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Interview with Tequila Fortaleza founder Guillermo Sauza

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We visited Jalisco, Mexico and had the pleasure to speak with Guillermo Sauza, founder of Fortaleza Tequila. We discussed the family history and traditional processes that Fortaleza still uses today.

Can you tell us about the history of Fortaleza?

Guillermo Sauza: This land belonged to my grandfather and we used to make the Sauza brand. That was started by my what we call tata abuelo, great-great grandfather. And he started in the 1870’s. But unfortunately, my grandfather decided to sell it in 1976 when I was 20 years old. But we were fortunate enough to keep this property and in the year 2000, we started repairing the old distillery and in 2005, finally we brought out our product, stone-crushed agave, small batch, copper pot stills and we brought it out under the brand name Los Abuelos or the grandfathers we like to use it. Literal translation means the grandparents, but we like to use it as the grandfathers.  We did run into some trademark issues so we use Fortaleza, which is fortitude. It’s the name my grandfather gave this distillery. And we use that name in the world and we use Los Abuelos still here in Mexico, but it’s the same tequila. So it’s just both brand names we’re using so that we don’t get locked out of using Los Abuelos someday by this company.

Is the trademark issue related to the United States only?

Guillermo Sauza: Yes. It was related to the United States only. It’s a rum company that has a rum brand called Abuelo. It was too close being in the same category.  And we lost in The States, but because we had first sale here … They beat us first sale in the United States, I don’t know maybe six months or something they beat us in a territory called Virgin Islands, U.S. American Virgin Islands. But that counted for a sale. But we beat them to sale here in Mexico, so they couldn’t prevent us from continuing to use it. Trademark battles are not fun.

You have Anejo, Reposado, blanco, and then also a still strength.

Guillermo Sauza: Blanco is the authentic tequila. Typically, a company will make a blanco and they’ll put it to either 40% [ABV] or 80 proof. Sometimes we’ve seen a lot of blancos now 37 here in Mexico. We don’t make anything less than 40 [%]. So everything is either 80 proof or above that. But I always start with the blanco at 40%.  When we got started, we were looking at doing it with roller mills, but we had the tahona, so we started with the tauna back in 2002. And when we tasted this, we changed our business plan and said let’s just make all tahona made and let’s be a niche market player, which we’ve become. And you can taste the elements of the agave in there.

Does it always go into a steel tank?

Guillermo Sauza: Yeah. We’re going to always stainless steel. So I’ll tell you a little bit about the process. We bring in our agave and the agave is cooked. A couple ways to cook. You can cook in a brick oven. You can cook in an autoclave, which is a pressure vessel which cooks faster. Or you can run it through a diffuser which strips it raw and then they actually cook the juice in a stainless steel tank that has coils in it. That’s, of course, the fastest way. We use the traditional way, the brick oven.

How long in the brick oven?

Guillermo Sauza: More than 30 hours.  And it’s a thermodynamic conversion of the fructans to dextrose sugar. It’s not sucrose sugar. So completely different than rum, completely different than any other sugar molecules. So it’s a dextrose molecule of sugar. And then from there, pardon me, we’re able to crush. We use the tahona to crush and that allows to get the pulp off the fiber. The crushing time is about five hours, six hours. Then we wash to get the pulp off the fiber and then we’re able to pump, what we call must up to wood fermentation vats for fermentation. It’s three and a half days fermentation and then to distillation and then you’re going to get your white tequila. Stays in stainless steel until we’re ready to bottle.

What kind of barrels do you use?

Guillermo Sauza: We use any kind of bourbon barrel or whiskey barrel from The States and we chip them out and re-burn them. We use, I think we have them from Beam Global. We have them from Sazerac. We have them from all of the main whiskey companies. And we can reburn them and then we can use them. And we can use them multiple times and we can burn them multiple times. But after the third burn, after the third time you scrape them down and burn, they start to leak a lot. So that’s kind of the end of the history for that barrel at that point. But the barrel brings in some flavors because you’re toasting the cellulose of the wood. The wood is cellulose and so you’re converting those into sugar. So you’re starting to get some sweetness from that and the coloring comes from that.

Do you ship everywhere, the 50 states?

Guillermo Sauza: No we don’t. We’re too small to do that. We’re in about 35 states and we’re in 20 countries. So we’re in Hong Kong, Australia. It’s not giant sales in those countries, but you know, it’s 500 cases here, 200 cases there. So it’s nice just to be able to go into Italy and you can find our product, in Venice you can find our product. And you won’t find this in the chain hotels, either. You’re going to find this in where you have those authentic bartenders that give a damn. They give a damn what they’ve got on the shelf.  We’re in the 35 big states, so we’re covering about 60% of the population in the United States. I think 70%. We might not be in a state, say Ohio yet. It’s what they call a control state where the state decides what they’re going to buy and what the public can buy. It’s still antiquated and so we’re not in a state like that yet. I know we’re not in Michigan, either, because Michigan is a control state, too.

