Review: Olmeca Altos Plata Tequila

If you are of a certain elder-millennial age (as I am), you might see the brand name on this tequila and immediately think of Olmec, the giant animatronic stone talking head from Legends of the Hidden Temple. If you are a drinker of an older age bracket, you might remember this brand more for their 1970’s era spirits that weren’t very good (to be frank). Either way, the brand Olmeca Altos has been resurrected by a new owner with an eye on traditional distillation methods, and that seems to be something worth trying out.



The Seagram company started as a Canadian distillery in 1857 and grew to become one of the biggest spirits companies in Canada. During prohibition in the United States, the owners of the company reportedly participated in bootlegging operations to bring their product into the US, and as a result paid $1.5 million in fines in 1930 (significantly less than the $60 million the US government asked for).

In 1967, Seagram was looking to expand into the world of tequila and purchased a distillery in Jalisco, Mexico to start producing its own version. Branded as “Olmeca Tequila”, this was a ‘mixto’ tequila (which uses not only agave sugars, but also raw added sugar and other added materials during the distillation process) and may have inadvertently contributed to the historically negative impression many American drinkers had of Mexican tequila.

In 1992, Seagram began distributing Patron Tequila for St. Maarten Spirits in the United States and quickly found success with that new, higher quality product. To help keep up with this new premium demand, Seagram built a brand new distillery using experts from their Kentucky bourbon distilling facilities in Los Altos, Jalisco and dubbed “Destileria Colonial de Jalisco” (NOM 1111). The facility was finished in 1997, but just months later the distribution deal for Patron fell apart and left Seagram without a product.

The Olmeca brand, along with its distillery, was transferred to Pernod Ricard as the old Seagram company was divided and sold off, and they realized the potential of this brand of tequila. More recently, they have made an effort to improve the quality and the marketing of Olmeca, making it one of the more well known brands overseas.

The new Olmeca Altos brand specifically started with two bartending mixologists from London, England named Henry Besant and Dre Masso (who were more knowledgeable about the European audience that is more familiar with this specific brand). Together with master tequila distiller Jesús Hernandez, they worked to design a sub-brand for Olmeca that not only produced the more modern 100% agave tequila that consumers wanted, but also worked well specifically in cocktails and mixed drinks. The spirit is still produced at Destileria Colonial de Jalisco.


This tequila seems to be trying to make up for the modern mass production sins of its older brand origins by taking tequila production back to its traditional roots.

The first big change is the fact that this uses 100% blue weber agave plants as the source for the raw materials in the tequila. Previous versions used processed sugar and other additives, but in this case the only source for the alcohol is natural agave plants. These plants are grown for about eight years in the high altitude regions of Jalisco around 2,100 meters (6,889 feet) in elevation before they are harvested by hand and delivered to the distillery.

Once at the distillery, the hard and fibrous agave cores are placed into traditional brick ovens for a period of three days. This process not only converts some of the starchy agave fibers into fermentable sugars, but it also allows those fibers to add some unique flavors to the end product that aren’t possible using modern sterile techniques. After those three days, the agave cores are removed and crushed using a traditional “tahona” or stone roller mill that extracts the sugary liquid from the agave plants. That liquid is then fermented using a proprietary strain of yeast to create the raw alcohol for the tequila.

This is where the Kentucky distilling expertise seems to have entered the process, as the newly created alcoholic liquid is then batch distilled in copper pot stills to concentrate and selectively capture the alcohol and create just the right flavor profile. More commonly in Mexico and in tequilas, the distillation either takes place in a column still or a stainless steel still, but the use of copper (as is common in Kentucky) removes some of the sulfur and other unpleasant components during the distillation process.

For the plata, or silver, version of this tequila the resulting spirit is proofed down to the right level and bottled for sale.


I think the designers hit the nail on the head for a bottle design that perfectly compliments the spirit and the market they were going for.

The bottle design is subtle but effective. There’s a square cross-section body that flatly angles towards a medium length neck, and the bottle is capped off with a wood and plastic screw-on cap. It seems specifically designed to sit neatly in the speed well of a cocktail bar — which is exactly where the original founders of this sub-brand intended to use their tequila.

