The Montelobos Mezcal Project

[After The San Antonio Cocktail Conference held in January, 2015, Tequila Aficionado Media caught up with Dr. Iván Saldaña, producer of the upstart mezcal, Montelobos, a partnership project with the makers of Milagro [link] tequila. 

A featured speaker during the conference, here’s our in-depth discussion held at the bar of the lavish Westin Riverwalk Hotel.]

La Anatomia del Mezcal

Iván Saldaña (Photo courtesy of David Suro)

Iván Saldaña (Photo courtesy of David Suro)

In Dr. Iván Saldaña’s nifty little primer, The Anatomy Of Mezcal–which, by the way, belongs in every serious agave students’ reference library–he goes to great lengths to demystify maguey (agave) and mezcal in a concise and easy-to-understand fashion.

As an introduction into the fundamentals of mezcal, the book covers it all, from what it is to how it’s processed.  Saldaña also defines the differences of artisanal mezcals distilled in palenques and haciendas from those using industrial methods. The latter is a situation currently being hotly contested inside the Mezcal Industry as it tries to cope with its alarming expansion without repeating the mistakes made by the Tequila Industry while still in its infancy.

 

A Double PhD.

Montelobos_ABVFrom his research, Saldaña asserts that the maguey plant efficiently evolves when affected by environmental stress.  It is precisely the plant’s adaptability to extreme conditions that makes it not only a versatile prime material for tequila and mezcal production, but also gives it its unique flavors and aromas that set it apart from other spirits.

The same could be said about Iván’s versatility as a passionate scientist, researcher, environmentalist and mezcal developer who prefers to be challenged to come up with unique solutions.

Here, Dr. Saldaña elaborates on his academic background leading to his PhD.

In this segment, Iván recounts how his wine and spirits experience working for global distiller, Pernod Ricard, led to a craving to create something more intrinsically fulfilling.

My Way

Montelobos_derecho

Taking a lesson from Frank Sinatra, Iván explains what it was like to compose a mezcal like Montelobos without following any commercial guidelines.

Montelobos Explained

Iván has been quoted as insisting that “Mezcal is too often dominated by either an excessive smokiness or inopportune proportions.”  In his quest for the perfectly balanced mezcal, he concentrated on bringing forth Montelobos’ sweeter notes, along with citrus and smoke using cultivated espadin.

006The successful result garnered Montelobos a double gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2013.

Not wanting to create a single faceted mezcal, or replicating an old family recipe, Dr. Saldaña further breaks down Montelobos’ complexities.

[Tweet “Montelobos Mezcal: double gold winner at 2013 San Francisco World Spirits Competition”]

The Value of Innovation

Dr. Saldaña produced his mezcal under the guidance of fifth generation Maestro Mezcalero, Don Abel López Mateos, but still believed in exploration and experimentation when designing its unique flavor profile.  Coupled with innovation, Iván contends that Montelobos is not about science, but about passion.

[Tweet “Montelobos’ unique flavor profile may puzzle some.”]

43.2 ABV

Montelobos_label

 

Iván explains how he arrived at the perfect 43.2% (86.4 proof) alcohol by volume to achieve the flavors and aromas unique to Montelobos.

 

 

Sustainability

Agave_MontelobosNot only vigilant on creating Montelobos his way, Dr. Saldaña was also concerned about its environmental footprint on Oaxaca where it is distilled.

Montelobos uses only organic, commercially grown espadin, certified so by certifying agency, Certimex.  Iván also makes sure that the wood used in roasting the espadin comes from a sustainable source.

The Universe Within the Universe

Dr. Iván Saldaña’s expedition into the anatomy of mezcal is by no means over.

He confessed to having an urge to distill other variations of Montelobos that would emphasize additional flavors and aromas often hidden in traditional mezcal flavor profiles.

For the time being, he prefers to continue to examine and discover the world within the world of mezcal.

[Tweet “Discover the world within the world of @Montelobos Mezcal”]

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Titanium Tequila: Luxury Attained

[On April 22, 2015, Casey Hartle, CEO and Vice President of Premium Spirits visited us to share some award winning Titanium tequila, a 2014 Tequila Aficionado Brand Of Promise(TM) nominee.]

