Even though I’ve reviewed a few cristalino tequilas in the past, I’ve yet to really appreciate their purpose. It’s an interesting idea to take an aged spirit and filter out all the color, but so far my experience with them in reality has just been an incredible let down, with most examples losing out on a lot of aging flavors for the sake of being clear. But this bottle of Jose Cuervo Cristalino showed me the light.
There is no bigger name in the tequila industry than Jose Cuervo.
In 1758, Don José Antonio de Cuervo was granted a plot of land in the (soon to be Mexican) town of Tequila. Here, he would build a farm with his family where they would cultivate the blue agave plant that was native to the area and in 1795, the family distilled and produced their first bottle of mezcal (side note for those who don’t quite understand the differentiation: scotch is to whiskey as tequila is to mezcal).
It would take some time for the Cuervo family to embrace the calling of distilling spirits, but by 1880 the family had started commercially producing their spirits for sale. Known originally as “mezcal de Tequila” (mezcal from the town of Tequila), the Mexican government eventually — after much lobbying — allowed them to designate their spirits under a unique appellation known simply as “tequila.” The very first bottle of Jose Cuervo Tequila rolled off the line in 1906 and a massive new category of distilled spirits was born.
The company would achieve a massive level of success, with roughly 1 out of every 5 bottles of tequila sold worldwide being Jose Cuervo. The business would remain in the family through the years, and by 1966 the company was owned by a relative named Juan Beckmann Gallardo. In 1989, the family sold 45% of the business to a distribution company which would eventually be acquired by Diageo, the British spirits giant. Diageo continued to distribute Jose Cuervo tequila and were in talks to acquire the remainder of the business from the family until talks fell through in 2012. Rather than try to find another distribution company, the Beckmann family decided to start their own distribution business called Proximo Spirits through which they would handle the entire process — from growing the agave to stocking shelves.
Proximo Spirits also produces the Kraken Black Spiced Rum, as well as Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey. They in turn are owned by the Mexican alcoholic beverage giant Becle.
- Learn More: What Is Tequila?
While the standard edition of Jose Cuervo is a “mixto” (which means the agave based spirits are blended with other sources), this version is made from 100% blue agave plants. The agave plants are harvested and have their leaves sliced off, leaving the hard core behind. That core is then cooked for about three days in an oven to convert the plant material into sugar and then placed into large vats to ferment and allow yeast to convert that sugar into alcohol.
Once the fermentation is complete, what remains is a mildly alcoholic liquid that isn’t nearly pure or strong enough to be tequila. So the next step in the process is to distill that spirit twice in copper pot stills, which concentrates the spirits and raises the alcohol level.
After distillation, this cristalino tequila is placed into new American oak barrels for a period of less than 12 months to make it a reposado aged tequila, but the liquid is filtered afterward to remove all trace of color before bottling.
Jose Cuervo’s “Tradicional” line of tequilas all come in similar bottles, except for this one. It looks like they put a little bit more time and attention into this product, and dressed it up to appeal more as bottle service at the club than behind the bar at a lounge.
The bottle is roughly the same shape as the others (a cylindrical body and rounded shoulder flowing to a medium length neck), but that transition from the shoulder to the neck has an extra ring around it. Combined with the thicker glass base, it seems like this is designed to catch and refract the light from an under-lit shelf to make the bottle stand out.
The labeling is different here as well. The other versions of this line have a more traditional round paper label, but in this case that sharp edge is replaced by a series of rings of increasingly small dots radiating out from the central label. The bottle is capped off with a shiny metallic and cork stopper.
The filtration absolutely did its job here, as the spirit is crystal clear and water white. The aromas coming off the glass, however, are still clear and strong — and definitely indicate barrel aging. I’m mainly picking up the standard tequila notes of herbal grassy agave, lemon citrus, and black pepper spice, but there’s also a hint of brown sugar in the background leftover from the barrel aging.
Those aromas translate closely into the flavor profile of the spirit. There’s the herbal agave up front, followed by a little zest of lemon citrus, a touch of black pepper spice, and then the brown sugar and a hint of vanilla come in as the flavor develops to give it a very smooth texture and taste. On the finish, I’m primarily getting that brown sugar and herbal agave interacting nicely as the flavor fades.
With a little bit of ice, the barrel aging components almost completely disappear. This tastes very close to a standard bottle of Jose Cuervo, with the herbal agave, lemon citrus, and black pepper flavors dominating the profile.
However, it is slightly more viscous and feels like there’s still a bit more body or weight to the liquid compared to normal. Even though the barrel aging flavors have sadly disappeared, that aging process is still lending something to this spirit.
This makes for a fairly good margarita, with the barrel aging components making a welcome reappearance as a minor character in the cast.
Up front, there’s the expected interaction between the herbal tequila and the citrus-y Cointreau and lime juice, making for a tart but enjoyable drink. What makes this a touch better than your average margarita is that the brown sugar from the barrel aging seems to have made a reappearance and added a little bit of depth and character to the cocktail. A lot of other cristalino tequilas that I’ve tried have failed in this area, and bring nothing to the cocktail. With this bottle, though, it works as it should and you are actually getting flavors that you wouldn’t otherwise find in a blanco version of their tequila.
I’d call this a pretty good sipping tequila. It is smooth, has a bit of brown sugar sweetness to it, and doesn’t have as much of the burn that you might associate with a tequila. Add in the bottle and branding that is obviously intended to appeal to a club scene with table service and sparklers and you can see the use case they are going for. Taken all on its own, or on the rocks, this is an enjoyable spirit that works fairly well.
(Not to mention the fact that it also makes some pretty good margaritas.)
At this point I think I finally understand the point of (and target audience for) a cristalino tequila. This is the first bottle that not only hits all the right marketing points but also provides the flavor to back it up. That said, this is still damn near double the price of the reposado version of the tequila in their “Tradicional” product line, which seems outrageous for what amounts to a slightly improved bottle and the use of a couple filters.
I grieve for the delicious barrel aged flavors that were removed from this spirit for the sake of turning it clear. But I do understand it, at least.
|Jose Cuervo Tradicional Cristalino Tequila|
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $33.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
A smooth tequila that goes down nicely when taken neat and also makes a pretty good margarita. I just wonder what barrel aging notes we’re missing out on.