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:
- 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
- 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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