Ti

Titanium, a chemical element known for its low density and

Titanium gear.

Titanium gear.

high strength, is generally too expensive and unattainable for most consumers.

Outside of being manufactured as components in high end products like performance race cars, lightweight motorcycles and competition bicycles, about two thirds of all titanium metal produced is used in aircraft engines and frames.

Robert Tijerina, founder of Titanium.

Robert Tijerina, founder of Titanium.

So when Robert Tijerina, owner of Houston based spirits importer, Premium Spirits, and the founder of Priority 1 Aviation, a worldwide business jet aircraft sales and brokerage firm, decided on a name for his tequila, Titanium fit perfectly.

Here, Casey Hartle gives us more background on Titanium’s origin.

Ready For Take Off

Casey comes from a wine and spirits background having servedTitanium_bottle time with Republic National Distributing Company in sales, and then successfully helping another tequila brand gain a firm foothold in the tough-to-maneuver Texas market.

Hartle explains the particular challenges that exist for a start-up brand in expanding from the competitive city of Houston to Dallas, Austin and San Antonio.

Casey’s goal is to take Titanium, an up-and-coming tequila brand in Premium Spirits’ portfolio, to new heights.

Titanium cubeOld Skool Methods vs. Modern Technology

Produced at the famed Hacienda La Capilla distillery (NOM 1479), the tequila itself is the brainchild of their artistic and secretive master distiller (known only as Eduardo) who decided to perfect his own recipe after years of making tequilas for others.

Casey explains Titanium’s process that combines old skool methods and modern technology to achieve a specific flavor and aroma.

[Tweet ” @titaniumtequila: Old skool methods + modern techniques = Obtainable Luxury.”]

Tequila That Won’t Crush Your Soul

Casey imparts what he feels makes a stellar blanco tequila, and how best to enjoy Titanium other than in your favorite cocktail.

El Secreto

Next, Casey lets us in on what’s in the offing for Titanium, and the rest of Premium Spirits’ portfolio.

Where Titanium Is Jetting To Next…

Hartle reveals Titanium’s plan to invade Aspen, Colorado in June 2015’s prestigious Food & Wine Classic.

[Tweet “@titaniumtequila–Obtainable Luxury Tequila that won’t crush your soul. “]

Plans For The Future

Hartle shares his vision for Titanium in the next five years.

Casey informs where Titanium can be found in Texas.

One Thing…

Casey Hartle expresses the one thing he’d like everyone to know about Titanium tequila.

Cleared For Landing

jet_Titanium

Most commonly found in the working parts of private planes and palatial yachts, titanium has also been perceived as a symbol of luxury.

While the name fits quite well with Tijerina’s aviation background and jet-setting career, Casey Hartle advises that the luxury lifestyle can be affordably obtained simply by sipping Titanium tequila, whether at your favorite watering hole, nightclub, or with friends on a fishing boat or yacht.

yacht_Titanium

That makes Titanium tequila as versatile as its alloy namesake and luxury easily attained.

***

Feeling lucky?  Enjoy this fun video from Titanium tequila.

 

The Miracle Men Behind Milagro Tequila

[Moises (Moy) Guindi, one of the two dynamic founders of Milagro tequila, and J.P. DeLoera, Milagro’s Texas Brand Ambassador, hung around after The San Antonio Cocktail Conference held in January, 2015. Tequila Aficionado Media chased down these two gentlemen for a rare chat at the bar of the luxurious Westin Riverwalk Hotel.]

MilagroBarrels

Ambassadors For the Modern Mexico

The time was 1997, and Europe had just signed a trade MilagroAgaveagreement with Mexico.  It officially recognized such spirits as scotch and cognac, among others.  In turn, Europe acknowledged tequila and mezcal’s denominations of origin.  Even though Mexico had issued its Protection of the Appellation of Origin Tequila in the early 70’s, this agreement was the first step in tequila finally gaining the global respect it deserved.

