Spirits & Wine

Sydney Agave Cartel: The Tequila Route and Los Altos

The Sydney Agave Cartel is described as “a collective of like-minded agave lovers”, a group made up primarily of bartenders and industry professionals who get together to learn and taste various styles of tequilas and mezcals. Hosted by Reece Griffiths, the meetings are held at various Sydney bars.

In this article, we cover two tasting sessions with very different styles of Tequila.

The Tequila Route

The trip from Guadalajara to Tequila encompasses Amatitán and the valley of Tequila, and this is known as the tequila route. The meeting takes place at Eau-de-Vie Bar in Darlinghurst.

Sydney Agave Cartel
L-R: Ocho, El Gran Jubileo, Jose Cuervo Platino, Tres generaciones Plata, Herradura Plata

Herradura Plata is the first tequila on taste and is presented by Stuart Reeves. Herradura, the brand has been around since 1870 but the distillery has been in existence for much longer. The point of difference of Herradura Blanco is that it is the longest aged tequila on the market. The age gives it a little straw colour and the use of spontaneous fermentation instead of cultured yeast give it complex flavours. It takes about four days for the yeast to work on the agave sugars. All Herradura tequilas are 40% ABV, double distilled, using standard stainless steel pot stills with copper on the inside.

The flavour tends to be more vegetative and spicy, which is a characteristic of the lowlands tequilas, with white pepper and anise ending with a warm finish.

Next is Tres Generaciones Plata, made from100% blue agave. The tequila is triple distilled which gives it a smoother and more refined agave flavour. This tequila is a little sweet on the nose, smooth and light on the palate, soft and citrusy and not as spicy as other lowlands tequilas. An easy sipping style.

José Cuervo Platino ispresented by Robb Sloan (ex Reserve Brands Diageo). The agave used in the production is 100% estate grown and cooked in traditional hornos/ovens. The style is described as “suave, soft and approachable”. The flavour starts a little peppery, followed by tropical fruit. This is a textural tequila, buttery with a good mouthfeel.

El Gran Jubileo Blanco comes from a small distillery where they produce tequila in small volumes. They buy their agave from growers and triple distil the spirit in pot stills with no resting period. The tequila is a little floral and estery on the nose but soft on the palate with a smooth agave flavour.

Los Altos

The next Sydney Agave Cartel meeting takes place at Mojo Record Bar with tequilas from the region known as Los Altos or the Highlands of Jalisco.

Los Altos is known for its volcanic soil which is rich in copper and minerals. Here, at 2000 metres above sea level, there is less oxygen so the agave plants mature more slowly and yield more sugars and fermentable product. The result is a tequila that is more aromatic, with a floral character and one that is light and fruity and the palate.

Sydney Agave Cartel
L-R: Don Julio Blanco, Espolon Blanco, Cazadores Blanco

The first tequila on taste is Don Julio Blanco, presented by Barry Chalmers of the Roosevelt.

Don Julio Gonzalez, who recently died at age 85 was one of the finest in Tequila production. He began in 1942 at La Primavera distillery and continued into his later years. He used various techniques to give the tequila its unique character. For example, the plants are spaced out and have more room to grow, nor are they pruned to force them to grow faster. Don Julio didn’t believe in harvesting baby agave because it takes away from the mother plant. The spikes are totally removed to ensure there is no bitterness. It takes 72 hours to cook the agave. The spirit is not aged but rested in stainless steel vats.

Don Julio Blanco tequila comes in a short bottle, designed to sit low at the table and not hinder conversations. The tequila yields a light fruity with very little citrus content. Smooth, fruity and sweet with very little herbaceous character.

Next is Espolón Blanco, presented by Ollie Stuart from Campari. Espolón, which means the spur on the back of the rooster’s heel, was acquired by Campari in 2006. Here the production is a little different. The agave are cooked for 12 hours then rested for 24 hours using autoclaves not hornos. It is distilled twice in stainless pot stills with copper elements then rested in stainless steel vats for 72 hours. Espolon Blanco has a distinct agave flavour with floral notes and a lot of character.

The last tequila on taste is Cazadores Blanco, presented by Loy Catada of Bacardi. Cazadores is another highland tequila created in 1922 by an ex jimador. The name means “hunters” in Spanish.

Cazadores use approximately 10 year old agave and they employ modern techniques. The pinas are cooked in autoclave at 115C for 36 hours to keep the highland character. A two-stage fermentation includes malolactic fermentation to deliver a smooth taste over a four day period. Mozart symphony no 40 is played during the fermentation process as it is believed it would stimulate the yeast to ‘work as harmoniously as possible”. The tequila is double distilled, a process which takes around 20 hours. Cazadores Blanco has a floral aroma which opens on the palate with herbal and agave notes.

From the Lowlands of Jalisco with their spicy and peppery character to the Highlands with Los Altos with their aromatic, floral and fruity character, the tequila route continues…

Next meeting: Mezcal with Pierde Almas

The Tequila Route session was held at Eau-de-Vie Bar in Darlinghurst on Monday 25 June 2012. Los Altos session was held at Mojo Record Bar in the CBD on Monday 23 July 2012.


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About the author

Corinne Mossati

Corinne Mossati is the Founder/Editor of popular online magazine Gourmantic and Cocktails & Bars, a website dedicated to cocktail culture and the discerning drinker. She is named in Australian Bartender Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential List since 2013, is a member of The Academy responsible for judging the World’s 50 Best Bars. She has also judged the inaugural Australasian Whisky Awards and various national cocktail competitions.