I love a good redemption story, and it sounds like that’s exactly what the folks at JAJA Tequila are working on. They launched their first version of their tequila in 2018 (which we reviewed) and, to be frank, it wasn’t very good. But in the years since that review, the team has partnered with some big names in the industry and worked to improve their product — and today we’re going to be giving them another look to see if the work paid off.
One quick note here before we dive into the review.
Here at Thirty One Whiskey, we strive to bring you the most impartial, accurate, and informative reviews we possibly can. We are always happy to update and change our reviews if we’ve gotten something wrong, or if the situation changes somehow.
We were contacted by the folks at JAJA Tequila in late 2022 in reference to our original review. We sat down with them over lunch in Austin, Texas (where we’re based) and they talked about how their product has improved in the time since the review was first published. It did sound like their product had changed sufficiently enough that the old review was no longer representative of the current product on the market and we decided to write a new one — the review you are reading now. We’ve decided to leave the original review online as well, but with an added note of clarification and a link to this new review.
JAJA did offer us free bottles of tequila for the review (pretty normal in the industry), but we declined in keeping with our no-free-bottles policy; so the bottles used for this and coming reviews of their other products were all purchased with our own cash from local liquor stores at full price.
Elliot Tebele founded a now-famous Instagram account in 2011, the name of which is not quite appropriate for mixed audiences (it starts with a four-letter F-word). He built a following of millions, but acknowledged in 2019 that some of the content he was posting was stolen from other people without crediting them. That popular Instagram account launched a media company named Jerry Media, which was involved in 2017 with the notoriously fraudulent Fyre Festival.
The following year, Tebele along with his brother Maurice and childhood friend Martin Hoffstein followed in the footsteps of other celebrities and decided to produce his own tequila. Normally, this is where most celebrities put at least some effort into creating a compelling backstory for their spirits (see: Casamigos) or discuss some novel and amazing production process that is used (like Dan Aykroyd’s ridiculous diamond filtration process for his vodka). But for this tequila, the story they went with was literally “we wandered around Mexico until we found a distillery”.
One summer not long ago, three friends traveled to Jalisco, Mexico, looking for the best tequila in the world. They wandered the hills and the mountains until they discovered a distillery that embraced traditional processes and eco-friendly production.https://jajatequila.com/
Called “JAJA” (pronounced “haha”), the name is an allusion to the comedy Instagram account where he gained his fame.
When we first tried out this tequila in March of 2021 that was the extent of the story, but since then there have been some encouraging developments at JAJA.
In October 2021, the company announced a partnership with Proximo Spirits, a manufacturing and distribution company that makes some notable and delicious tequila and legitimately the best applejack brandy I’ve ever had. Not only did that partnership improve their distribution capabilities, but it also opened up access to Proximo’s tequila distilleries and their prodigious expertise. Maurice and Elliot worked with Proximo to create a new recipe for their tequila, tasting the product along the way and working to ensure that this new version was a true representation of their taste and preferences.
They also have expanded their vision for the brand, moving from solely being about producing a tequila to also wanting to be a larger lifestyle brand by expanding to include a line of apparel and packaged game night experiences.
- Learn More: What Is Tequila?
This spirit is produced at the La Rojeña Distillery (NOM 1122) in Mexico by Proximo Spirits as part of their partnership with JAJA Tequila. This same distillery also makes certain varieties of 1800, Jose Cuervo, and Maestro, and uses pretty much the same process to create JAJA.
The spirit starts as a crop of 100% blue agave plants. Those plants are shaved of their leaves so that only the central pit remains, and then placed into large traditional brick ovens to cook for about three days to convert the plant matter into fermentable sugar. That sugary material is then extracted from the cores and mixed with water and yeast to ferment into a mildly alcoholic liquid.
That slurry of liquid is then batch distilled three times in copper pot stills to create the new tequila. For this blanco version, the end result is immediately bottled after distillation with no resting period in oak barrels.
I said in my first review that this is an incredibly boring bottle, and I’m not sure I’d retract that statement. It looks good, but there’s no substance to it.
