Over the last decade or so, Henry Besant reckons he has visited more than 50 tequila distilleries in his travels around Mexico, and just as many mezcal distilleries. He and Dre Masso, his partner at Worldwide Cocktail Club, have also helped to develop Olmeca Altos tequila with Pernod Ricard. So he is a good man for Thomasina Miers and Mark Selby to have helping them to develop the tequila lists at their four Wahaca restaurants in London.
After opening a dedicated tequila bar in the basement of their newest restaurant in Wardour Street, Soho, they are now looking to diversify their drinks list with tequilas that are not currently available in the UK. After a series of tastings with tequila aficionados, journalists, Wahaca’s Facebook fans and bloggers, they aim to come up with a rotating selection of “guest tequilas”. “Every two months, we will showcase a particular tequila and, if consumers like it, we will bring it onto the menu,” Mark explains. “These tequilas will be examples of artisanally produced spirits that are not available outside of North America. These tequilas will provide our bar with a range that will offer an unmatched variety and give some of Mexico’s finest smaller producers a stepping stone onto the international stage.”
About 30 tequilas were brought over from Mexico, many recommended by the tequila industry’s board, and these have now been whittled down to about 20 – all 100 per cent made with agave. Henry is working with Mark and Tommi to choose the most popular products from the tastings. I was lucky enough to be involved in one of the sessions, which presented us with a diverse selection of tequilas from cheap and cheerful to expensive and unusual.
First we worked our way through four reposados, aged for between two and 11 months. The favourite was Espinoza, a floral tequila from the Tlajomulco de Zuniga area of Jalisco, which also turned out to be the most expensive at $35. However, in second place was the light, earthy and more accessible Agave De Oro, from Tequila in Jalisco, which costs just $7 a bottle. We also sampled La Ravancha, also from Tlajomulco de Zuniga, which was quite light and dry, and Don Valente from El Arenal in Jalisco, which offered aromas of rubber on the nose and a smoky cheesiness ending with bitterness – the least favourite of the group.
The most popular of the four blancos was Tromba, a premium tequila from Arandas in Jalisco, which costs about $69 a bottle. Named after the “big rain” that falls on the agave fields, it is a smooth, slightly vegetal tequila that is extremely accessible. Packaged in a vodka-like bottle, it is targeted at the US club market alongside the likes of Justin Timberlake’s 901 and Avion which features in US TV series Entourage.
The least favourite blanco of the four was Afamado from Amatitan in Jalisco, which was quite floral but was one-dimensional in flavour and lacked length – and costs just $8.75 a bottle. Pueblo Viejo blanco from Tepatitlan in Jalisco was pleasantly spicy and citrussy but was considered to have a bit too much heat for most tastes. Real de Mexico blanco from Arandas also had its fans, offering quite sweet and peppery notes.
The three añejos – aged for at least a year – produced some surprises, not least the favourite, Fortaleza from the Los Abuelos distillery in Tequila. It was created by the Sauza family as soon as they reached the end of their 28-year non-compete clause after the sale of Sauza to Pedro Domecq, and is produced using traditional methods, including crushing the agave in the stone mill called the tahona. Priced at about $35, it is known as Abuelos tequila in Mexico but, due to Ron Abuelo rum, is known as Fortaleza in the US and other markets. It is aged in oak barrels for two to three years, creating a distinctive spirit that has aromas of vanilla and a rich flavour with notes of citrus and chocolate.
We tasted two other good añejos: Gran Orendain from Tequila, which was light with a slight woodiness on the finish, and Orgullo from Tepatitlan in Jalisco, which was smooth, sweet and biscuity with a light woodiness and spiciness at the end. The ultimate “winners” will be selected in the next few weeks and any fan of good tequila will need to head to Wahaca to explore and learn more about this fantastic spirit which is still little understood in the UK.