MilagroHomeUp until then, it had been heavily marketed as a traditional spirit often depicted in rustic agricultural scenes of burros and roping charros.  But, a new millennium was near, and a bustling Mexico City was partying like it was 1999 with art, music, design and architecture.

For two young college buddies, Danny Schneeweiss and Moy Guindi, the Mexico City club scene was where tequila sorely lacked a more modern edge and feel.  It was then that they deliberately set out to propel tequila’s image into the 21st Century.

[Tweet “The Miracle Men Behind Milagro Tequila @milagrotequila”]

Making Tequila Fashionable

003In this clip, Moy recounts the journey he and Danny embarked on to chart Milagro’s agave forward flavor profile in an era where producers were masking their juice to taste like other spirits. [Tweet “Milagro Tequila – Intentionally agave forward @milagrotequila”]

 One Foot in Tradition, One Foot in The Future

Here, Moy and Milagro’s Texas Brand Ambassador, J.P. DeLoera, explain Milagro’s distillation process which combines old style methods with modern machinery to achieve and enhance its unique flavors.

[Tweet “Old style methods + modern machinery = @milagrotequila”]

Further emphasizing their respect for old world techniques, both J.P. and Moy describe how their exclusive joven tequila, Milagro Unico, is made.

Sophistication In A Glass

Milagro’s unique bottles have long been sought after by collectors.  Moy DannyUnicoblames his partner Danny, as the creative mind behind reimagining tequila’s image in clubs and bars around the world.

Milagro was designed to evolve tequila from a red headed step child to a sophisticated gentleman in a classy container.  But, the partners also wanted it to educate consumers.  They added a stylized agave inside each hand blown bottle of their Select Barrel Reserve expressions to illustrate tequila’s true bloodline. [Tweet “@milagrotequila ‘a sophisticated gentleman in a classy container’ “]

What’s In A Name?

Moy recalls the hilarious story of how Milagro got its name.

[Tweet “A miracle? Do you know how @milagrotequila got its name?”]

How To Sip Milagro

J.P and Moy define the differences between Milagro’s core line and the Select Barrel Reserve.

All This and Kosher, Too?

Thinking ahead, the co-founders of Milagro decided to make their tequila kosher, one of the few brands at the time to do so.  Their reasoning was more personal than you might think.

[Tweet “A tequila to celebrate Passover – @MilagroTequila is kosher “]

Where Are They Now?

MilagroBoxIn 2004, Moy and Danny entered into a partnership agreement with family owned super-premium spirits distiller, William Grant & Sons.  The UK based company eventually acquired a 100% stake in Milagro in 2006.  This allowed Milagro to reach nationwide distribution in the U.S. and in key global tequila markets.

Not ones to rest on their success, both Moy and Danny retained certain rights and still have responsibilities to the brand as Moy clarifies here…

Almost 20

After almost 20 years in existence, J.P. describes his strategies to Milagro’s current challenges in the marketplace.

Having birthed Milagro in the midst of the Agave Crisis of the late 90s that almost bankrupted them, Moy learned the hard lessons of staying ahead of the agave pricing curve.

What About China?

Unlike the major spirits brands who consider exporting into China as the next gold rush, Moy believes that a conservative “wait-and-see” approach is best for Milagro.

La Leyenda del Milagro

Both J.P and Moy share their views on the one thing that you should know about Milagro.

Looking Ahead

Demonstrating that they haven’t lost their entrepreneurial drive which spearheaded Milagro into tequila’s New Age and made them one of the top three most influential start ups in Mexico, Moy and Danny are currently involved in a partnership with Montelobos mezcal. [Tweet “@MilagroTequila: 1 of the top 3 most influential start ups in Mexico”] Whatever tequila’s future holds for the next twenty years, it’s a sure bet that Moy and Danny will be at the forefront pushing it, and Milagro, to further heights.

Roger Clyne’s Mexican Moonshine is Back in Texas

A Triumphant Return to Tejas

On this soggy and swampy St. Patrick’s Day, I was graciously invited to spend the afternoon at Sam’s Burger Joint by Mexican Moonshine creator and indie music rock star,  Roger Clyne.  He had arrived in Texas for a busy week of concerts at the famed music, media, film conference and festival, South By Southwest (SXSW) in Austin.SamsPatio

With additional gigs in San Antonio and New Braunfels, this night he was slated to perform an acoustic set at Sam’s Music Hall with his Arizona Peacemaker compadre, Jim Dalton.  The rest of the band would catch up later as they traveled by bus.

