I’ve been a tequila drinker for many years now and for the majority of that time, I was simply that – a “drinker”. Pass me a shot or a Mexican Martini and I was a happy camper. Don’t misunderstand, I still am if one is put in front of me, but my preference nowadays is to sip. Even though this transformation didn’t happen over night, there are still a couple of specific tequilas that stand as turning points for me. After drinking one of these for the first time, certain perceptions that I held about this spirit instantly changed.
I’ve written previously of Patrón and how that made me realize that not all tequila was Cuervo Gold. One of the brands that really opened my eyes to the amazing flavors that are possible is 1921. Specifically, 1921 Blanco from NOM 1079. Previous to tasting 1921, most of the tequilas that I had been drinking were good, but none truly stood out from the pack because of a unique flavor. I certainly liked some brands more than others, but none of them made me stop and go “WOW! I didn’t see that flavor coming.” Now granted, I had mainly only tried the big-name brands, not yet willing to dive into (or get educated about) the smaller, artisanal bottles. Then I bought a bottle of 1921 and that all changed.
Once that juice hit my mouth, a whole different set of flavors erupted on my palette. The distinct flavor of licorice/anise dominated at first, with the tingle – not to be confused with burn – of an alcohol attack grabbing every taste bud as if to say “Wake-up! This is something special that you don’t want to miss!” The anise flavors melted into a slightly sweet agave that lingered and went down smoothly.
I knew at that point I wanted more, but there was a problem. 1921 was changing distilleries and bottles of my now precious 1079 were becoming harder and harder to find. I didn’t realize how lucky I had been to find the bottle that I did to begin with. My search for 1079 bottles brought forth a number of new discoveries as I would stumble upon various and different versions sitting on store shelves. I now had questions and turned to the internet to find answers. Other than the Tequila Whisperer’s site, there was little else that I found. At that point, I figured I could do my own investigating and post a bottle reference here. But to do that, I needed answers. Enter Juan Francisco Collado, partner with Tequila 1921. I was able to get in contact with Juan and speak with him at length about the 1921 brand. My simple desire to account for some bottle variations turned into a bit of a history lesson. I’ll post my bottle reference piece separately because for now, I’d rather use this post to pass along a few other interesting tidbits from our conversation.
Probably the most interesting story Juan passed along was about how 100% agave tequilas rose in popularity with the middle classes in Mexico. He noted that in about 1994, the peso took a sharp drop in the world currency markets. Up to this time, imported alcohols such as cognacs and scotches were relatively cheap and seen as socially superior to most tequilas. With the devaluing of the peso – he noted roughly an 70% drop – the cost of these imported brands skyrocketed, forcing people to take a second look at the now inexpensive 100% agave tequila brands, which many had never even tried. As the sales of the imported brands fell, the sales of tequila went up. That helped lead to a rise in demand from outside markets like the United States for 100% agave products.
Juan also spoke about the distillery, Agabe Tequilana Productores, and the methods used to produce their tequilas. Things like stone ovens, a donkey-powered tahona, copper pot stills and 1921 estate owned highland agaves. He spoke of the different characteristics of the wax used to seal the bottles (certain mixtures would crack and chip) as well as moving from hand-blown bottles with a 20% breakage rate to blown-mold bottles. Tequila 1921 was processing 3 to 4 batches a year that consisted of about 6500 bottles to a batch and the product line consisted of a Blanco, a Single Barrel “Aged” Reposado and the wonderful Reserva Especial. The reposados were aged in lightly charred new American Oak, while the Reserva Especial has a unique story. Using barrels that were sometimes new and sometimes used, this tequila was not produced based on a specific number of days in the barrel, but rather, it was based on the flavor profile. In a new barrel, the juice inside might hit the required flavor profile at 10 months. In a twice used barrel, it might take 14 months. In the latter case, the Reserva Especial is technically an añejo, however, it was being released as a reposado. Regardless as to the time it spent in a barrel, this release is always tasty and smooth with some caramel and vanilla wrapping a slightly sweet agave flavor.
The Reserva Especial in this old format is no longer. Now going to market labeled as a true añejo, this is not the only change for Tequila 1921. WIth a new distillery now open and producing (Destileria Morales), bottles bearing NOM 1535 are on store shelves today. The modern new facility has traded in the tahona for mechanical shredders and the copper pot stills for stainless (although they retain copper condensing coils). The bottles now show the comformity of a fully-automated bottle manufacturer instead of the nuances of artisenal-styled blown glass. But the bigger question is whether any of these changes have changed the way 1921 tastes. That’s a judgment best left for you to make. My suggestion is to hunt down some old bottles, buy some new, and taste them both to make your own determination. Either way, you’ll enjoy the experience because 1921 doesn’t make a bad bottle, old or new. It may even change your expectations about what a tequila should taste like.
Learn more about the current Tequila 1921 at www.tequila1921.com
All tequila for the 1921 posts were purchased.