Serious Eats: Drinks

Innovation Done Right: New Herradura Port Finished Reposado Tequila

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We've come a long way from the rough, medicinal aqua vitae of the middle ages and the noxious additive-laced gins of industrial England. In fact, we appear to be living in a golden age of distilling—it's certainly the most scientifically advanced age yet, and the market is driving demand like Keanu Reeves on some form of runaway transportation. Even more importantly, drinkers are becoming more and more sophisticated, demanding higher levels of quality and more choices than ever before.

Spirits producers are in a position today where innovation and new products get consistently rewarded—though maybe not as often or as lucratively as marketers get rewarded for flashy branding or product placement. In our media-driven age, I'm pretty sure the producers will never quite catch up, but that's all the more reason to call out a true advance of the craft when it happens. Which brings us to today's review.

Herradura has been producing tequila since the 19th century, and has been a major player in tequila since the 1970s. Their flagship line of tequilas is frequently hailed by critics as a go-to for both price and quality. So it's no great surprise that their new release of a port-finished tequila has been met with great interest. Unlike the recently reviewed Corazon tequila/bourbon mashups which are aged entirely in ex-whiskey barrels, Herradura Colección de la Casa, Reserva 2012 Port Cask Finished Reposado isn't trying to reinvent the wheel. Rather, in the Scotch tradition, they are using port casks for a few months at the end of the aging process to put a spin on the base spirit, and thus tweak the tequila experience. And in this case, it turns out, less is more. Way more.

The first in what is promised to be a series of annual releases of different cask-finished tequilas, the reposado spends 11 months in medium-char American oak, and finishes up with 2 months in Douro Valley port casks. Bottled at 80 proof, it's a light straw color with a hint of darker golden, coppery ambitions. The aroma is intensely sawdusty, with salt, prickly pear, dried fruit, and a bit of sweetness hiding in the background.

And the flavor? It's lovely, round, and whole. There's a surprisingly sweet entry, progressing to a welcome agave bite. While massaging your tongue, it mellows out to plum, cinnamon, leather, and a sweet port-y undertone. Finishing long and warm, with no burn whatsoever, lingering oak and spices melt into chalky dark chocolate if you stick around for it. There are times where it tastes like a light highland Scotch, but in the end it's a spirit all of its own.

This is one of the best spirits I've tasted in some time, and from where I sit it opens up a whole new realm of exploration and possibilities. All of the previous tequila experiments I've tried have been interesting, intriguing, or mysterious. But this one is delicious. The marriage of the fruity sweetness of the port perfectly balances and accentuates the brasher, salty agave, and they're both the better for it. This is spirit finishing done right, and I for one hope that other tequila producers will take notice and jump in the ring. In the meantime, this bottle will be empty way too soon, and I will be anxiously waiting to see what Herradura comes up with next year.

Herradura Colección de la Casa, Reserva 2012 Port Cask Finished Reposado is available nationwide in quite limited quantities, listing at $90.

What are your favorite new spirits to come out of the current distilling renaissance?

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 distilleries and sipping snifters. He works by day making documentary television and films for an independent production company in Brooklyn.

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