Over a burger and a cerveza (and a few selfies), Roger and I caught up on current events.

[Tweet “Roger Clyne’s Mexican Moonshine Tequila @mexmoonshine is now available in Texas!”]

When We Last Left Our Hero…

Simultaneous selfies.

Simultaneous selfies.

When we last saw Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers in 2013 and sipped and talked tequila on his tour bus, his then Texas spirits distributer had suddenly and unceremoniously dumped Mexican Moonshine tequila, despite its growing sales and Roger’s staunch Texas fan base.

Undaunted, he continued to seek more adequate representation for Mexican Moonshine in what is arguably one of the biggest tequila-consuming states in the Southwest.

This time around, Clyne elected to join forces with a much

Clyne's new guitar.

Clyne’s new guitar.

smaller, boutique distributer.  However, he is keenly aware that such a decision can be a double-edged sword in the spirits business.

As many brands of promise often do, they lean towards employing these specialty distributors in hopes of gaining more attention for their label than they would from large, impersonal corporations who are only interested in mass volume case movements and “what’s on spiff?” items.

Staff trainings on Mexican Moonshine’s finer points is key to seeing bottles moving off of the shelves and into customer’s hands and into local bars and restaurants.  A challenge he is certainly up for since he continues to conduct pre-show tastings of Mexican Moonshine to fans at selected clubs and concert halls.

[Tweet “Look for Roger Clyne’s pre-show tastings of @mexmoonshine at select concert halls”]

Coming Back With a Vengance

RogerJimLuckily, the timing of Mexican Moonshine’s relaunch into the Texas market coincided with the Peacemakers’ assault on Austin during SXSW.

Clyne admitted that he has no delusions of becoming the next Margaritaville or Cabo Wabo, or any of the other celebrity-owned tequilas.  Like his music, Roger’s aspirations for Mexican Moonshine are much more independent.

“I want to be a Southwest brand of tequila,” he confessed.  “I have no dreams of entering large competitive markets where Mexican Moonshine will disappear in a sea of brands.”

Due to the heavy Mexican cultural influence of his rugged

Mexican Moonshine table tents

Mexican Moonshine table tents

Arizona upbringing, Clyne has not ruled out venturing into the world of other agave spirits in the future.

“But,” he adds cautiously with a sly smile, “let’s get some traction back in Texas, first.”

Guess Roger and I will have to talk about those distant opportunities next time over some street tacos and Mexican Moonshine.

[Tweet “Roger Clyne, @azpeacemakers, & @mexmoonshine, independent ’till the end!”]

ClyneCerveza

 ***

Enjoy the following snippet of Roger Clyne and Jim Dalton as they perform Marie during a sound check at Sam’s Burger Joint.

Ambhar Tequila–The Recalibrating of A Brand

[Between seminars during the Fourth Annual San Antonio Cocktail Conference, Tequila Aficionado Media was invited to the Ambhar Tequila Relaxation Lounge inside the historic Sheraton Gunter Hotel where we finally sampled each expression of this elusive brand with a jaded past.

The following day, we caught up with the new Ambhar CEO, Jaime Celorio, at the acclaimed Bohanan’s Restaurant while the staff prepared for the busy dinner shift.]

The Deceptive Dragonfly

In the spirits realm, and in particular, the tequila segment, brands come and go for a variety of reasons–

Either the juice is not up to par,  or the ineptitude of the brand owners or importers causes a rift between them, or the marketing is all wrong.  You name it, it happens.

Every once in a while, a brand gets lucky and all the elements click and a star is born.

Partida’s Gary Shansby, a self-proclaimed student of one of Patrón‘s founders, Martin Crowley, once declared that a tequila brand needed three things to be successful–

Good juice, a pretty bottle, and a symbol with a story.

Ambhar appeared to have all three.