The glass itself is shaped like a very common glass whiskey bottle, with the only remarkable aspect being that there’s a small note embossed into the lower portion of the bottle talking about how “JAJA” is actually pronounced “haha”. Otherwise, there’s nothing going on here. The bottle is capped off with a wood and cork stopper.
The label is really what sells this tequila. JAJA says that they are looking to create a lifestyle brand, and the artwork on the label is their thesis statement for what that lifestyle looks like. It evokes a very trendy, fun vibe — one that pairs well with 20-somethings in felt cowboy hats and overpriced sunglasses.
While the label might be visually appealing, there’s still no connection to the product beyond pairing nicely with the lifestyle that it’s trying to fit into. Labels often tell a story about the product, or the people behind it, but this doesn’t do either. It’s just a painted backdrop, and while it’s bright and fun, it’s ultimately not telling us anything.
From the first whiff, you can tell that there’s something different going on here compared to the original release. This smells on point for a good blanco tequila: the herbal agave and fresh cut grass components are front and center, supported by some lemon citrus, agave sweetness, and a hint of black pepper spice.
Taking a sip, the black pepper spice is the clearest note to come through — and it is loud and strong. Behind that, there is a bit of the lemon citrus which, especially combined with the pepper, gives the flavor a slightly bitter note thanks to the combination of flavors. All of this is rounded out by some agave sweetness, with the black pepper spice being what remains and lingers into the finish.
Ice really makes a difference here. (As would chilling the bottle in the freezer, probably.)
My only real complaint about the spirit when taken neat is that the black pepper and the lemon citrus combination results in something that’s just a bit on the bitter and unpleasant side. But the added ice clearly tones down that bitter note, while still leaving behind a lot of the flavors that you’d want to see. There’s more of the herbal agave coming through in the taste now, with the black pepper as more of a supporting character along with the lemon citrus.
This is more of a cohesive flavor profile at this point, and it works.
What I’m looking for in a margarita is not just an overall tasty drink, but that the tequila actually makes itself known in the flavor profile. It’s a tough bar to meet, especially for blanco tequilas, but I think that JAJA blanco actually makes it work.
The black pepper that had been a bit too powerful when taken neat now slides in perfectly to this margarita, and, along with the agave flavor, adds just the right level of herbaceousness and spice to make the cocktail interesting. There’s a balance to the flavors that works well with the relatively severe mixers of lime juice and Cointreau, and the result actually highlights some of those more earthy flavors in the spirit.
If I could offer a critique, I feel like there could be a bit more of the sweetness from the agave in here to balance out the other components. But otherwise, this is a darn good drink.
Everyone loves a good redemption arc, and I feel like JAJA Tequila is on the right path here.
I appreciate that the product is improved. I like that the founders are actively involved and trying to make their vision of what a good tequila should be (and not just buying a random distillate from some undisclosed distillery). They are doing all the right things here and they should be applauded for it.
The product itself is absolutely a different beast compared to what we tried a couple years ago. The formula has changed, and definitely for the better. The good, traditional blanco flavors and aromas are all there and in a pleasing configuration. There’s still a bit of bitterness when taken neat, and I’d also prefer to see a bit more of the herbal “fresh cut grass” flavor typical of blanco tequilas, but it shapes up nicely when chilled or with some added ice. It makes a pretty good marg, too.
You can absolutely see the influence of Proximo Spirits: this tastes and performs very similarly to their 1800 Silver product. I feel like there’s a bit more spice and citrus in the JAJA product, though, which is a trade off: it makes a better cocktail, but it needs to be chilled to work well taken neat.
Today, this bottle reminds me a lot of the Teremana Blanco Tequila from one Mr. The Rock. It has the same bias towards pepper spice and citrus, with that same twinge of bitterness, which makes it great in a cocktail but less than ideal taken neat. I called that bottle as three stars for the price range, and I think that applies equally well here.
|JAJA Blanco Tequila|
Produced By: JAJAProduction Location: Jalisco, Mexico
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $34.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
Bold herbal flavors and black pepper spice make this slightly bitter taken neat, but a great choice for cocktails.