By Sean Carroll, Director of Beverage Operations
California…Kentucky…Mexico…What an amazing experience it was this summer to travel to Mexico and visit the Herradura Tequila Distillery. Ocean Reef was given the opportunity to hand-select our first ever Herradura Reposado Tequila Barrel. With the rising sales in the Tequila category coupled with the success of all the Ocean Reef Private Label wine & spirits, this was a no brainer (not to mention I will never turn down some good tequila).
Located in the town of Amatitan, Jalisco, Mexico sits the Herradura Distillery. Founded in 1870, this is a truly special place. You travel down old cobblestone roads until you reach the Distillery’s front gate. Upon arrival, “armed” security guards greet our driver and after a brief discussion, we are granted entry. Our first sights are the small casitas where many of the workers live. Then we travel through another gate where we stumble upon Casa Herradura, the house that the family still owns and regularly visits.
We were quickly greeted by Jose who comes from a family of Jimadors (farmers who harvest Agave plants), and walked down to a nice breakfast. Wondering if they serve tequila at breakfast? Why yes, they do and to not “offend” him we enjoyed a variety of tequilas with our meal. Jose talked about the history of tequila and the long history of Jimadors in his family. You could feel the passion in him and how proud he was of his heritage. To truly understand, his family has been doing this for 200 years…
So, after the breakfast, and definitely feeling good from the tequila, we were off on our tour. Our first stop was to the brick ovens where the Pinas are cooked. Not one brick oven but eight very large ones. There the Jimadors were harvesting the agave plants to prepare them for cooking. Once harvested these pinas enter the oven where they are cooked. Once cooked the “milling” process begins where they squeeze and shred the pinas to extract juice to ferment. They also press the pinas to get agave honey which is combined with the agave juices and water to achieve the perfect sweetness. Once this step is complete, the juices are moved to large tanks where the fermentation process begins. This is unlike other fermentation processes, like bourbon as an example, where yeast is added to break down the sugars to create the alcohol. At Casa Herradura, a natural fermentation process happens. This has been used since 1870 as the distillery has numerous lemon, lime, banana and mango trees on property. These sweet fruit trees have wild microorganisms (yeast) that create a natural fermentation allowing the agave juice, agave honey and water to ferment in just four days. Once fermented it is pumped in pipes to the stills and the distillation process begins. Heated by steam to temperatures reaching 167 degrees Fahrenheit, it goes through two distillations to create Herradura Blanco tequila. Then water is added to bring the proof from 110 down to 80 for bottling.
Now the fun part begins as we were brought to the tasting room where there were three barrels of Herradura Reposado to choose from. This is now Reposado tequila because it has been aged to their eleven-month standard in used Jack Daniels barrels, and then aged an additional month in unused white American oak barrels. The extra month in unused barrels gives the Reposado a completely different nose and taste then regular Herradura Reposado. Given a sample of all three barrels, I began the process of determining which one would be the best for Ocean Reef. First analyzing the color of all three, and then nosing them and finally the taste. The color was similar on all three. I was drawn to barrel number five, as the nose was very fruity. Remember, the natural fermentation occurs because of the fruit trees on property, and this was very evident in this barrel. Now on to the taste, five was extremely smooth with hints of spice, vanilla, cinnamon and extra oak. I knew right then we had a winner…
Once the selection process was over, Jose asked to show us one more thing. He took us to the Herradura Museum where this great tequila was made before technology took over. There were not any machines to mill the agave, a donkey did it. There were no steel fermentation tanks, fermentation was done in natural stone vats that were hand dug in the ground and there were no pumps to pump the product to the stills. Everything was done by hand. The history was fascinating and really made you think about the amazing heritage of Herradura and the wonderful tequila they produce.
It was time to say goodbye but I was leaving with a great experience and the knowledge and the history of what makes Herradura so special. The finished product will be available in all outlets and Port O’Call starting today, Friday, December 13. As the famous Booker Noe once said to me, “I don’t care how you drink my Bourbon as long as you drink it.” I will say the same. “There is no right way to drink tequila, whether it’s neat, on the rocks, or in your favorite cocktail, just as long as you drink it and enjoy it.”
“Take life with a grain of salt…a slice of lime and a shot of tequila.”