Monday, December 12, 2016

New Cuervo tequila stirs memory of a cellar visit

Inside the Cuervo tequila cellars (Bill Dowd photos)
Jose Cuervo, the world's top-selling tequila, has just introduced an addition to the high end of its portfolio.

It's called 250 Aniversario Rolling Stones Special Edition Tequila, a single estate extra añejo that is a blend of blue agave tequilas aged in new French and American oak barrels for a minimum of three years,  then blended with reserve tequila from the Cuervo family’s private cellar, some of which is more than 100 years old, and rested for one year in Spanish sherry oak.

That's a lot of effort. It also costs a lot of money -- $4,000 per bottle for the extremely limited 250-bottle project, to be precise.

Jose Cuervo 250 Aniversario is part of the Rolling Stones Tour Pick collection that is a nod to paying the company’s part in the rock icon Rolling Stones’ 1972 North American tour. And, while it may sound like an unnecessary extravagance, it's merely one of many highlights and novel undertakings that dot the history of Cuervo.

The Cuervo operation, located on the outskirts of the city of Tequila in Mexico's Jalisco state,  is a fascinating one. I visited there several years ago at the invitation of the Beckmann family that owns the company.

Unwrapped damajuana
Deep below the public areas of the LaRojeña distillery that produces the numerous expressions of Jose Cuervo tequila lies family history. There, in a stone cellar few get to see, damajuanas -- glass jugs -- of Reserva de la Familia tequila sat undisturbed, some behind bars and stone pillars and arches since as far back as 1890.

Thick layers of white dust coated many of the containers, some of which were unadorned glass, others that had been wrapped in basket-like coverings made from agave leaves to protect against breakage. They sat in marked contrast to their newer cousins, contained outside the barred area in pristine American oak casks that had been cellared in more recent years.

This was the pride and joy of Jose Cuervo, now in its 258th year of existence, still family owned, the world's largest producer of tequila, from the inexpensive but popular expressions such as Cuervo Gold to the treasured añejo tequilas that make up the Reserva, the top of the line.

I had the opportunity for a private tour and tasting in the cellar, hosted by Juan-Domingo Beckmann, who the following year succeeded his father, Don Juan Backmann, as head of the Cuervo empire.

The younger Beckmann, an informal, affable sort who is a sixth-generation tequila maker, makes no bones about the fact tequila isn't the only spirit he enjoys. "I'm a Scotch drinker," he said, "plus, of course, my tequilas. The profile of the Reserve de la Familia is similar to that of a fine single malt or even a cognac. That's why we recommend it as an after-dinner drink. An añejo tequila on the rocks or with a little splash of water gives me the same expression as many Scotch whiskies. It's all depends on the occasion.

"But, when you serve it is really a matter of taste, just as is your selection of what sort of tequila you like. Some people swear by the blanco, others the reposado or an añejo and won't drink any other kind."

Beckmann illustrated just how tastes can be modified once someone experiences a spirit different from their usual choice by sharing an anecdote about being in a bar and overhearing a women order a vodka and cranberry juice.

"I asked her if she had ever tried that with tequila instead of vodka," he said, "She said no, she didn't like tequila. So, I suggested she try a Platino and cranberry. She loved it!"

What is Beckmann's personal attraction to the Reserva de la Familia?

"With this añejo, because it is finished in oak barrels, you can have the elements of both the agave and the wood notes usually found in whiskies," he said.

The Cuervo company also makes the Maestro, 1800 and Centenario brand tequilas as well as Matusalem rums.

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