Whiskey Review: Abasolo El Whisky De Mexico

I’ve had whiskey from a number of places around the world. Scotland? Check. Kentucky? Check. Japan? France? Check, check. But Mexican whiskey? That’s a new one for me, despite being geographically close to my home base in Austin, Texas. As soon as I saw it on the shelves, I knew I had to investigate.

History

There’s very little actual information available about this distillery, which seems strange given the apparently large level of funding backing this product.

Mexico has a long and celebrated history of distilling amazing spirits. Local indigenous people have been creating alcoholic beverages for centuries, and with the introduction of distillation techniques from the Spanish explorers those local spirits turned into the tequila, mezcal, and sotol spirits we know and love today. One spirit that hasn’t traditionally come from the country, though, is whiskey. Abasolo is one of the first Mexican labels to try and break into the whiskey market.

The Destilería y Bodega Abasolo is a distillery located in Jilotepec, Mexico. The distillery is on land that has been historically used for corn cultivation, and at an elevation of 7,800 feet it is one of the highest distilleries in the world.

The Abasolo Distillery released their very first whiskey in early 2020.

Product

This whiskey starts its life as a shipment of 100% cacahuazintle corn, which is a heritage Mexican variety of corn that has been handed down through generations. Part of the corn is malted, part of it is nixtamalized (which is a process of soaking the corn in an alkaline solution used in the traditional preparation of tortillas), and then all of it is cooked and fermented.

That distiller’s beer (aka wash) is then twice distilled in a pot still, and the resulting whiskey is placed in a combination of new and previously used toasted oak barrels. The barrels are kept in an open-walled rickhouse for an undisclosed period of time to mature, allowing them to be influenced by the natural temperature shifts in that area of Mexico.

Packaging

This packaging is amazing… but it also hits all my pet peeves and raises some concerns.

Overall, the bottle is shaped like a brick. It has squared edges and flat surfaces, and there’s a gentle rippling on the surface that you really just want to touch. (Which is smart, since consumers are much more likely to buy a bottle that they have touched.) The front and back are flat, with inset squares on the sides bearing an embossed distillery name. Finally, there’s a short neck up top and the bottle is capped off with a wooden and cork stopper.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when you can’t see the whiskey, and this packaging might as well be a big black box. Not only is the glass tinted a dark amber color so that you can barely see the level of liquid inside, but the label on the front is a gigantic white label that covers pretty much the entire bottle.

All that said, this bottle is quite striking… and also screams money. It takes a significant investment to start a distillery, and generally folks don’t have enough leftover cash to immediately turn around and create a custom glass bottle to this level. This is a huge investment, and when I see huge investments in brand new spirits I’m always concerned that the quality of the spirit has taken a back seat to the branding.

Neat

Pretty much all corn based whiskey smells the same as it comes off the still — heavy on the corn and chemical alcohol, light on just about everything else. This follows the same pattern as other lightly aged corn whiskey (Austin 101 comes to mind) with a corn forward nose, but in this case there’s something a little different. It smells like homemade tortillas, which shouldn’t be a surprise as the corn in here is prepared the exact same way as a traditional tortilla. Behind that initial tortilla aroma is also some vanilla and brown sugar.

Taking a sip, the lightness of the flavors continue. There aren’t any bold or crazy things going on here, just the mild impression you licked an ear of corn and maybe took a chaser shot of sotol or tequila. On closer inspection, though, there’s some vanilla notes as well… but it’s almost an afterthought.

The one downside is that there’s a bitterness in here which I think comes from that raw alcohol content unimpeded by competing flavors to attenuate it, and that bitterness follows into the aftertaste.

The spirit isn’t strong or overpowering… it’s just bitter and uninteresting.

On Ice

I figured that the addition of some ice would basically take this back to a vodka in terms of flavor content, but I’m pleasantly surprised that there’s actually still something here. In this case, the ice mainly counteracts the bitterness without impacting flavors and what’s left is more of that warm and delicious corn.

It’s reminding me a lot of the Mellow Corn whiskey, which is another 100% corn whiskey from Heaven Hill. Similarly, there was a lot of bitterness in that one too, but once that bitterness been stripped away there were just some bland-ish flavors left behind. In this case, though, I think there’s a better flavor profile in that you have the delicious tortilla flavors instead of just raw corn. However, it must be said that there’s still not a lot of variety here.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

This isn’t what I was expecting, but I’m not sure that is a bad thing.

In general, the added bitters are running away with the show. They are large and in charge, but the flavors in the whiskey are making a valiant effort. Those sweet corn notes are trying their best to balance out the darker and richer aspects of the bitters and (while it is definitely a losing battle) there are some interesting flavor combinations which aren’t entirely uninteresting.

Angostura bitters might not be the right additive here. I don’t know what the right combination is, but this is an interesting enough and blank enough base that it deserves further experimentation.

Fizz (Mule)

It’s definitely on the lighter side of a Kentucky Mule, but I can’t say that it doesn’t meet the challenge.

The first goal here is to do battle with the ginger beer and tone it down a bit, and in this case I think the spirit succeeds… mostly. There’s still a bit of bitterness in there, but significantly toned down from the original. And as for the flavors, the mellow corn-heavy tortilla aspects provide a good balance to the bright and cheerful ginger while still staying on the brighter side of the spectrum.

Where this might start to fall apart is the second goal: namely, bringing something unique to the table in the flavor profile. The corn is there, but it isn’t as powerful or as impactful as, say, the pepper spice of a rye whiskey or the fruity cherry notes of an aged bourbon.

Overall Rating

There really isn’t much going on here. I’m pretty sure that I could have pulled some spirit directly off their still, proofed it down a bit, and gotten something more or less identical to the finished product. There’s a claim of aging in some barrels, but either the high elevation has kept that aging process from actually imparting any oak flavors or it has been aged far shorter than it needed.

That said, there still are some interesting flavors that this pulls off. The tortilla flavors are interesting, and definitely worthy of some trial and error to make a good cocktail out of it. I think there’s some promise here, but it needs some work.

Right now, the only real trick here is that the whiskey smells like fresh tortillas. And if that’s the case, I’d rather drink a tequila with some actual flavors accompanying a decent Austin tex-mex meal.

Abasolo El Whisky De Mexico
Produced By: Abasolo
Production Location: Mexico
Classification: Whiskey
Aging: 2 Years
Proof: 43% ABV
Price: $39.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating:

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Overall Rating: 3/5
A very young tasting whiskey from a very young whiskey region.

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