On the other hand, a tequila label could experience the worst

Ambhar Goddess review.

Ambhar Goddess review.

case scenario, but for some reason, it just doesn’t go away.

The latter may be the perfect example of what happened to Ambhar tequila.

All That Glitters…

Launched in 2009, Ambhar was originally based in Austin, Texas, but made its big splash on the Las Vegas Strip.

Ambhar Lounge logo.

Ambhar Lounge logo.

Owing to key friendships among the principals, Ambhar became a part of the Tropicana Hotel’s facelift in 2010 and established the Ambhar Lounge.

More key relationships allowed the brand to have a very visible presence, especially among the MGM properties.  Ambhar soon became Las Vegas’ go-to tequila for many events including several outdoor pool parties during the warmer months.

Then, things began to unravel.

After unbridled spending, Ambhar accrued a rumored debt of up to $2 million.  Another round of funding gave it a much needed infusion of $2.7 million from investors in 2011, but still, rumblings of unpaid bills and payrolls persisted.

Ambhar banner.

Ambhar banner.

To make matters worse, a series of ho-hum reviews, including this scathing blog by the OC Weekly, made Ambhar the butt of jokes among the tequila cognoscente who took particular issue with the label’s claims of being distilled five times.

It seemed that the powers behind Ambhar at that time had been blinded by the glitz and glam of Las Vegas, and paid a hefty price.

Saving A Broken Brand

Coming from a solid financial background, Jaime Celerio, CEO of the newly formed Ambhar Global Spirits, LLC., explains what attracted him to purchase the troubled label in 2013.

Challenges

Here, Jaime explains the dilemmas of taking over a broken brand and what is being done now to revive it.

Further, he illustrates the problems in dealing with the Nevada market, and which states Ambhar will target, instead.

[Tweet “@AmbharTequila–Same old friend, whole new character.”] 

Retooling

Ambhar Texas having fun at #SACC2015.

Ambhar Texas having fun at #SACC2015.

Overhauling the former sales and marketing division, Jaime Celorio has surrounded himself with both a young, enthusiastic crew along with some premier seasoned veterans to reestablish a foothold in Ambhar’s home state of Texas.

Damage control, and distancing itself from the past, also requires making some improvements to the packaging.

No tinkering will be done to the substantial and elegant bottle, but the corks will be changed from real to synthetic, and the stoppers, as well as the wearable dragonfly charm around the bottlenecks, will be made of a much lighter alloy.

To continue to win back customer loyalty and regain goodwill,

Ambhar barrel.

Ambhar barrel.

Celorio insists on concentrating on Ambhar’s strong points by demanding complete honesty and transparency on the website, subsequent point of sales (POS) materials, and from his sales team.

The More Things Change

When we met with the Ambhar Texas unit, they admitted that Jaime Celorio felt the brand itself would not have survived its tumultuous circumstances had the juice not been favorable in the first place.

Celorio next discloses the reason why Ambhar’s flavor profile, especially that of its añejo, remains intact even though it’s more labor intensive than the reposado expression.

Future Focus

In this snippet, Celorio recounts the improvements since rebooting the brand, and its focus for the future which includes sales in Mexico and exporting to China.

Here, Celorio discusses the focus on the dragonfly logo and what it means in China.

Cinco Vodka logo.

Cinco Vodka logo.

It’s Not All About Tequila

Like a good portfolio manager, Jaime Celorio has diversified by establishing a sister company to compete in the vodka sector of the spirits market.

The Texas Vodka Trail

In this clip, Celorio reveals plans for Cinco Vodka’s distillery based in San Antonio, Texas.

Cinco Vodka–Imported All the Way From Texas

Jaime further reviews plans for the Texas Vodka Trail Tour and its similarities to tequila distillery tours in Mexico in aiding to educate consumers.

In this portion, Celorio considers how competitive the vodka market is in Mexico, and where you can find Cinco Vodka.

So…Why Tequila?

Jaime Celorio, gives his explanation as to why he chose to sell tequila in the first place.

Same Old Friend, Whole New Character

Described as his “elevator pitch,” Jaime Celorio, gives us the one thing he wants people to know about Ambhar, and shares his vision for its future.