 

This interview was originally aired on “The Tequila Tester” Listen to or watch the entire show below.


Tequila branding and aging with Titanium Tequila

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We interviewed Robert Tijerina and Casey Hartle with Titanium Tequila and tased their Blanco, Reposado, Anejo & Ultra Aged tequila while discussing the process involved in each expression. The talk starts at how the brand was formed and moves into cocktails and informative details on how their tequila is made.

     Do you want to tell us a little bit about the brand and maybe how it started?

Robert Tijerina:  My family has always been in aviation. My father worked at NASA for many years. I began my aviation company back in the early 90’s and my family, being from Mexico, felt like over the years it was somewhat of a loss of a premium quality, 100% agave tequila. And a customer of mine years ago in Mexico that I had sold some jets to, him and I were in discussions about tequilas and so forth so we both kind of came up with the idea to start this line of tequila. And then back in the mid 90’s I dabbled with another major brand back then but, yeah.

Casey Hartle: Sergio and Robert kind of sat down and put their heads together and thought that they could do it better and try their best to make the best tequila out there because so many of the 100% agaves have kind of, there’s so many choices now. It would mean something if it said 100% agave on the label. Nowadays, you’re getting some bottom-dwellers where the process isn’t the same, they aren’t abiding by the same quality, so their goal was kind of to raise the quality and put out a great product at a reasonable price for people to enjoy.

Can you talk a little bit about the process?

Casey Hartle: We have our own agave fields outside of Tepatitlån, the Highlands of Jalisco. We don’t usually make chemicals or pesticides on our agave. So it starts with the best ingredients. We try to kind of mix our modern technology with old fashioned standards. And our master distiller, he’s incredible with that. We do use a stainless steel autoclave to slow roast our agave. It’s a much more efficient process, it wastes less agave. It cooks evenly, there’s no bacteria that you get from some of the open ovens. One thing that we do do though is, you can flash roast with the autoclave. We still slow roast. We’ll take 20 to 30 hours to slow roast our agave, so it still has a nice robust flavor and really brings out the sugars before you firm it. Then we open air ferment our agave. And then after that we distill it twice in copper stills. After our double distillation, our aged – tequilas are all aged, in once used double charred bourbon barrels.

I’m very, very familiar with beer yeast. I know on your website it specifically says special strand of yeast is used. Can you talk about tequila yeast a little bit? We haven’t discussed much about that.

Casey Hartle: I can’t get into specifics about it. It’s a proprietary strand of yeast. The one thing a lot of people don’t understand is, any liquor, tequila, bourbon, vodka, anything. Your master distiller really is a chemist with a pallet, right? It’s chemistry. And the way that they can really control the outcome outside of the ingredients, and that’s a copper still, column still, those different things is through the yeast that you use to ferment. It’s a huge impact on what you’re doing. So our master distiller kind of worked with, and perfected the strain of yeast that we use for the fermenting process, which begins with our Blanco tequila and then again the aging process through the barrels really does make a difference as it goes. But that’s really where you have a lot of control in the initial part of making your product, whether it’s tequila or any other spirit is through that fermenting process.

Yeah. So you have the blanco, the reposado, the añejo, and ultra aged. Let’s just get right to it. So the blanco, can you tell me a little bit about it? How long it’s aged?

Casey Hartle: Sure. The Blanco’s 100% agave. Again it starts with the great ingredients, the strand of yeast, the open air fermenting process and then we let it mellow. You never age 100% agave blanco tequila, it’s unaged. But we do allow it to mellow up to two months. It does vary from batch to batch how long that time really needs to be. It depends on the atmosphere, how hot it is. You know, it just takes a little bit of time for it to mellow but we usually, I would say around two months of mellowing before we’ll bottle it.  And the one thing with us, we are a highlands agave, which will tend to create a little bit more flavor profile on the front of your palate. So I always recommend people, whenever you try our tequila, is a lot of people will make that, for lack of a better term, that bitter beer face whenever they just shoot it back. Well, the one thing with a well made, 100% agave tequila, particularly from the highlands, you’re going to have a lighter, smoother tequila. Lowlands is good but it’s more of an earthy, mineral flavor to it. So this will kind of reach the front of your palate a little bit more.  So whenever you sip it, I always suggest, give it, not like a mouthwash swish but a quick little swish in the front of your palate. And it actually opens up the flavor and you actually get more of the sweetness and then you have no harsh burn as it goes down. Ours is very, very smooth on the back and a very refined finish. Whenever you just shoot it, any 100% agave’s always going to have a hint of black pepper in it. And of course you’re doing it straight so you’re going to get alcohol. So if you just shoot it really quickly all you’re going to get is that full force of black pepper and alcohol instead of actually opening it up and letting it, and enjoy the flavor of it.

