More tequila drinkers oer the years have been bitten by the crow than by any other tequila brand. That's because Jose Cuervo is the best-known tequila brand in the world. But when most drinkers think of Cuervo, they think gold...or more precisely, Jose Cuervo Especial. Cuervo Gold is the brand that outsells all others....but it's not the company's "flagship" tequila. That honor goes to Cuervo Tradicional, a pure tequila made from 100% agave that is aged in white oak barrels for 6 months before bottling. It's a better tequila, and it's the company's oldest brand, having been continuously produced for the past 215 years.
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About Cuervo and Their Products...
Jose Cuervo is the brand name of Tequila Cuervo la Rojena --- the oldest tequila distillery in Mexico and the largest in the town of Tequila, Jalisco. The distillery opened in 1758 under a grant from King Carlos IV of Spain. Cuervo produces the world's best-selling tequila brand, Jose Cuervo Especial. Cuervo's big advancement that put them ahead of the industry was that they were the first distillery to actually grow and culture agave, as opposed to harvesting whatever bounty nature provided. Cuervo's tequilas are mostly "mixto" tequilas, meaning that 51% or more of the sugars in the drink come from agave, though other sugars are also used. Cuervo produces a variety of tequilas, including a blanco, a gold, and several reposado and anejo products that are aged and packaged differently. (More information is on the web at: http://www.cuervo.com).
Jose Cuervo Tradicional is available as either a blanco or as a reposado, but the tequila I'm talking about today is the reposado (rested) tequila. It is one of the few tequilas in the Cuervo line to be made from 100% blue agave. Let's explain what all this means and how it affects our evaluation of it.
What I Look for in a Reposado (and any other type of) Tequila...
The term "100% agave" often appears on tequila labels, but the term "mixto" (its opposite) generally does not. Mexican law requires that *ANY* tequila must be made from at least 51% agave (the better brands are 100% agave). Other sugars can be used in the fermentation, but only up to 49%. Some distillers use molasses or piloncillo, while others use corn sugar, cane sugar or sugars from other sources. If the label does not say 100% agave, it almost certainly is a mixto. The term "mixto" is more of an afficianado term --- you'll probably never see it on a label.
Now, let's talk about what "anejo" means and how it compares to other tequilas.
There four broad classifications of tequila:
1) Blanco or plata (silver or white), which is fresh, unaged tequila. A blanca tequila can be either mixto or pure agave.
2) Gold (oro), which is also fresh, unaged tequila but with caramel or other artificial colorings added. A gold tequila could conceivably be pure agave, but is almost always a mixto.
3) Reposado (rested), which is aged for a few weeks or months in oak barrels and which will typically have a light golden color. A reposado could be either pure agave or mixto, but most are pure agave. Cuervo Tradicional is a 100% pure agave reposado. It is aged 6 months in white oak barrels.
4) Añejo (aged), which is aged in the barrel for a minimum of 1 year and as many as four years. With the advent of small craft distilleries, you sometimes find tequilas called "muy añejo", which could be aged 5 or more years. Most anejo tequilas are pure agave.
It cannot be accurately said that one type is better than the others. The blanco/plata has the advantage of presenting the most distinctive agave flavor and is sharper than the other types. Some purists believe a distillery should be judged on the basis of its blanco. Aging in oak tends to mellow the flavors and often adds complexity and soft flavors, such as vanilla or spiciness. The mellowness tends to increase with age, and many purists find that any aging beyond four years is counter-productive (some say beyond 1 year). Many tequila afficianados prefer the complexity of an anejo over the sharper blanco, but of course, preferences are an individual matter and your own tastes may differ from another drinker's.
When I am tasting a tequila, I swirl it in the glass, smell it, take a sip, swirl it around my mouth and think about what I'm experiencing. In a blanca, I look for how well it expresses pure agave flavor. In a reposado or anejo, I look for contributions to the tequila's flavor from oak barrel aging: typically this manifests itself as vanilla complexity or fruity elements (particularly red fruits, like a bit of plum or raisin). I also consider the balance: even when a tequila is aged, I want to find fundamental agave foundations --- I don't want it overwhelmed to the point it tastes creamy to me, or feels overly soft on the palate. When you smell a tequila, it's often hard to avoid getting overwhelmed by alcohol: practice getting around that sharp aroma and looking for other building blocks, including some peppery scents, perhaps a bit of pine, or some other contributions that give it complexity. Think about whether the aromas and flavors add to the appeal of the drink or whether you find them off-putting. (These are the same fundamental skills that go into evaluating wine, beer, scotch or any other beverage --- so once you master the art of perception and evaluation for one kind of drink, becoming a careful, well-informed critic of other drinks becomes much easier.)
Flavors and Aromas In a Shot of Cuervo Tradicional...
Cuervo Tradicional is a very pale yellowish color with the barest tinge of green. It has just slightly more color to it than the blanco tequilas. Swirl the tequila in your glass and note its brilliant clarity and the way it weaves thin tendrils along the side of the glass. A first sniff at the aroma is sharp with a prickly piney-citrus scent of agave seeming to intensify the already strong alcoholic sensation. Tradicional is a very direct tequila, brutally pushing aside any subtle expectations for delicate or soft flavors. It tastes of alcohol and a peppery sharp agave flavor. It burns going down, but tastes absolutely right with the world when taken with a shake of salt and a wedge of lime --- the way traditional tequilas have traditionally been enjoyed for generations. It's a solid tequila that stands up for itself and makes no apologies to the uninitiated.
Because Jose Cuervo Tradicional tends to be a rough and tumble tequila, The Cuervo marketing gurus suggest (on their website, cuervo.com): "Those in the know keep a bottle chilled in the freezer and are always ready to serve their friends a crisp, smooth, frozen shot of Jose Cuervo Tradicional."
Serving a drink ice cold tends to numb your tastebuds so you don't pick up on as much harshness. I do this with peppermint schnapps, but with most spirits, I prefer to buy drinks with flavors I actually like, so the freezer trick becomes moot. Give it a try though....see what you think. For me, I'd rather put food in my freezer and just use the Cuervo Tradicional for mixing margaritas and other drinks....but to each his own.
Cuervo Behind the Bar...
Reposado tequilas have just a bit more complexity than their unaged younger brothers, but not so much that you might want to reserve it only for drinking neat. Reposado makes for a fine margarita, and I use them in almost any drink with a harmonious flavor. Typically that would be citric flavored drinks, but mint can go quite well with the crisp flavor of agave. Try a stinger and see for yourself how well the flavor of tequila and mint can taste.
1-1/2 ounce Cuervo Tradicional
3/4 ounce white creme de menthe
Pour over cracked ice in shaker glass. Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass.
Jose Cuervo Tradicional is a straightforward pure tequila. It's better than the company's better selling mixto tequilas and for the money, is quite a decent bottle to keep behind the bar for an occasional shot or for a top-shelf mixed drink. Tradicional doesn't have the complex flavor profiles of my favorites anejos and reposados, but it's still better than most mass-market tequila brands. Give it a try!
* About the Making and Marketing of Tequila
* How to Evaluate and Choose Tequila
* Touring Major Tequila Distilleries in Mexico
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