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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

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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

To protect your business, visit our friends at Cerity

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

Discussing Tequila and Processes with J. Antuna Owner of Sueño De Atzo

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We recently interviewed J. Antuna, owner of Sueño De Atzo Tequila. He discusses the processes to make and age his blanco, reposado, anjeo and extra anejo tequila. Learn about these styles of tequila and how the flavors differ from each variation.

Brent:  Let’s get into the interview. We have J. Antuna with Sueño De Atzo Tequila.

J.: Thanks, Brent. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here. We’re really excited about our brand. We introduced it just last year and it’s taken off and done pretty well. It’s a luxury tequila, and it’s something that I think people will get to know. It’s a tequila that’s made in a stone brick oven. It’s a lot more different than other tequilas.

You mentioned a brick oven, so what’s a non-brick oven creation of tequila?

J.: There’s three methods of production, and those are the stone brick oven, which is more authentic. It’s the old style of making tequila, the traditional way of making tequila. Then there’s the auto clave, and that’s where you utilize a big tube that cooks it by steam. The purpose of that is to cut the cooking time down by two thirds. Then the third method is by diffuser. That’s a big apparatus. It’s about, I don’t know, the size of a basketball court, something like that. It’s pretty large, and you will put the agave in the raw as opposed to … put it in the raw and then within 24 hours, become completely done with the distillation process.  Agave is three times as sweet as sugar, so there’s a lot … what you’re trying to do is extract as much sugar as you can from the agave. The agave plants that you’re supposed to harvest at eight, nine years to maximize the growth and then get out as much sugar as you can. If you can try to get 80 to 85% of the sugars out of there, that’s a pretty good target. So the brick oven process takes three days to complete. That’s why a lot of people don’t use it anymore. It’s a lot more expensive. It’s harder to produce by volume. But it yields a lot more complete flavor profile, which you’re going to find out here today.

Going back on the it takes nine years to harvest one, how do they manage the fields when you plant one, you’re day one but now you’re harvesting them nine year later … how much acreage is that?

J.: It’s a lot of acreage to produce one container. Let me tell you, acres and acres of product to get that much out. Just to give you an idea, at our distillery we have nine tanks. Each one of those tanks has 40,000 liters of tequila in it. It takes 10,000 liters of tequila to produce one container of 15,000 bottles, which is what you normally import at a time. We have three brick ovens, and each oven has a capacity of over 25,000 kilos of agave. At our website, you can see some of the pictures of each one of those ovens full of the agave plant. The agave plant, once you cut off the leaves, looks like a pineapple. When you cut those up, and then you roast them and it’s like a candied yam-

You talk about the acreages. How often or how long does it take for an agave plant to actually grow on that field once harvested, to re-grow?

J.: You know, they have to constantly be servicing the plants because they’ll be producing other little baby plants around them. Then you can re-plant those. They can harvest them as young as six years, five, six years. They shouldn’t, but they do. You want something that’s really large, 200 kilos or whatever. You want something as opposed … the more younger you harvest the plants, the smaller they’re going to be and they’re going to produce less sugar.

Do they do that at all for cost savings?

J. Antuna: Yes, that’s exactly right because they’re made to maximize your volume. An autoclave, the second method I had mentioned to you as opposed to the three days, produces in seven to eight hours. That one will produce a little bit more acrid, a more sour-tasting product that has to be finessed a little bit at the end. Then the last one, a lot of times they don’t even use heat in diffuser at all. They use acid to cook. You’ll notice a difference because of the flavor profile and the three different types of production. They differ quite a bit. The one that we use through stone brick ovens produces a more complete flavor profile at the beginning you’ll want, because agave is so sweet the tequila you’ll taste. You’ll normally start out with a sweet taste, and then like any liquor, you want it to have a smooth finish.

Let’s talk about the brands that you’re offering.

J.: The first one is the Blanco, and the Blanco is not aged traditionally over 60 days. This is one you’re going to find has some vanilla notes in it, and some sugar cookie notes. You’re going to find it’s just really true to the agave, the Highlands Agave is what we use. The bottle is hand worked. Each one of these is hand worked. My daughter designed the labels on here. Each one has a different Aztec God on it, and the name, Sueno de Atzo actually translates to Atzo’s Dream.

Garry: And the Reposado.

J.: A good Reposado is going to be aged between eight to nine months at least. Most of the Reposados you find on the shelf now are going to be aged two to six months max. Ours is aged nine months. Even though the finish is smooth, the end is a little bit more peppery always on a Reposado. Here in this Anejo you’re picking up that sweetness at the beginning, the roasted agave and the caramel versus what we picked up on the Reposado. Normally what you’re going to find on the shelf is going to be aged around 12 to 15 months. Ours is aged two years in Jack Daniels oak barrels. There’s some caramel notes. Some roasted agave notes. You’re going to have the caramel and roasted agave on this one traditionally, because there’s two types of agave you normally run across. One is highlands and one is lowlands. The highlands is going to be a little bit more fruitier, truer to the fruit because of the sweetness of the agave. The lowlands is going to be a little more herbaceous and more earthy.

Brent: And the Extra Anjeo.

J. : The Extra Anejo is going to be aged over three years and traditionally through five years. Ours is aged four years.  You’re going to find this has some butterscotch/toffee notes in it.  More of the barrel so a lot more oak in there. Some dried cherries, Mexican chocolate.  Well, I know that over the years I’ve gotten a chance to taste quite a bit of tequila, but really I go back to what I started with as far as being made in a brick oven. It’s more authentic, it’s more of a traditional way of making tequila, and I find that it just is a lot more satisfying on the profile too. People prefer it over time. The ones that have done blind tastings, there’s that preference there. You don’t have as much of the fake candy, fake sugar flavors that you can run across when you’re working with additives back in to duplicate these.

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