Hablando de Tequila: Sipping on Tequila Neat

This podcast series is in collaboration with PÁTRON Tequila, the world’s No. 1 super-premium tequila that is passionately handcrafted in the Highlands of Jalisco, Mexico. To learn more about the PATRÓN, visit PATRÓNTequila.com.

In Episode 5 of this six-part series, host Zach Geballe speaks with David Rodriguez, master distiller at PATRÓN Tequila. Buying a bottle of PATRÓN is the easy part; finding the best way to enjoy the spirit takes time.

Though tequila has long been known as a shooter to chase with salt and lime, Geballe picks Rodriguez’s brain about how the spirit can be best enjoyed neat. The two delve into the various aged and premium expressions offered by PATRÓN and discuss why choosing the right glassware is key to sipping tequila on its own.

Tune in to learn more.

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Zach Geballe: Welcome to “Hablando de Tequila.” I’m your host, Zach Geballe. Throughout this six-part series, we’ll explore the history, people, culture, and future of tequila. In today’s episode, I’m joined by David Rodriguez, the master distiller at PATRÓN Tequila. We discuss why tequila is much more than just a shot and how best to enjoy aged and premium expressions. David, thank you so much for your time today.

David Rodriguez: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here with you.

Z: Excellent. Let’s start with a little bit of background about you. How long have you been at PATRÓN, and how did you first come to the distillery?

D: Yes, let me tell you my background. I started with the Tequila Regulatory Council and then I moved to the industry. I have been working with PATRÓN Tequila for 19 years.

Z: Wow. Let’s talk a little bit more about the process. What is your job as master distiller? What exactly do you do?

D: I started at PATRÓN as the plant manager, and then moved to be a production director, and now, I am the general director and also the master distiller. I have two jobs, in this case. First is the administration of all the tequila production — everything from buying the materials like agave, bottles, etc., to shipping our cases. This is a job for the general director of administration. In the master distiller position, I work with my innovation team to maintain our standards for every load I test, before they are sent out to the market. This is the first job that I need to do every day. The second is to play with different barrels to get the next innovation in our tequilas. It’s a very nice job, because I play with different oaks from Spain, Portugal, Scotland, and from the U.S., obviously. This gets the different flavors in our tequila. This is my main role as a master distiller.

Z: It is really about, in part, ensuring the quality. But also, like you said, looking to constantly be innovating. I want to talk a little bit more about that in a moment as we talk about enjoying tequila, not that there’s a wrong way to drink, but some of our favorite ways to drink it. I want to start by thinking about, historically and culturally in and around the region, how has tequila traditionally been enjoyed? How do people typically drink it?

D: When the tequila producer started to be in good shape, it was in the 1970s, when the standards appeared. At that moment, tequila was a tequila but not with the special quality that PATRÓN has. Let me give an example. PATRÓN started as a brand in 1989. When we produced in our facilities in Atotonilco 19 years ago in 2002, the people at that time tried to test the tequila. It was not easy, because normally you’ll see the main test for the tequila is to put a little salt and lime squeeze because you will receive an impact with the tequila. The evolution of our tequila is more than that. Why? Because now, the people take the tequila straight, but not in a shot. Right now, we enjoy tequila in a special glass to see the characteristics of every tequila. Tequila in Mexico is growing — not only in Mexico, it’s all over the world. PATRÓN grows well every year, but especially this year. This year, we grew close to 23 percent. It’s a special moment in Mexico and the U.S. because 85 percent of the total product produced in Mexico is sent to the U.S.

Z: Wow.

D: But in Mexico, the people know and have more knowledge about how to drink tequila with sodas or in cocktails and everything. Especially in Mexico, people know about the culture of how to drink tequila in a special glass to get the flavors — not just in a shot.

Z: Let’s talk a little bit about enjoying each of the major categories of tequila neat or on their own. Let’s start with blanco or silver tequilas. When you’re thinking about having those as something by themselves — not as a shot, not in a cocktail — what are some things for drinkers to think about? What temperature should people be drinking it at? Should they be adding ice or water? What should people be doing when they’re looking to enjoy these beautiful tequilas in their best state?

D: If you add ice or water to the silver tequila, it reduces the percentage of alcohol. This is the main point; it reduces the impact on your mouth. That’s the first thing. Second, if you add water or ice, you can obtain a good performance in the liquid. All the good odors will appear. This is a test to do when drinking tequila. Add some water or ice to reduce the percentage of alcohol. This makes something special appear in tequila, for every brand.

