What I hauled out of this small ivory-colored box just looked…dangerous from the first glimpse…
Somewhere in my old chef’s hindbrain, there is, when I’m tasting almost anything, a little switch that trips and says, “I know what this tastes like but it COULD taste so much better!” That switch flips on when I taste most versions of spirits, wines, and beers. It has tripped countless times when tasting Tequila. But this new Roca Patrón Añejo evoked nary a twitch from that little alarm. This really is the Tequila I have always tasted in my imagination; a fat, impossibly rich, devilishly smoooooth potion that represents the way most Tequila of the distant past tasted before Tequila as an art form wandered off into the netherworld of high-tech mass production and lost its soul. I’m not unreservedly celebrating All Things Past, here. What technology has given to Tequila is the absence of all those notorious off-flavors that used to plague most Tequila producers. Tales of Nortes and even natives drinking bad Tequila and going loudly crazy – or just dropping dead – are the stuff of folk tales but based in the fact that a lot of Tequila was made in somebody’s rusty steel bucket and contained impurities that would kill you. When the Mexican government stepped in and put the clamps on amateur – read as “untaxed” – Tequila production, a lot of the Old Ways were forgotten, something that was not always to the good.
I’ve received bottles of Tequila for review before; rather a lot of them, in fact, ranging from the clean, crisp simplicity of the lovely Espolón to the fiery oddness of my new fave, Soltado. I’ve even been sent some Patrón before: a bottle of their pretty, peppery Silver for a round-up of value spirits in 2014. But what I hauled out of this small ivory-colored box just looked…dangerous from the first glimpse…
…and it is. This is, make no mistake about it, the Tequila that could just seduce you permanently into the oily, vegetal, palate-painting world of Premium Tequila.
For Patrón, their Roca line is a return to the very roots of making that most Mexican of spirits, the fermented, distilled juices of the fire-roasted agave plant. Let’s set this out here: Agave is NOT cactus. Agave is distantly related to the same family of flora but is not at all the same. And, by Mexican law, Tequila must be made from one variety of that plant: Blue Agave. Why is it called “blue”, you ask? Because the freakin’ thing is BLUE, as the photo to the left below will attest. Lots of “tequila” has been made, in the past and even today, from other species of agave. There’s the compelling Sotol, made from a relative of agave called Desert Spoon and only in Chihuahua; Raicilla, made in Jalisco; and Bacanora, produced in Sonora, and of course the legendary Mescal, distilled mainly in Oaxaca. There is even a semi-mythical type of booze made from the fruits of an actual cactus, the Garambullo, (gah-rahm-BOO-yo) a super-food that looks like a fat blueberry. Garambullo, so I’m told, packs one helluva wallop, but bottles of this unicorn-like stuff have so far eluded me. For purposes of making real Tequila, though, Blue Agave produces the freshest, most elegant, most pleasing finished spirits, so Blue it is.
Roca means “stone” and is a reference to the traditional practice – mostly long-abandoned for the sake of larger demand and production – of crushing the fire-roasted agave piñas (the “heart” of the agave stalk) by rolling a two-ton stone of volcanic rock – caled the “Tahona” – over the agave to express the liquids. What was gained by new pneumatic and electric presses was greater efficiency and larger volumes but what was lost was the unique character of that stone and the definite flavor notes it imparted. Just as in wine that’s fermented in concrete or stone vats (a fairly common practice in France and Italy and one that’s finding increasing acceptance again, today), the stone leaves its mineral-tinged stamp on the finished Tequila; a flinty, edgy, earthy tang that is clear as a bell in a small-batch Tequila and quite evident here. The Añejo style is based on time in aging and this gem is aged for a full fourteen months in American Bourbon barrels.
This is an intense and almost shockingly full-bodied Tequila. It’s striking for its up-front richness and viscosity, like dragging a swatch of silk over the tongue. The gorgeous cucumber-ish freshness of the agave piña is front ‘n’ center, surrounded by notes of nutmeg and quince and white pepper and fresh ginger and a whisper of clotted cream. Grace notes of yellow apple and citrus and rosemary meld seamlessly with the copious minerals and the pretty, subtle vanilla, caramel, and lead pencil flavors of those wet Bourbon casks. This is muscular stuff; just a flattering dash hot and then instantly warming as it goes down. It is the furthest thing from a common blending Tequila that you’d use for a Margarita or Paloma or Federación or even the resurrected Tequila Sunrise. You may, in fact, find that this Roca Patrón Añejo is not going to be a good fit for your sweeter drinks because of its assertive nature. This is a world-class sipping Tequila; one that needs no additives or enhancements to deliver its vast pleasures. Just sipping Tequila, I know, is not the favorite way for those who use the stuff mostly for its effect, rather than the flavors, to approach it and I certainly understand. But those who enjoy and appreciate the pure virtues of a truly fine spirit, unadorned and in its purest form, will find this a whole other Beast from the majority of what’s on today’s international Tequila market.
Roca Patrón – in its Silver, Reposado, and this stunning Añejo – is a game-changer for fans of great Tequila and can, I suspect, be that gateway bottle that brings in lovers of the other great spirits – those Whiskey and Vodka and Gin geeks, searching for a new thrill – to what Tequila can be, rather than what it sometimes is. Roca Patrón Añejo stands with the best Tequila I’ve tasted in my lifetime, both as a straight-ahead beverage and for its true expression of a classic liquor tradition. 99 Points