What about for a cocktail?

Casey Hartle:  You can use it for cocktails. We try to keep our price point, we’re premium but we’re not overpriced. You’re looking at our retail price of around $32.99 for a Blanco. So it can be used in cocktails. I do feel that our Blanco is one that you can sip, you can put on the rocks and drink it neat. Not all Blancos are that way. Putting it on the rocks opens it up a little bit. You’ll really notice that with our aged tequilas, and I’ll get to that a little more when we get to that area but, it makes for a great mix because if you notice it’s a little warm because you’re getting the alcohol but then after that it doesn’t have that harsh, lingering burn that so many tequilas, Blanco tequilas in particular will have where it kind of sits on you. So whenever you put it in a cocktail, we have a great mixologist Jojo Martinez. She does wonderful work with all of our tequilas but it really enhances a cocktail because it gives you that nice, forward agave flavor. But that smooth, refined finish allows the cocktail to kind of blend and meld together because it’s not like that burn, lingering flavor. It will actually give you the full flavor you want of the agave but it will also accept the other flavors of the cocktail to make a great drink.

All right, let’s go to the Reposado.

Casey Hartle: All of our tequilas are aged in once-used double-charred bourbon barrels.   So you notice it has enough of the barrel-aging. We age it eight months. By category law, Reposado has to be aged a minimum of two months and short of a year. So you only have so much of a window to age it. Ours is eight months. It’s enough to cut back on that black pepper that you get from all Blancos. It gives it a little more of a complex flavor but it’s not quite enough to get the full bourbon sweetness that you get from the bourbon barrels. It just kind of adds a little complexity. We can’t really do it here but from our Reposado to our Ultra Aged, very much like a bourbon or a scotch or any whiskey, dropping an ice cube in it will open it up and create even more flavor profiles.

Let’s go to the Añejo.

Casey Hartle: To me, the Añejo is where you actually get the most give back from the once-used bourbon barrel. When you get to the Ultra Aged, it’s aged so long that I feel like the Angel’s cut is already in the tequila. So you get more oak in it.

Brent: And the Angel’s cut is the evaporation?

Casey Hartle: Yeah. It’s what the barrel itself has absorbed. Because as it gets wet again it gives back to the tequila and that’s why we only use the once-used because then it really only happens one time as you fill it. And when you get to the point of this being a little over a year and a half, is the aging process, that’s where it’s really giving back the most so this one I get the most of that, kind of, sweetness, but it does have a nice agave finish to it, where the Ultra Aged will have more oak notes, pure oak notes.

This interview was originally aired on “The Tequila Tester” Listen to or watch the entire show below.

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Talking Tequila Business with Pura Vida Tequila

By News

Stewart and Kaitlyn Skloss, from Pura Vida Tequila joined us to discuss insight on how the company was started and continued with aspects of the business part of the operations.  They mention a musical approach to fermenting and why they added this process.

Stewart, Kaitlyn, can you tell us a little about the name of the tequila and what it means and then also a little bit about the company?

Stewart: Pura Vida means pure life, when we first founded Pura Vida, in the United States the only toast you really have is cheers, and so when you’re toasting somebody you’re toasting to life, you’re toasting to that moment, good, bad, whatever it may be. And Pura Vida, it’s Spanish. Everybody thinks that’s Costa Rican, it’s not. “Pura Vida” was the name of a movie that was made in the 40s, that first played in Costa Rica at this really nice new theater and everybody started saying, “Pura vida.” That’s where it came from. Pura Vida is meant to be a toast.

We wanted to create a beverage that everybody loved. The profile was something that everybody could really appreciate.  So with Pura Vida Tequila what we decided to do was Latins love spice and they love bite. Goes over well in Texas, goes over well in California. But when you get up towards the North, some people don’t really like that spice and bite. So tried to decide, all right, how can we … Water is the foundation of all spirits. And, as people say, trash in, trash out. And in Mexico, you’ve got a challenge sometimes with some of the waste water treatment plants in the mountains and places like that where you don’t have consistency that you really need. You go to your favorite restaurant, you go to El Tiempo for their fajitas, you go to Escalantes for their enchiladas, you go to Armando’s for their tacos. You want consistency and you go there because it is consistent. So you’ve got to have consistent water. So what we do, we use a five-stage water purification process, and we’re the first pull off the water in the mountains of Mazamita.