Z: For people who might be enjoying PATRÓN Silver in particular, what are some tasting notes or flavors or aromas that they should be looking for as they taste the silver tequila?

D: Let me give you a simple example. To make the tequila, it requires agave, water, yeast to transform the sugar into alcohol, and all of the equipment. The special fifth ingredient is the people. For the silver tequila, how the agave tastes is important. Imagine if you drink tequila silver and you don’t find any agave flavor. Something happened. That’s why how we prepare tequila is so important. It’s like a chef. We have the ingredients: agave, water, juice, and the equipment. Then, we prepare all the raw material and transform it into tequila. You are expecting to receive the flavors of the agave. In our case at PATRÓN, it’s citrus in combination with earthy flavors. This is due to how we produce our tequila, by roller mill and by tahonas.

Z: I’m also curious, when we talk about drinking these silver or blanco tequilas, is there a particular kind of glass that is better for getting as much of the aroma and flavor as possible? Or does it not really matter too much?

D: It’s important. Did you see the glass caballito? The caballito glass is a straight cylinder to the top of the mouth of the glass. You can smell, but not in a proper way. If you use the Riedel glass or the Cognac glass, you’re receiving more intensive odors and flavors, and you can find special components in that tequila. Yes, the glass is so important.

Z: Very cool. Let’s move to some of the expressions of tequila that see varying amounts of time in the barrel. Starting with the reposado, should people be expecting something that is somewhere between a blanco and an añejo in terms of both the agave character that you mentioned that’s very important and central with a blanco? And then some of the wood influence you’d have in an añejo? Reposado, to me, is such an interesting category. When you think of tasting a reposado, either your own or someone else’s, what are you looking for in that experience?

D: Well, for reposado, in PATRÓN’s standard, we maintain a silver tequila in the oak barrels for at least three to five months. In this period, you can get the aroma. Obviously, you have the agave flavors from cooking: caramel, vanilla, but also with some wood flavors. The combination is so sweet. The PATRÓN Silver is so sweet, but you can also find this sweetness in the reposado in combination with the agave, and the combination of oak flavors like vanilla and caramel. It’s an interesting combination.

Z: And as far as enjoying it, is it similar to what you said about blanco tequilas in that you can add a little bit of water or ice to dilute it a touch, and maybe open up some of the aromatics? How do you think about the actual process of tasting a reposado?

D: It’s the same way. Some people drink reposado on the rocks, or some of them put in mineral water. For example, you try to make a Paloma or Margarita as a cocktail. Maybe you put a twist of lime or something like this, but it’s the same. We obtain the aromas in the tequila when you add liquid or ice. It’s the same.

Z: Excellent. Let’s move to the category that I find most intriguing but also maybe where your expertise will be the most useful — not that it hasn’t been useful for all of these, of course. And that’s with some of the añejo and extra añejo tequilas. After we talk about those, I want to talk about some of the special finishes and things like that that you’re also making. When it comes to añejo and an extra añejo — and I’m not sure whether you would take these as separate categories or talk about them together — my point of reference would be to treat these in the same way I would treat whiskey or Cognac or some other barrel-aged spirit. Is that the right frame of reference? Or should I be thinking of doing something special with these tequilas?

D: Especially with añejo, it can be similar to whiskey. With extra añejo, it is more complex because it takes more time to age. In accordance with Mexico’s standards, you need to put tequila in barrels for at least 12 months for añejo, and three years for extra añejo. But if you spend a lot of time in the barrel, it doesn’t necessarily give the best flavor. The standards for PATRÓN are 12 to 15 months for añejos and four years for extra añejo. The difference between both is the complexity of the extra añejo. You can find the sweetness, aromas, and intense grapefruit, caramel, and vanilla flavors all in a natural way. The PATRÓN style has no additives. That is a big difference.

Z: Excellent. As far as the approach to tasting them goes — my frame of reference for barrel-aged spirits is more in whiskey — you really need to give yourself some time with the spirit to taste it a few times and enjoy the aromas. Is that what you do? Not working or testing it to make sure that it meets the standards. If you’re sitting down at the end of a day with a glass of extra añejo, what do you do?

D: For me, I like to drink extra añjeo in the afternoon before I go to sleep. In my opinion, it’s a good digestif, especially to get the aromas and flavor. I like to drink it straight or sometimes, I add an ice cube. Only one, not too much. That’s my recommendation to experience extra añejo tequila.

