This week, InsideHook’s resident spirits expert will be naming all his favorite bottles of 2019. In case you missed it, you can read about his favorite bourbon of the year here.
Our favorite tequila in 2019 was not crafted by a tiny, family-owned, eighth-generation distillery in Jalisco that painstakingly hand-selects its agave and eschews all forms of modern machinery, preferring to use “traditional methods” passed down for 150 years.
No, our choice was modern and, at times, very American.
Sacrilege, maybe. I should be complaining about Cincoro, a recently launched agave spirit from an ownership group that includes multiple NBA owners (including Michael Jordan). The bottle is sleek and aggressively tall, a back-bar disruptive design co-created by a Nike guru and no. 23 himself. I should shake my fist at a style that purposely (and eye-rollingly) wants to be “smooth on the palate but with a long-lasting finish, like a Cognac,” as co-founder Emilia Fazzalari told us.
Let’s not even get started on the target audience (hint: you’ll see it clubs, and the high-end extra anejo retails for $1,600).
But I thoroughly enjoyed all four expressions, including the añejo — which also did quite well in real competition. The blanco showcased the complexity of the agave, sourced both from private farms in the San Miguel el Alto highlands and the El Arenal lowland regions of Jalisco, slow-cooked and distilled separately and then mixed together. The reposado — a range I typically find uninteresting — was distinct. And that añejo works as an ideal winter sipper or a replacement for whiskey in drinks like an Old Fashioned.
Admittedly, you can skip the $1,300 extra añejo, which was nice but lacks the depth of the other expressions. Hey, tequila is a finicky spirit — age it too long, it loses character.
Cincoro was part of a trend of celebrities and rich folk tapping into a growing tequila market. We can see why: there are more than 100 distilleries that can be utilized to get a product to shelves quickly. It lacks the cost and time commitment of whisky, it’s a mainstream spirit here in America and it appeals to men, women, old, young and even people with special diets (a point made both by Nick Jonas and Third Eye Blind’s Stephan Jenkins, two celebs who introduced their own tequilas this year.)
Want to support an agave spirit that’s more … artisanal? Here are a more sips we enjoyed this year:
El Tesoro Extra Añejo
Not all extra-aged tequilas lack character. Here, El Tesoro blends four- and five-year tequilas in old bourbon barrels to realize a delicate sipping tequila that delivers sweet and smoky notes in perfect lockstep. It works equally well as a pre-dinner palate cleanser or the perfect pairing with dessert, and at $99, represents great value.
Tequila Don Julio Reposado, Double Cask
A reposado finished in casks which previously held Lagavulin Islay Single Malt Scotch. There’s a real harmony here, and a slight smokiness that’s unique from, say, a mezcal.
Speaking of mezcal … we tried this Oaxacan delicacy at the just-launched mezcal and rye bar The Cabinet in New York (if you’re a fan of mezcal and you’re not going to Mexico, this tiny bar — co-owned by Cocktail Kingdom’s Greg Boehm — is your pit stop). It’s bright, citrus-y and a balanced smoky, and also new and artisanal enough that the brand doesn’t seem to have a working website.
La Historia de Nosotros
Looking for an affordable tequila that works well on its own and in cocktails? Nosotros was only launched in 2016 but has already won a world’s best tequila designation at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. And at just $40-$45, their blanco and reposado represent a true value buy (though it’s actually not hard to find “decent” tequila for under 30 bucks).
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