Whether in the US, Mexico, or even China, look for the recalibrated Ambhar tequila to continue to make splashes, but in a much more precise, targeted and cost effective way.

Tears Of Llorona–Tequila’s Higher Octave

“Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine.”–Ludwig van Beethoven

Germán González lingers over Tears of Llorona tequila.

Germán González lingers over Tears of Llorona tequila.

In music, an octave is the difference in sound between the first and eighth note on a musical scale.

In astrology, the planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are commonly considered the higher octaves of Mercury, Venus, and Mars, which are closer to the sun.

After savoring Tears of Llorona, the word octave comes to mind–something eight times greater than its tequila origin.

[Tweet “Savoring Tears of Llorona, “octave” comes to mind– 8x greater than its tequila origin. @TearsOfLlorona“]

Barrel Blends

In this snippet, Germán González, distiller of T1 Tequila Uno and Tears of Llorana, explains the secret barrel blends that result in this masterpiece.

[Tweet “Tears of Llorona Tequila: spectacular juice made better with barrel blending. @TearsOfLlorona“]

Tears of Llorona served in Riedel stemware.

Tears of Llorona served in Riedel stemware.

The Allure of Scotch

Here, Germán reveals the secret of a legendary Mexican rum and ultimately, the confirmation of why he favors using scotch whisky barrels for Tears of Llorona.

Why The Name?

In the following excerpt, Germán describes why he named his finest expression of tequila, Tears of Llorana.

[Tweet “Why the name Tears of Llorana? We cried tears of joy when we tasted it. @TearsOfLlorona“]

Swirling the magic of Tears of Llorona.

Swirling the magic of Tears of Llorona.

The Higher Things

 

In this final cut, Germán González discusses the real reason he creates such fine tequilas, reaffirms the lessons he has learned in life, and imparts his belief in higher ideals.  In the process, we learn what really makes him tick.

[Tweet “Learn what makes Master #Tequila Distiller, Germán González, tick. @TearsOfLlorona“]

Flavor Notes

Tears of Llorona serving suggestions.

Tears of Llorona serving suggestions.

How do you describe Tears of Llorona?  How do you depict what you have no benchmark for?  How do you relate something that is at once incomparable and incomprehensible, yet, strangely familiar, like déjà vu?

Perhaps the closest touchstone is given when deconstructing or reverse engineering Tears of Llorona.

For this first batch, Tears of Llorona is barreled in used sherry, scotch whisky and brandy barrels, achieving a spirit that does not betray its agave and tequila roots.

Instead, cradling the agave notes is a heady spiciness that continues to whisper to your senses the longer you swirl it in your glass.

Notes of bitter chocolate, sherry, leather, tobacco and coffee, along with hints of scotch and memories of the finest cognac or brandy culminate in a finish that resembles “a warm scarf on a cold day.”

[Tweet “Tears of Llorona Tequila: A warm scarf on a cold day. @TearsOfLlorona”]

While other extra añejos attempt to masquerade as something remotely similar to (or anything but) tequila, it is evident that Germán González has created Tears of Llorona to be Tequila’s higher octave.

Deliberately distilled to be lingered over, this gem is, as its website states, “an opus.”  A symphony composed and conducted by a true Master.

[Tweet “Tears of Llorona Tequila: A symphony composed & conducted by a true Master. @TearsOfLlorona”]

A symphony that can raise you–and your senses–to the divine.

Read the full story of Germán González and T1 Tequila Uno here.

A Bartender’s Tip from Germán González

In this clip, Germán González, distiller of T1 Tequila Uno and Tears of Llorana, reveals the difficulty in getting consumers to sip 100% agave tequila and shares a technique that a particular bartender uses to educate drinkers who ask for T1 in a cocktail.

A thoughtful bartender or mixologist will always serve the customer in the best way possible.

If you’ve never sipped T1 Tequila Uno, before having it in your favorite cocktail, ask for a bit of a sample on the side.

You’ll be glad you did!

Read the full story of Germán González and T1 Tequila Uno here.