As I’ve been reviewing more and more tequila lately, I’ve been getting recommendations from my friends for things to try next. Which is always a risky situation — I’ve already had one of my friends recommend me a peanut butter whiskey they liked… only to find that I had trashed it in my review. Hopefully that won’t be the case with today’s tequila, which is was recommended to me by a friend recently. Guess there’s only one way to find out…
Cirilo Oropeza is a man with an impressively long history in distilled spirits. He started working for the Ingenio Potrero Distillery in Veracruz, Mexico in 1965, overseeing the sugar cane quality for their rum production and learning the tricks of the trade. Four years later, he moved to the Oso Negro distillery where he managed the gin and vodka production. Decades later, in the early 1990s, he moved to the Jose Cuervo distillery where he would oversee their tequila production.
He was then lured away by an entrepreneur in 1995 to oversee the design and opening of the Casa San Nicolas distillery, focused on craft tequila production. This endeavor led to the creation of Espolón Tequila, which launched three years later. Speaking about the tequila, he once remarked that “I consider these Tequilas my second sons and care for them as I would my own family.”
The name “Espolón” is a Spanish word for the defensive spur found on a rooster’s foot, the rooster being a traditional symbol of Mexico. Each bottle pays homage to the bird with a woodcut by artist Steven Noble.
The facility and the Espolón brand was purchased in 2009 by the Italian family owned Campari group, who owns and manages it to this day.
This tequila uses only 100% blue agave plants for the source of their spirits. These plants are harvested and have their leaves removed, leaving behind only the hard fibrous core.
And right off the bat, we have a departure from the normal process here in the cooking of the agave cores. Usually, this is done with a brick oven or kiln — but at this distillery, they instead place the cores in stainless steel pressure cookers. According to designer Cirilo Oropeza, the use of wood fired kilns adds too much smoke flavor to the process, and these stainless steel pressure cookers allow for a smoother and more pure flavor to be created. As the cores cook, they start converting the fibers into sugar which usually requires crushing to release and collect. However, in this case, the sugar naturally seeps out and is collected in pipes under the vessels.
Once the sugary liquid is collected it is fermented for a period of 70 to 80 hours, which is about twice as long as the normal “quick” fermentation process. The quicker acting yeast produces sufficient alcohol for the process in about 48 hours, but the longer acting yeast takes the full 70+ hours to process the remaining sugar and adds significantly more flavors and characteristics to the spirit than you’d get at only 40ish hours.
That fermented, semi-alcoholic liquid is then distilled at least twice in a combination of pot and column stills to create the newly made tequila. For this blanco expression, the tequila is immediately bottled without any aging.
Overall, I found this packaging to be simultaneously pretty cool and also somewhat annoying.
I like the general shape of the bottle. Usually, tequila comes in slim and tall bottles which are often squared off on the side. This is more of an oval shaped vessel, round and soft on the edges. The body tapers at the shoulder to a fairly short neck, and the whole thing is topped off with a wood and cork stopper.
The label I’m torn about. That drawing of a rampaging rooster with undead skeleton rider is the most metal label I’ve ever seen in my life and I love it. (As a disclaimer, though… I may be biased. My last name is Leghorn, and my entire childhood home was filled with our namesake roosters.)
That said, though… this label is huge. It obscures the entire bottle pretty much with only the top and bottom showing off the contents. Which is my biggest pet peeve with spirits labels, as it keeps us from seeing what we are buying. The artwork is win, but the label size is a fail.
This spirit is a beautiful crystal clear color. (Or, I suppose to put it more accurately, lack of color.) The aromas coming off this glass are a little bit more on the earthy side for a tequila, leaning heavily into that “fresh cut grass” herbal aspect with a touch of lemon citrus backing it up.
The flavors here are on the lighter and more delicate than your standard tequila. There isn’t any bitterness or bite to the spirit, which is nice, but the flavors aren’t very punched in. I get a bit of that herbal aspect, and there’s some black pepper spice on the finish, but that’s about it.
Flavors that aren’t very well saturated usually don’t survive the addition of some ice. But, somehow, magically, that isn’t the case here. Everything seems to have survived.
The aromas are gone, but the flavors remain. That light herbal note is still there, along with the black pepper spice. It’s honestly very surprising in a good way — I’m so used to seeing ice absolutely obliterate any delicate flavors. If I have to find fault, all I can detect is that as the ice dilutes the spirit there’s a reduction in that herbal note; that said, the black pepper stays strong.
What I’m looking for in a margarita is some of the flavor of the spirit coming through. The mixers in a margarita are pretty strong so it’s a bit of a challenge, but it’s the reason you use a tequila here instead of vodka: to add some of those herbal notes and peppery spice.
To be honest, though, I’m not getting much of those notes coming through. It’s not bad; I think there is some of the pepper spice contributing to the flavor… but none of the herbal elements are there. Sadly, I think this is just too delicate a tequila to stand up to the dominating flavors in the mixers.
Usually, we associate a tequila with a more rustic production process: hand harvested agave plants, wood fired brick ovens, and occasionally even actual horse powered crushing. All of those steps add their own unique flavors to the end result, and those unique distinctions are what really separates a good tequila from the rest of the pack. With Espolon, all of those chances for unique flavors have been removed from the process, rejecting that traditional method in favor of modern methods and a pure flavor.
For me, I like a tequila that’s unique. Something that has a story to tell or a new trick to share. Something, preferably, that I haven’t seen dozens of times before. I look for the toppings on the vanilla sundae — I assume the vanilla ice cream is up to par, I’m just looking for the differentiating favors. This, to me, is just plain vanilla.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthwhile buy, though. I like the bottle, I like the artwork, and the contents are fine. The modern distillation methods also ensure a more consistent product, so you always know exactly what you’re getting. For a tequila you can pick up for about twenty bucks, it’s a pretty solid choice.
|Espolon Blanco Tequila|
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $19.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
A good go-to “house tequila” for the label and price first, contents second.