Z: Can you talk a little bit about some of the other barrel-aged expressions that are fully matured in different kinds of casks? We don’t necessarily need to go through all of the different offerings, but I’m curious about a couple of them and if you see a specific flavor profile that is different from the standard PATRÓN Extra Añejo.

D: In the case of the PATRÓN Extra Añejo, we try to combine different barrels. In October, we launched PATRÓN Añejo Sherry Cask. It isn’t an extra añejo, but it’s a good combination. We put 55 percent silver tequila in oak barrels from Spain. It’s from the area Ribera del Duero, which is the area to produce sherry. We bought those oaks and put on our tequila and waited for two years. Now, we have sherry casks. We mature this tequila for more than three years to get more flavors. We also have different barrels from Bordeaux, Napa Valley, and Portugal. There are different woods for maturing, but we play with time, in this case, to do an extra añejo with a different profile.

Z: I don’t think I’ve had the opportunity to taste any of those that are finished in one specific kind of barrel. But having tasted the extra añejo a few times and really enjoying it, one thing that’s very interesting to me is how blanco tequila, as the spirit that goes into the barrel, develops and matures and in concert with the flavors that come out of the wood. It’s very different from bourbon or Cognac or anything like that. The flavor that I get a lot, and I think you mentioned this when you were talking about the extra añejo, is this caramelized or brûléed citrus. That, to me, is such a delicious and inviting flavor and aroma. Is that something that you feel comes through in all of these expressions? Or if not, how do some of these different finishes change the flavor profile for people who might have tasted the extra añejo but haven’t tried the single cask finishes? How different are they?

D: Yes, you mentioned a good point. Normally, we mature our silver tequila for three years to get extra añejo. Some producers use it just for a finish. It’s more complex to get it mature in those barrels, to get those flavors that you mentioned. There’s a big difference: the dried fruit, sweet caramel, and vanilla. This is how master distillers play with the materials that they have. In our case at PATRÓN, we have different options in barrels to get different flavors. That’s my opinion. When you drink the extra añejo tequila, it’s different from whiskeys and Cognac. PATRÓN Tequila has a special style, the entity, or as we say, the DNA.

Z: Excellent. Well, David, this has been really, really interesting. I have one last question for you in general about enjoying these tequilas. I had mentioned whether people should have a special glass and whether they should add ice or water. In addition to all of that, is there anything people should be aware of when it comes to storing these bottles — especially the extra añejos and things like that? I can imagine that for some people, they buy a bottle and they go through it pretty quickly. But for me — and it sounds like maybe even for you — those are kind of a special treat, so they may not be drinking it all that quickly. Is there something to be aware of when it comes to storing these bottles to make sure that the quality remains as high as it was when it was bottled?

D: Well, let me first talk about our process. We maintain our quality from the beginning. We spend seven days producing our silver tequila. This is a key component to get the quality — not only for the silver tequila but also in the extra añejo tequila. You can get the same profile in our tequilas all the time. It’s so important for the consumer because in our philosophy as a company, the consumer is at the heart. It’s important that the consumer receives the same quality all the time. That’s why with every load of tequila that we send to the market, we need to check everything against our standard. Sometimes, our tequila may have chemical components, but we can reject something if it’s not good for the aromas. That’s so important. That’s why we have had quality control for every step since the beginning. When we choose the best-quality agave, it’s so important. And then we produce the tequila, and then when we put it in the barrels, we need to wait for time to do its job, in this case.

Z: When people get those bottles at home, is there anything they should be aware of when it comes to making sure they keep their quality high once they open it?

D: Yes, that’s the point. As you know, our tequila is handmade by our people in The Hacienda. Every bottle that you receive at home or in the bar or wherever, you can find the same quality. We have been so proud to produce premium tequila since the beginning.

Z: Excellent. David, thank you so much for your time. It was really fascinating to hear about this and to get your insights into how we all can up our tequila enjoyment at home or out at a bar or wherever we might be encountering these beautiful tequilas. Thanks for all your time and your work. I enjoy drinking it.

D: Thank you so much. If you are interested to learn more about PATRÓN Tequila, please visit us at our website patrontequila.com or follow @patron on Instagram. It’s so important to learn about tequila. It is a pleasure to talk about our brand, our family, and our tequila, Tequila PATRÓN.

Z: Thank you so much.