After centuries of careful craftsmanship and dedication to flavor, tequila, as we know it today, was first commercially produced beginning in the late 1800s. And although the practices used to make tequila have changed so much since it first became popular, the unmatched taste of genuine craft tequila remains the same.
One brand in particular still embraces the traditional tequila-making process: Tequila Ocho. Founded in 2008, the third-generation producers have carved out a reputation for themselves as exemplary tequila-makers, thanks in large part to the combination of Old World methods, Carlos Camarena’s craft tequila-making values, and co-founder Tomas Estes’s modern understanding of terroir. Estes’s extensive knowledge of terroir was integral to developing Tequila Ocho, allowing the label to be forward-thinking while remaining rooted in tradition.
The dedication to the time-honored methodologies has made the spirit an enduring, worldwide staple, and although Tequila Ocho may only be 14 years old, master tequilero Carlos Camarena comes from a long line of tequila makers — tequila makers who have passed nearly 100 years of knowledge down to him.
“From the moment my great-grandfather began to make tequila, he sought to do it in the best possible way,” says Camarena, co-founder of Tequila Ocho. “My father continued the legacy and now my family and I continue to maintain it in the most genuine way possible, such as [by] slowly cooking the agave in masonry ovens, fermenting it in wooden vats, distilling it in steel and copper, and more. All the original processes are still carried out in the same way and this is what guarantees the flavor of our tequilas: complex products with an intense agave flavor.”
Mass-produced tequilas today rarely adhere to the same traditional tequila-making processes the Camarenas employ when crafting Tequila Ocho. Often, for example, modern tequilas use industrial ovens to ensure the agave hearts, or piñas, are roasted as quickly as possible. Rather than opt for a shortcut, Tequila Ocho cooks the piñas at a lower temperature for 48 hours, which is then followed by 24 hours of cooling. The juice from the first eight hours of cooking is then removed as it can be bitter — just another example of Tequila Ocho’s commitment to perfection.
By using industrial ovens and other modern techniques, production is sped up at the cost of tradition, which is why many of the classic qualities that create subtle tasting notes in Tequila Ocho’s final product aren’t present in other brands. Tequila Ocho’s careful selection of high-quality raw materials used throughout the tequila-making process lends the tequila nuanced and complex qualities that are hard to come by in other tequilas.
While this methodology is certainly important when it comes to making a refined spirit, the tequila’s relationship to the landscape itself is also vital to producing the best possible spirit, an idea that Estes helped spearhead. In addition to coming from a line of master tequila makers, Camarena is also a fifth-generation farmer and therefore understands the inseparable relationship great tequila must have with expert agave farming.
“It doesn’t matter if we have the best process inside the distillery unless we have the best raw material,” Camarena says. “We only need two ingredients to make 100 percent agave tequila: water and agave. I’m an agronomist so I [am] always looking [for] the best possible raw material; using mature agaves gives us the chance to make top-quality tequila.”
Camarena understands this principle so well that Tequila Ocho has established itself as the first single-estate tequila in the world — it is the first tequila to be produced entirely with agaves grown on a single rancho and harvested within a single year in Jalisco. Also unique to Tequila Ocho is its mission to source all its agaves from singular locations — the result of Estes’s extensive knowledge of terroir — making it the first tequila that can truly explore the possibilities of terroir within its creation process.
Terroir is an established concept within the worlds of food and wine, in which a crop’s immediate environmental influences can be tasted in the final product. These factors include soil composition, the altitude at which the crop was grown, the amount of sunlight the crop grew in, humidity, and more.
“Depending where the agave came from, the flavors and aromas of the final tequila will be different,” Camarena says. “Until now, we have had 32 harvests, and we can be sure that all reflect what the land has to tell.”
The holistic philosophy Tequila Ocho has for the tequila-making process uniquely shapes its product as distinct from other tequilas, which are frequently mass produced and don’t employ traditional methods to produce as high-quality a product. These sorts of tequilas, while popular and familiar, are often taken as a shot and met with a grimace.
Tequila Ocho is the product of traditional distillation techniques and generations of experience. All these factors make Tequila Ocho a tequila that can be enjoyed as a thoughtful addition to craft cocktails or even experienced as a sipping spirit, like a quality whiskey or Cognac.
“To me, the difference in taste [between Tequila Ocho and common brands] can be so significant that they are almost like two different spirits categories,” says Jesse Estes, global brand ambassador for Tequila Ocho. “Without Carlos Camarena’s meticulous attention to detail and dedication to producing the highest-quality tequilas, we would not be able to create one of the world’s finest sipping tequilas.”
This prioritization of traditional agave farming, harvesting (done by expert jimadors), and distillation has cultivated a reputation for Tequila Ocho as being a truly distinct and premium tequila. In a world where it seems the only constant is change, Tequila Ocho manages to stand out by holding onto the centuries-old traditions that made tequila the globally popular spirit it is today.
“A lot of our team members have been doing the same thing for generations, and some of our jimadors have been with us for more than 40 years, so there is nothing new to teach them,” Camarena says. “They know exactly what our vision is — always seeking quality — and they follow that vision every day.”
Tequila Ocho’s shared vision of creating a product that both honors the land the agaves come from and the historic practices that make a tequila truly great are present in every sip. If you want to taste the difference in a tequila that follows more than a century of wisdom passed down through generations, Tequila Ocho is the tequila to rely on.
This article is sponsored by Tequila Ocho.