As a local Austin, Texas resident I feel like it’s my responsibility to check out all of the locally produced (or at least locally headquartered) spirits on the market — of which there are quite a few. One bottle that I’ve been putting off for a while is Tequila 512, but thanks to the massive billboard and location they unveiled downtown not too long ago, I simply can’t ignore it any longer.
Scott Willis had possibly the most quintessential Austin, Texas story. He originally moved to Austin because of the music and nightlife scene, hoping to get his start as a performing artist while working a day job in tech sales. After many years of trying (and not much succeeding), he sat down for a re-think. What he really wanted, he realized, was to be a part of the Austin nightlife. Performing hadn’t panned out, but — taking some inspiration from the story of Tito’s Vodka — he decided that creating and Austin focused tequila brand might be a place where he could succeed.
The man had a vision according to the Austin Chronicle: “no gimmicks, just premium quality tequila, packaged attractively and sold at a reasonable price.”
Together with his then-girlfriend (now wife) he traveled down to Tequila, Mexico where they met with the La Cofradia family run distillery and worked out an agreement to start bottling their own variety of blanco tequila under the Tequila 512 brand. The first bottles arrived in Austin in 2012, and the branding was updated in 2015 to the current black on yellow design.
Business took off after winning a bunch of accolades from various prestigious competitions, and in 2020 the company was purchased by entrepreneur Nick Matzorkis.
- Learn More: What Is Tequila?
You can read more about tequila in our link just above, but in short: tequila is, by definition, something that can only be produced in certain locations in Mexico. As such, while this is an Austin-based company, the product they are selling actually comes from the aforementioned La Cofradia distillery in Tequila, Mexico.
As you’d expect from a good tequila, this spirit starts as a crop of 100% blue weber agave plants that are grown for seven to ten years before being harvested. The plants have their leaves shaved off, leaving behind only the hard and fibrous core. This core is then roasted in brick ovens, which is a very traditional way of converting the fibrous material into sugary liquid for the distillation process. This step usually adds some interesting and beneficial flavors, but is slower and more expensive compared to other industrial manufacturing processes, which is why not many distilleries do it these days.
Once the cooked cores have been shredded, the sugary liquid that they release is then fermented in open tanks which allows some of the natural airborne yeast in the area to grow in the tanks alongside cultured yeast. This yeast is added by the distillery and adds yet more interesting, complex, and unique flavors to the liquid.
That alcoholic liquid is then distilled three times to produce a clear alcohol, all three times in copper pot stills. Usually, a distillery will use a column still to make tequila, which typically results in a higher strength and less flavorful spirit. By using pot stills, though, Tequila 512 can create a more characterful spirit that retains some of those unique flavors and characteristics. Following distillation, the spirit is charcoal filtered (like a Tennessee whiskey) and oxygenated.
For the blanco version of the tequila, the newly made alcohol is proofed down with volcanic water and shipped to your local liquor store.
I think the marketing department did a great job here and they should be proud. This is a bottle that looks clean and attractive, but also knows its place. It isn’t trying to be super premium, and espouses an air of approachability.
The bottle itself is slender, with straight walls, a thin body, and a long neck. It looks like it is designed to fit neatly into just about any speed well in a bar, and to be a pretty easy pour for the bartender.
Despite this being a clear (and relatively boring in appearance) spirit, the label is still about as transparent as you can get. There’s a big yellow bar down the front that acts as the brand identity and lets you clearly identify it on the back bar, and the brand name is arranged in block letters on the front as if stamped onto the bottle. It is a clean, well composed, and easily readable design that lets you see what you’re getting.
There’s a great aroma coming off this glass that’s exactly what you hope and expect from a tequila. It’s herbal, but with an earthiness and a bit of a spicy kick. I get the herbal agave in there, some interesting vanilla components, lemon citrus, black pepper spice, and just a hint of cayenne pepper.
On the taste, that vanilla combined with a bit of cinnamon is what comes through clearest. It’s front and center, although not with nearly the same strength as you’d see in something like Casamigo’s blanco. It’s a bit more attenuated and muted. As the flavor progresses, I get more of the agave sweetness coming in, followed by some of the herbal cut grass, and finally some black pepper spice that adds some complexity.
A bit of ice is usually deadly for a tequila, sapping it of all of its delicate flavors. But in this case, I think those notes are well established enough that the ice doesn’t really make that big of a dent.
What does happen once the ice is added is that this becomes a much more traditional tequila. The herbaceous and grassy agave notes are first out of the gate, followed by some lemon citrus, and then some good black pepper spice. The vanilla is still there just at the end, but a much more subtle component than before.
This is what a perfect margarita tastes like. There’s just enough of the herbaceous and grassy notes, as well as that black pepper, to add some complexity and depth to a drink that’s otherwise all sour mix and orange liqueur. There’s even a hint of earthiness and richness that helps to balance the drink out, probably thanks to that vanilla component.
For me, the only note to add here is that there isn’t necessarily anything unique about the tequila to recommend it above and beyond the rest of the pack. It’s a great example of a standard tequila, but I’m not really getting much uniqueness in this glass that would justify the production process
It sounds like this is a tequila that is doing everything right, from the traditionally roasted agave cores to the triple pot distillation process. It isn’t just another blatant cash grab, but instead is paying homage to the tradition of tequila making — and is putting out a fine product in the process.
I think where this runs into trouble is actually the charcoal filtration. I appreciate that they are trying to make a smooth tasting tequila — and they achieved that goal — but that charcoal filtration is also pulling out a lot of the flavorful compounds that they worked so hard to retain through the use of pot distillation instead of column distillation. That’s where the vanilla and other notes are coming from I think, and with less filtration those hints would really blossom.
|Tequila 512 Blanco|
Produced By: Tequila 512Production Location: Mexico
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $26.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
A solid tequila that tastes pretty darn good on its own, but might taste even better without all the filtration.