That said, the bottle isn’t terrible to look at on the back bar either. The only labels on the bottle are a small front and back label with the basic information on it, the rest of the bottle has round indentations in it that make it look like a rough-cut ice cube. The design reflects the light in subtly pleasing ways, and gives the bottle some character and dimension. The brand name is also embossed into the bottle as well, which is a plus in my book.

I like that the liquid inside the bottle is clearly visible without any distortion in the color, which is a beautiful thing to see for this spirit. I also like the blue coloring on the label, which adds that little bit of extra icy association and makes it feel refreshing.


Some tequilas might have a sharp or acerbic aroma, but this one is smooth and inviting. I’m getting some herbal cut grass aromas as the initial note, followed by vanilla, a bit of citrus, black pepper, and some agave sweetness that seems to be mellowing the whole thing out and bringing it all together.

I was honestly a bit surprised when I took a sip and experienced the flavors. There’s all of the components that I saw in the aroma present, but this is a slightly spicier flavor profile than I was expecting.

Right up front, there’s an agave sweetness that lays a good foundation for the rest of the components and keeps things from going off the rails. Building on that base, the next thing I get is an unexpected bit of cinnamon and baking spices combined with some clove that adds a complexity and a kick to the flavor that I don’t usually see in a blanco tequila. As the flavors develop, there’s some lemon citrus, a bit of vanilla, the fresh cut grass herbaceousness, and finally on the finish a bit of black pepper spice to accentuate the whole package.

It’s a smooth and flavorful tequila, for sure.

On Ice

What I expect when adding a bit of ice to a tequila is that the flavors will wash out almost completely. Tequila is a light, herbal, and delicate spirit (especially in its blanco form) and ice tends to come down rather harshly on those components. In this case, I think some of those lighter components did take a beating — but those spicy components remain behind with enough force to keep them relevant in mixed drinks and cocktails.

There’s just a hint of fresh cut grass herbaceousness here, but what I’m really getting from the tequila is the black pepper spice and a bit of the vanilla. Those two flavors are prominent, almost to the point of slight bitterness at first. There isn’t nearly as much of that sweet agave to take the bite off and you see the flavors in their true colors. It still is drinkable, but not nearly as enjoyable.

Cocktail (Margarita)

This makes for a good margarita, but there is room for improvement.

What I like is that the tequila does actually make a statement in this cocktail. Normally, the lime juice and Cointreau are loud enough to drown out any other flavors, but the spicy notes of the baking spices and the black pepper in this tequila are strong enough to make a showing. It really does add some extra character to the cocktail, and combined with a hint of vanilla even adds some balance to the components.

What I don’t get as much of are the herbaceous notes. Tequila is supposed to add an herbal element to the cocktail, freshening it up with those springtime flavors. There might be a little bit on the finish, but it isn’t nearly as prominent as I’d like.

Don’t get me wrong — this is still deliciously drinkable. It just has some areas for improvement.


Overall Rating

I wasn’t expecting to like this tequila as much as I do. The history behind the brand is as responsible for the stereotype about tequila causing bad hangovers as any other spirit of the time, and quality wasn’t one of the first words that came to mind. But it seems like with their move to a new distillery and their reset to using traditional methods things have changed decidedly for the better.

I do suspect that there’s still some trickery going on here. That vanilla flavor and the baking spices aren’t usually things that you can get from a straight blanco tequila, and probably why they went with the “plata” definition (instead of blanco) which does allow for some time in a barrel before shipping. I think there’s some oak contact here that is adding those flavors, and I am not opposed to that whatsoever. It makes this tequila taste great, and I’m here for it.

Olmeca Altos Plata Tequila
Produced By: Olmeca
Owned By: Pernod Ricard
Production Location: Jalisco, Mexico
Classification: Tequila
Aging: Plata
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $25.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5
A deliciously spicy tequila that works wonders in cocktails but might be missing a bit of herbal character.


One comment

  1. Over 25 years ago while sitting at a bar in a casino I noticed a unique bottle, it was of coarse, Petron Silver which I drank on many occasions until I believed that I had lost enough Brain Cells. However, now after reading your review on Altos Tequila my mouth began watering and guess what, I must now wake up my Brain Cells and enjoy another Shot..

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