen a single image of a pot still anywhere near their brand and there’s no mention of how many distillation runs they do. It’s quite possible that this is instead distilled in a single shot through a column still, which is an industrial tool for mass producing large quantities of spirit very quickly. It’s a common process often used in American bourbon, but really doesn’t match up with the “small batch” marketing they’re employing here.
For this anejo version of their tequila, the resulting distilled spirit is placed into previously used American bourbon barrels for a period of 24 months before being bottled and shipped for sale.
The shape and construction of this bottle is something we have seen time and again from smaller distilleries, and for good reason: it’s a design that works. A vaguely wine bottle shape, this bottle has a cylindrical body, rounded shoulder, and a medium length neck with a swell in the middle. To cap it off, they use a synthetic cork stopper. There might not be anything truly remarkable about it, but it’s a tried and true bottle shape that fits into a speed well at a bar and isn’t some crazy shape that you need to re-organize your liquor cabinet to accommodate.
This is a bit lighter of a color than I would have expected from a spirit that was matured for two years in a hot climate and in a charred oak barrel. I can understand the lighter color from a Scottish spirit (due to the more temperate climate), but with a Mexican distiller I would have expected something a little darker and richer. This is a pale golden color, like fresh hay or a light beer.
That light color also seems to translate into a light aroma coming off the glass. I’m not getting any of the hallmark tequila notes that I saw in the blanco version — all I’m getting is raw alcohol with a little bit of caramel.
Thankfully, the flavors pick up considerably when you actually take a sip. At first, I’m reminded of a lighter impression of Jack Daniel’s — specifically, some brown sugar, baking spices like nutmeg and cinnamon, vanilla, caramel, and then at the end it finally starts to taste a bit like a tequila. A hint of agave sweetness and fresh cut grass enter the mixture, bringing just a small impression of tequila into what otherwise seems to be a light version of Tennessee whiskey. On the finish, I do get a bit of black pepper spice as well, which we saw in the blanco version but much bolder.
It sips well — there’s no bitterness, no bite, and the flavors are all great. But it sips like a whiskey. There’s not much tequila-esque that it brings to the table.
Distillation flavors (the flavors that you taste from the raw materials and fermentation process) are light and finicky. They tend to be less saturated than the maturation flavors (flavors that the spirit picks up from the barrel) and as a result can become lost and muddled when ice gets added to a spirit. And that’s exactly what has happened here.
With the added ice, there’s almost nothing left of the actual tequila flavor. I’m not getting any sweetness from the agave or any herbaceousness that I’d normally expect to see — even the lemon citrus and black pepper that usually accompanies those flavors are either significantly toned down or missing. At this point, it tastes just like I would expect from a neutral grain spirit that has been aged in a charred bourbon barrel.
That’s not to say this tastes bad — this is still a good sipping spirit that I quite enjoy. A lot of the same whiskey flavors that we saw when tasted neat have survived against the ice. But judged as an anejo tequila, this is lacking some key components.
I’m a big fan of anejo tequila in my margaritas. I think that it adds a better balance to a cocktail that is otherwise a little too tart for my taste, and those barrel maturation flavors add a unique twist. But while the barrel aging flavors are important, the original tequila flavors are just as important. And unfortunately, just like we saw with the added ice, those flavors seems to be missing here as well.
I do get a tiny whiff of herbal agave from the cocktail, to be fair. It’s just on the aroma, and it only peeks out behind the Cointreau and the lime juice before it disappears… and all that you are left with is basically a margarita but instead of tequila you swapped in a light flavored whiskey.
That said, the result isn’t bad — this is 100% drinkable and delicious, there’s just something missing.
I liked the blanco version of Dulce Vida. It was a good value for what you were paying, although there are still plenty of other bottles that do a better job. In the case of this anejo version, though, I don’t see the same value.
What this is missing in the majority of ways we tried this spirit are those traditional tequila flavors. These are components that get added to the spirit during the fermentation and distillation process, typically a result of the care and attention that was paid by roasting the agave cores in a brick oven or crushing them in a traditional manner. The modern techniques do technically work, but they don’t allow the flavor compounds to form in the same ways and as a result the flavors are less saturated and more likely to be overpowered.
Which is the reason why I really have to object to the “handmade” label on this spirit. As I said in my review of the blanco version, every step in this process has been industrialized and modernized, from the cooking of the agave plants to the shredding and juice extraction and even the distillation itself… and the resulting output reflects that.
In the end, there’s nothing objectionable about this spirit. But judged as a tequila, it doesn’t meet the challenge. The key flavor components are missing, which puts it below the three star line compared to other spirits in this price range that not only nailed the maturation flavors but also the tequila flavors simultaneously.
|Dulce Vida Organic Anejo Tequila|
Produced By: Dulce VidaProduction Location: Jalisco, Mexico
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $37.49 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 2/5
A flavor profile like a slightly weak whiskey… which is fine, but not what an anejo tequila should taste like.