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The sound of mariachi bands playing in the background, the cool breeze of the Pacific Ocean, and the vineyard-like landscapes of Jalisco, Mexico are home to tequila. This tiny slice of heaven is home to more than 100 distilleries making over 900 unique brands of tequila. With a new brand popping up each week I have had the privilege of tasting many different varieties of tequila. Today, I’m doing a review of the Piedra Azul made at La Madrilena in Tototlan.

I knew before I popped the top of the bottle that this tequila had a strong pedigree. The distillery, La Madrilena is famous for producing Xicote, one of the rarest and most floral tequilas I have ever had. The factory where Piedra Azul is made was built in 1911 by Don Pedro Velasco; knowing about its rich heritage and pedigree gave me my first two clues about this brand. First, it’s a less expensive counterpart to Xicote which may cause quality may be lacking. However, the difference that even a small aspect can make in the taste of tequila can be very difficult to explain to a general consumer. I always ask representatives from distilleries two simple questions about the production process before I review a tequila. Their responses, and this set of questions has helped inform my expectations of low or high grade tequila over the course of the past few years:

  1. Was the agave piña cooked in an oven or an autoclave? The process of cooking the piñas in an oven is time-consuming and traditional. So, based on general assumption, anything you can do fast must be a downgrade in quality, right? I found out in last night’s sample that this may not always be the case
  2. Do they use copper pot stills or stainless steel pot stills?  The copper helps pull out heavy oils that make strong, off-putting flavors in your tequila. People say good distillers can work around this issue, but it’s a matter of science–not skill. Copper has the power to strip oils, where stainless steel produces a rich spirit with lots of agave oils. Because the American spirits’ culture is constantly pushing for smoother and smoother product, working with stainless steel may be a counterproductive move for most distilleries.

Piedra Azul is made in an autoclave, and is distilled in stainless steel pot stills. Based on previous experience, I would usually rate this  very inexpensive hundred percent agave tequila badly; normally I would expect this low grade work horse to have nothing in common with its thoroughbred brother, Xicote. I would have been incorrect. I did a sample of 3 much more expensive un-named tequilas and Piedra Azul.

My sample group was my brother and his girlfriend. Because they are both untrained samplers, I usually ask them to sample to get real consumer opinions.  In a blind taste test, they picked the Piedra Azul. Because of this shocking response, I decided to go back and review each myself. After my own taste-test, I was shocked to discover that it truly was the best of the 3. I’m not certain how this new discovery may influence my above-mentioned questions, but I do think it will have an impact on my view of tequila made in a faster, more modern process. I think it safe to say that the master distillers can use the modern tools to craft a cheaper tequila that stood up to $60 and $80 counterparts, and that they should be commended on the craftsmanship they possess. Maybe it’s time for us to reevaluate the idea of tradition as necessarily indicative of quality.

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