Spirits producers often struggle with balancing the conflicting forces of innovation and tradition. Given the hot water Compass Box got into for pushing the boundaries of Scotch Whisky, and the confusion that Jim Beam generated with its flavored whiskey launch, it seems that a little experimentation goes a long way, and sometimes too far. Don Julio is the latest major distiller to throw their sombrero in the ring and strike boldly with a new creation—Don Julio 70.
Billed as the first añejo claro tequila (apparently Cuervo's Maestro Dobel doesn't count since it is a blend), Don Julio 70 is a 100% blue agave tequila that is twice distilled and aged in American white oak barrels for 18 months. At that point it is Don Julio añejo, a wonderful and familiar spirit that I'll discuss in a moment. But then the magic happens: the spirit is filtered using a proprietary process involving electronically magnetized particles, leaving the aged tequila crystal clear.
They claim the process also "restores the citrus and fruity agave flavor notes that are muted during the aging process to a more concentrated strength." Since I'm no chemist, I'll take their word for it, but exactly how that works isn't as clear as the spirit (although, to be fair, exactly how aging imparts flavor isn't particularly well understood either.)
Master Distiller Enrique de Colsa describes the Don Julio 70 (Suggested retail $70) as a combination of his favorite characteristics from both blanco and añejo tequilas, "opening with citrus notes similar to that of a blanco tequila, yet exhibiting the notes of vanilla, wild honey and sweet toasted oak found in a quality añejo." It's a nice idea, but all that really matters is what's in the bottle.
To me, the spirit smells of new basketball and melted rubber with some strawberry and vanilla, and chalk, powdered chocolate, and finally agave luring in the background. On tasting, there are more fruity notes—strawberry again and watermelon candy, ginger, and cinnamon, with agave playing second fiddle. It finishes salty, with the spices fading last. In a word, it's confusing. It's definitely a unique tequila, unlike any I've ever tried, but I'm not sure that's a good thing. Hoping to get my bearings, I turned back to Don Julio's blanco and añejo expressions to see if I could find the seeds of the 70.
The blanco is straight up agave on the nose, with some bright citrus pops for distraction, but roasted earthiness is the name of the game. It stays straightforward on sipping: peppery and vegetal, tasting of sun-roasted earth in the best way possible, and finishing quick and clean. It's a classic blanco.
As for the añejo, the aroma reminded me of honey, roasted corn, with a touch of oaky sweetness, and señor agave whispering "hola." On the tongue, it's simply liquid gold agave nectar. A light fire fills your sinuses, and butterscotch and caramel balance out the salt perfectly. The finish lingers and tingles, developing spices that waft away, inspiring a Jalisco daydream.
So how do we get from two textbook tequilas into the frankenquila that is DJ 70? And what are we to make of the beast, now that it's alive?
My skeptical side wonders if this is an attempt at grabbing more shelf space for a well-established premium brand. Having your age and freshness too is an appealing idea, but for me the DJ 70 doesn't accomplish that, instead, it's a new type of tequila entirely. And at the end of the day, I'd rather spend my money on either the blanco or the añejo (or both!) and pick and choose depending on my mood. Although I did like the DJ 70 more after repeated sips and sniffs, call me a traditionalist, at least when it comes to drinking basketball juice.
But I am curious to see what the mixologists of the world shake up with this hybrid spirit—perhaps a fancy melon Paloma?
Samples were provided for review.
About the author: Andrew Strenio is a lover of all things potable. Since sneaking his grandmother's bourbon balls, he's moved on to touring distillers and sipping snifters. He works by day making documentary television and films for an independent production company in Brooklyn.