Tequila brands can originate from the most interesting places and many of these brand’s owners will tell you that they never imagined themselves as tequila producers and yet, here they are. One of these brands is Dulce Vida. Started in 2007, the company was indirectly formed because of the health attributes of the agave plant. With it’s low glycemic index, agave syrup is a perfect replacement for the refined sugars and high-fructose corn syrups that are found in many of today’s sodas and energy drinks. This was the discovery that started Richard Sorenson and Jeff O’Neal on a path that would end up with them founding Dulce Vida Spirits.
I had the chance to speak with Mr. Sorenson, a co-founder of the company, about how it all began. After spending 25 years in the medical health services profession, Richard made a career change and got into the energy drink market. The product he helped bring to market was unique because it was the first recognized organic product in it’s segment, and more importantly to this story, used agave nectar as its sweetener instead of sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. The energy drink was Syzmo and during this period, Richard noted that the group commissioned numerous scientific studies on the agave. One of the things that they learned was that the agave provided significant glycemic benefits to diabetics. As a result of its low glycemic index, Syzmo was the only drink certified as a “low glycemic” product. This was their introduction to the agave. During their research and trips to the agave fields, it was only natural that they would cross paths with the tequila industry. It wasn’t long before Richard and Jeff were working with a local distillery playing with formulations for their own tequila brand.
The group sold their Syzmo energy drink brand in 2007, retaining the rights to all of the tequila-based work that they had already started on and later that year, the Dulce Vida Spirits company was formed. Based in Austin, TX, the company added Charlie Paulette as CEO, after years at the Gambrinus Company and Shiner Bock, and the company’s first bottles hit the shelves in September of 2009. It was quickly recognized as one of the exceptional spirits on the market when the blanco received a double gold medal at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits competition in 2010. The añejo followed on that success with its own double gold medal at the just-completed 2011 competition.
The tequila itself has some distinctive qualities that make it stand out from the pack. The company states that it’s the only “100% Certified Organic, 100˚ Proof” tequila made. The organic agaves are sourced from single estates around the Pacific Coastal Highlands area around Tepic, Nayarit and Richard noted that through agreements, the company has access to 18,000 hectares of agave plants and can legally produce at three different distilleries. This has already been evidenced by the company’s first two batches, the first being produced at Corporacion Ansan distillery (NOM 1360) and the second at Groupo Industrial Tequilero de Los Altos (NOM 1443). The main reason for the change between batches was to achieve the second bottling’s USDA organic certification. The consistency found can be attributed to retaining co-founder Jesus Carlos Jurado Lopez as the master distiller for each batch. Dulce Vida uses a proprietary yeast during fermenting and is then triple-distilled in small batch stainless pot-stills straight to its final bottling proof, without the need to dilute with water. In tasting the tequila, this provides an exceptional brightness to accompany the added heat the higher alcohol content provides.
The change in distilleries for the second batch also brought about a design change to the bottles. Originally packaged in a tall, frosted-glass bottle, the new release is nicely portrayed in the same bottle, sans the frosted treatment as shown to the left, and now adorned with more traditional labeling and a stylish graphic across the back of the bottle highlighting a unique symbol representing each of the expressions. “The new bottle design was put in place to better show off the product inside” Richard noted. “While the frosted bottle was very stylish, it could have just as easily been a vodka bottle and we felt that our tequila deserved a more unique package.”
Regardless of what Dulce Vida is packaged in, the tequila inside is worth tracking down purely for its taste. While I prefer to sip all three expressions, both the blanco and reposado are perfect mixers. The higher proof allows for their flavors to stand out more readily when used in cocktails. (The company also is planning to release a more traditional 80 proof blanco later this year)
The blanco is bright and crisp, with a perfectly clear appearance in the glass and long, slow tears. The group I was tasting with noted aromas of sea-salt and citrus. For an over-proofed tequila, it starts surprisingly smooth on my palate before the heat kicks in with a long, peppery finish. Aged in American Oak previously used for Kentucky whiskey, Dulce VIda’s reposado is aged for 11 months and the añejo for 24. Like the blanco, these also took their time to develop their long and slow tears in the glass. The reposado has an inviting golden-amber color to it and the bottle I have seems to be darker than many añejos currently on my shelf. The añejo was only slightly darker than that of the reposado. So close, in fact, that I nearly confused them when sitting side-by-side in glasses. I found the taste of each to be fairly similar as well, the difference being that the añejo presented a softer edge and more refined flavors. While the color might lead you to think there would be strong wood notes in the flavor, they are surprisingly light. I’m generally not a fan of añejos that taste more like bourbon or scotch than tequila, where the wood notes are so strong that they dominate the flavor profile. In both the reposado and the añejo, Dulce Vida has struck a nice balance of agave sweetness, spicy heat and traditional barrel-aged wood notes. I noted cinnamon and even nutmeg on the nose of the añejo and a long-lasting finish of sweet, spicy heat. Of the three, my preference is with the blanco, even though as I write this, I am staring at a bottle of añejo that is closer to being empty than either of the other two. I may need to pour another round just to confirm that preference.
Priced at $35-$55 depending on your location and retail outlet, all three of these offerings are solid choices in their categories – especially when you factor in the additional alcohol content. As always, I suggest you find a bottle and give it a try to see how it tastes on your palate. And as you’re tasting it, think about what you might be doing in years to come – is there a tequila brand in your future?
With an aggressive expansion planned for 2011, Dulce Vida is currently available in Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia and Pennsylvania. Learn more at www.DulceVidaSpirits.com.
Sample bottles were provided for this review.