With summertime in full swing here in Austin, I figured it was high time that we looked at a hometown brand of tequila that I’ve been hearing about but have yet to investigate. It hits all the Austin buzzword bingo labels: handcrafted, responsibly sourced, organic… but do the contents live up to the hype on this label? It’s time we finally crack open a bottle and find out.
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 (with their corporate headquarters 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 also certified as kosher.
- Learn More: What Is Tequila?
As with most tequilas, this spirit starts from a crop of 100% blue agave plants which take about seven or 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 for American bourbon, but really doesn’t match up with the “small batch” marketing.
For this blanco version of their tequila, the resulting distilled liquid is proofed down and bottled immediately without any maturation or other post processing.
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.
What I do appreciate is the design of the label. It’s a simple and straightforward white label with black lettering, letting you know exactly what you are getting. On its own, that might have been a bit boring, but the addition of some geometric spirals and designs behind that label provide just enough visual interest without obscuring the contents of the bottle too much.
I also really like that they use specific colors for different version of their spirit. It’s a common technique with spirits manufacturers to differentiate their product lines while maintaining a common label and it works well in my opinion. For their blanco bottles, Dolce Vida adds this sky blue band around the belly of the bottle as well as across the stopper.
One thing I do need to point out is that the font they picked seems suspiciously close to the Jose Cuervo font. Nothing else about the bottle seems to ape their style, though, so I don’t think this is an attempt at customer confusion, but the similarity seems too close to be purely accidental.
At first glance, it certainly looks the part: crystal clear and water white, just how a clean blanco tequila should be. The aromas coming off the glass are also a promising indication of things to come. The first thing that I’m getting is some agave sweetness and behind that is a bit of fresh cut grass with a touch of lemon zest, followed by a bit of black pepper adding some earthiness.
Taking a sip, this is surprisingly smooth. Usually with mechanically shredded tequilas, there’s often a bit of acidity or tartness that is prominent, but here there’s just the same notes that we saw from the aroma. That sweet agave is once again the biggest component, almost like drinking a sweet tea with that same level of sweetness and viscosity to the liquid. Thankfully, there’s a bit of lemon citrus to cut through and add some balance, combined with a bit of that herbal grassy flavor that you want to see in a good tequila. On the finish the black pepper starts to stand out and adds a spicy kick through to the end of the experience.
We might actually have a good sipping blanco tequila on our hands here.
Typically, with the addition of some ice into a spirit, the lighter flavors will disappear (specifically those from the distillation process). Maturation flavors and richer components have a tendency to stick around longer, but since this is a blanco tequila we don’t really have much in the way of maturation flavors… which always makes me a little nervous for how this test will pan out.
In this case, there’s definitely a drop in the saturation and intensity of the flavors. The agave sweetness is significantly toned down, and the herbal cut grass component is almost completely gone. I do still get a little hint of lemon citrus and black pepper spice, but that’s about it.
One thing I do want to highlight is that nothing unpleasant popped out once the ice went into the drink. Cheaper tequilas often “hide their crimes” (as Adam Savage would put it) by masking unpleasant components with additives, a deception which typically is unmasked once the ice hits the spirit. But in this case, there’s still nothing unpleasant or worrying here. The flavors are all still good, just a bit lighter than we saw when we sipped this neat.
What we’re looking for in a good margarita is for the flavors of the tequila to pop through. The mixers in this cocktail — Cointreau and lime juice — are big, bold, and frankly unbalanced. The tequila should add some sweetness and some herbaceousness to the drink that can soften and balance these mixers.
In this case, while the sweet agave component is absolutely doing its job here, I don’t think I see much of the other components. There’s very little of the lemon citrus coming through to mingle with the lime juice, and the black pepper spice isn’t even making a dent in this combination of flavors. It’s a good margarita, but it could absolutely be better.
This is a well made, drinkable tequila where you won’t regret the money you spent on it. The bottle fits in nicely at this price point (not too expensive but also not too cheap either) and delivers a consistently good flavor profile for your cocktails. It isn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it’s a solid performer and it won’t break the bank.
That said, I really have to object to the “handmade” label on this spirit. 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. The only thing that seems to be done by hand is the actual bottling of the spirit and the application of the labels. It feels about as handmade as a bottle of Coca-Cola.
Personally, I don’t think I’ll be buying a second bottle of this anytime soon. But I won’t be mad the next time I see the bartender grab it from the speed well for my margarita.
|Dulce Vida Organic Blanco Tequila|
Produced By: Dulce VidaProduction Location: Jalisco, Mexico
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $25.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
A sweet, agave-forward blanco tequila that won’t hurt your wallet.