Few spirits have captured the public eye as much as tequila, with stars all launching their own tequilas in recent years. But bartenders will tell you that the flashy new arrivals can’t really compare to the classics, especially when it comes to a brand like Don Julio Tequila, one of the pioneers of the luxury tequila category that most celebrity newcomers are aiming to get a piece of.
But bartenders enjoy Don Julio for far more than its pivotal role in tequila history: You’re likely to hear any number of explanations why people who make drinks professionally truly love this drink in particular. From the mixable Blanco to once-in-a-lifetime expressions, here are seven reasons why you should have a bottle of Don Julio on your shelf.
New tequila brands might have flash, but none have a backstory quite like that of Don Julio, a company founded in 1942 by a young agave farmer who sought to make great tequila. In 1985, after more than 40 years in the industry, Don Julio González-Frausto Estrada changed tequila forever with the launch of the brand bearing his own name that was only meant to be enjoyed with close friends and family. After a private celebration where it was served, word got out about the quality of the spirit, leading to the subsequent public release of the world’s first luxury tequila. Don Julio is still produced today at the founder’s original property, La Primavera.
As with wine and its terroir, the flavor profile of any tequila depends on where its agave plants are grown. All the agave used in Don Julio comes from the mineral-rich, red-soil Jalisco highlands, an area called Los Altos that is famous for producing fruitier agave, which in turn creates tequilas with pronounced fruitiness and floral notes. The Blue Weber agave used to make Don Julio is harvested at seven to 10 years of age. Each plant is hand-picked and hand-cut by Don Julio’s jimadors to ensure the quality of its juice. According to some stories, Don Julio González even planted his agave farther apart than usual, which was costly and required more land, with the goal to produce the highest-quality agave to make his tequila.
There’s a reason why world-class bartenders like Mario Farulla love to deploy Don Julio in contemporary cocktails. Formerly at one of the world’s-top-100-rated bars and now running a luxury bar in Rome, Farulla uses Don Julio Blanco to add complexity to a house Manhattan traditionally using Bulleit Rye. For Josh Lindley, co-founder of Bartender Atlas and one of the organizers of the Toronto Cocktail Conference, Don Julio’s versatility makes it a go-to in mixed drinks. “All of the best tequilas can straddle the line between accurate representation of the agave plant in distillate form while still being versatile enough to combine with juices, liqueurs, and other cocktail ingredients,” Lindley says. “Don Julio Blanco does this really well.”
Don Julio makes for a terrific cocktail, but it’s also phenomenal to sip on its own. Seattle bartender Kit Blood often uses Don Julio Reposado in a classic Margarita. “Shake Don Julio Reposado, fresh-squeezed lime juice, and agave nectar with ice,” she says. “Pour it into a glass with a salty rim. No liqueur or sour mix necessary when you make a Margarita with good tequila.” But when she’s off the clock, her favorite drink is the same Don Julio Reposado — neat. “It’s smooth and tasty,” she says. “Good as a sipper or a mixer.”
Balanced aromas, flavors, and textures are the most important aspects of any high-end beverage, but don’t overlook the aesthetic qualities of the bottle from which they are poured. For Matej Novak, a drinks blogger with the YouTube channel “Cocktails and Happiness,” the long and elegant bottles of Don Julio 1942 stand out whenever he sees them. “Its [the bottle’s] dimensions mean it doesn’t fit where regular bottles do, so it’s usually displayed somewhere more prominent,” he says. “If I’m at a bar that stocks it and someone is celebrating something big and special, that’s what I’m ordering, without hesitation.”
Despite its history, Don Julio isn’t afraid to try completely new things. In addition to its classic line of tequilas, Don Julio also produces several unique variations, such as the Don Julio 70 Añejo Claro, a unique, clear añejo tequila. Aged 18 months in American oak as with the traditional Don Julio Añejo, with all the rich character and complexity that designation implies — it is then charcoal-filtered, giving the appearance of a young, vibrant Blanco and bringing back in those pepper and agave notes. Another unique variation that offers rich potential for cocktails: Don Julio Reposado Double Cask, which was finished in casks that previously held Buchanan’s blended Scotch — a changeup from a now- sought-after previous release that was finished in smoky Lagavulin barrels — this one offering even more variation in flavor, as well as mixability. The end result offers the smooth chocolate and peat overtones of a Scotch-cask finish to the honey notes of agave.
7.The (Ultra) High End
Few tequilas approach the complexity and character of Don Julio 1942, which, after a minimum of two and a half years in oak, emerges as a creamy, spicy sip — exactly the sort of drink to order for a special occasion, or when spending someone else’s money! But Don Julio takes it even further with its Real (as in “Madrid”), an Extra Añejo that spends three to five years in American white-oak barrels. Don Julio Real offers complex notes of caramel, chocolate, vanilla, almonds, and black pepper, followed by a long, elegant finish. Its price point, around $400 per bottle, means that it is probably not going to be found on every bar. However, that can be interpreted as a sort of bonus attribution: If you do spot a bottle, you’ll know you’re someplace special.
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This article is sponsored by Don Julio Tequila.