So when you take the tequila, you’ll notice that aroma that you don’t have with a lot of other tequilas, that water is just fantastic. It’s really, really good. So the foundation of all spirits, again, being water, we started with that, and then we wanted a flavor profile that, whether you’re Asian, African, Latin, whatever it is, in the United States we like flavor. So how do you do something that anybody would appreciate? So we really take our agave, we only try to get agave that are 23% or higher in sugar content, and we test one of every 10 instead one out of every 20. And then we also do a triple distillation. Once you get past three distillations, it’s vodka. So then what we decided to do was the blanco is right out of the tap, reposado meaning rested, ours is six months-plus, our añejo is 18 months-plus. But something different, we’ve all heard of people that play music to their plants to watch them grow, help them grow faster. We decided to play mariachi music in the barrel room, in the fermentation room.

How did you all come up with that idea to actually play music and what was that decision factor that said, “This is the type of music we want to play?”

Stewart: The type of music we can take credit for. The playing music we really can’t. Our first partner we went to … As a small batch craft brand, you’ve really got to be able to have, for us, hands on. We want to be able to go and taste that profile and not have them sending you samples through the mail. For us it’s attention to detail. So we went to a real small batch tequila company, we actually visited 20 tequila distilleries through the CRT, the Tequila Regulatory Commission, backwards is Spanish, and said, “What are your top 20 tequila distilleries by reputation, not by volume or dollar volume?” So we visited all 20, narrowed it down to 10, and from those 10.  I did a taste test in Guadalajara with tequila aficionados, bartenders, waiters. So we decided to narrow it down to 3, and the one that I really liked the most was in Arandas.

There was this old man, he’s now passed away, great guy, Feliciano Vivanco, he was 87 at the time, and he took me through his distillation process and into his barrel rooms, and over his fermentation tanks he had these giant old wood speakers, like the type they use to sell in vans when you were at the car wash. So he had it blasting classical music over the fermentation tanks. And then he said, “Look,” and he turns off the music, and he said … The fermentation would slow down a little bit and he said, “When you quit playing the music they stop, they don’t dance anymore.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him when you blast sound waves  they move. So I took it to the next step, I said, “We’re in Mexico, when in Rome let’s go ahead and play mariachi music.” So we figured the mariachi music was great during the fermentation, during the distillation, there in the barrel room. So that’s again why we say why we put a little bit of dance in every sip.

How long was that process to narrow that to the 10, to the 3, to eventually the one that you chose?

Stewart: It took me about a year because we also developed the bottles. When you look at our bottles, the blue represents blue agave, we’re true blue glass. You can see there’s one or two other brands they paint the blue, but when you hold the bottle like this, this is what a piña looks like.  Yeah, so and then the top, I asked 100 bartenders, “What’s your favorite bottle? What’s your least favorite bottle?” Least favorite bottle was Patrón, not because of the brand, it’s the most handled and a woman couldn’t get her hand around it, and trying to fit it also into a speed well didn’t work. So I developed the top for bartenders. And then the silver which just comes back from my childhood days. But also when you pick up our bottles you’ll see how heavy they are. Hold that weight.  So weight meant quality. And the labels are painted on, they’re hand painted.

What kind of barrels do you use?

Stewart: We use single generation Jack Daniels barrels, and we only use them once and then we sell them. So it’s that consistency again. A lot of tequilas will experiment and they’ll have four or five different types of barrels that they’re using at the same time. So that’s why one time, and I won’t mention any names, but you’ll have a certain tequila and you’re like, “I love that tequila,” and the next time you try it you’re like, “That tasted different.” There’s a big difference between Old Crow and Jim Beam and Crown Royal and all the different varies of bourbons, whichever is your favorite bourbon or whiskey.

So what led you to use the Jack Daniels barrels?

Stewart: I like Jack Daniels, and also Jack Daniels is the most popular whiskey there is. It really made sense that people already liked that profile. And we experimented with a couple of different types of barrels but that’s the one that we really chose. And then for our extra añejo, once we get to the añejo process then we switch them over to cognac barrels.

Do you want to tell us where you can find the tequila?

Stewart: So typically we try to be at 32.99 on a blended average on our blanco, 35.99 on reposado and 38.99 on our añejo. Unfortunately we can’t really control that so at some places you’ll find it for 29.99, I believe Total Wine has it for 29.99 our blanco, and 32 or 33.99, and then at Specs around the same thing and Goody Goody. You got so many great liquor stores. Support local where you can.

Kaitlyn: You can also buy online at Reserve Bar.

Stewart: Yeah, you can go to our website and they deliver, some of them the same day, some two days, but our website at www.puravida.mx

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This interview previously aired on The Tequila Tester podcast. For the complete discussion, listen or view below.