Checking Out the Partida Tequila Lineup

Tequila is one of those spirits that has fought a long battle for respect from the casual drinker. All too often, people’s tequila perceptions are formed in some drunken college haze ending in an incident with vague memories of pressing their face to a cool tile floor, causing them to declare “I don’t do tequila.” Even if an early experience doesn’t cause people to keep a wide radius, there remains a wretched culture of tequila shots, the assumption being that tequila tastes so awful that it must be pounded with a lime and salt chaser. There’s even a blog and Instagram account devoted to tequila face. The truth is, artisanal tequila can hold its own with the world’s great spirits.
The basics of tequila are simple: It’s made in Mexico using the heart of the agave plant, which is baked, crushed to extract the juices, which are then fermented prior to distillation. Per Mexican government regulations (known as NOMs), to be legally called tequila, the agave must be of the Weber Blue variety and the production must occur within the Jalisco region of Mexico, on the western coast of Mexico about 1300 miles south of the US border. Tequila is a subcategory of the broader category of mezcal, which I’ve writtenabout previously. The short synopsis of the difference between tequila and mezcal is that mezcal can be made with a wider variety of agave, and within a larger region within Mexico.  So in short, all tequila is mezcal, but all mezcal is not tequila.
As with many spirits, tequila is sold in both aged and unaged varieties. Formal categories denote the amount of aging:
  • Blanco (little or no aging)
  • Reposado (more than two months, but less than one year)
  • Anejo (at least one year)
  • Extra Anejo (at least three years)

The typical drinker’s perception of tequila starts and ends with Jose Cuervo. This and other low-end tequilas (known as “mixtos”) are required to be made from at least 51% agave, with the remainder coming from “neutral cane spirit,” essentially vodka. Slightly more advanced consumers drink Patron, which occupies the “high-end” tequila niche in most people’s minds.

Beyond the heavy hitters in the tequila space– Jose Cuervo, Patron, Sauza–are quite a few smaller, artisanal producers who make topnotch, thoroughly enjoyable spirits, yet with a price point that’s a bargain compared to more trendy offerings like bourbon, scotch, and “premium” vodka. Dozens of smaller tequila brands, such as Corzo, Fortaleza, Casa Noble and Don Julio, are taking their share of shelf space, and the space is heating up with celebrity owners, two notable examples being George Clooney’s Casamigos and Sean “Diddy” Combs’s DeLeón. In this post I’ll take a look at the Partida line of tequilas, well-regarded by tequila aficionados. I received 50 ml samples bottles of the Blanco, Reposado, and Anejo bottlings for this review. Partida also offers an extra Anejo, but at $300 or more for a bottle, review samples are understandably scarce.
The origin of the Partida line starts with Gary Shansby, a California native who made his fortune in marketing brands such as Famous Amos cookies, Mauna Loa macadamia nuts, and Vitamin Water. After these successes, he was looking to build a company from scratch that integrated his personal passion for Mexico. Around 2005 (dates differ depending on the source), he partnered with Sofia Partida, a California woman with family connections in Mexico.  These connections include her uncle Enrique Partida, who farmed 5,000 acres of agave crop in Amatitan, southeast of the city of Tequila and northwest of Guadalajara. Sofia, an executive at Partida, functions as a global brand ambassador. Given the current interest in artisanal tequila, it’s surprising that Partida hasn’t been snapped up by one of the big liquor conglomerates like Diageo or Pernod Ricard, perhaps because Shansby isn’t looking for just another corporate payday.
When selecting agave to harvest, Partida uses stock that’s reached at least seven years of age, letting the agave heart reach an optimal sweet flavor profile. The Partida Reposado and Anejo expressions are aged in once-used Jack Daniels American oak barrels. By sticking with one barrel supplier–and one with an enormous pipeline of stock–Partida can maintain its consistent taste profile. Shansby’s strong marketing background is evident in the bottle design: Rather than a standard cylinder or squared bottle, Partida’s rounded horseshoe shaped bottle (for lack of a better description) make the bottles distinctive and very easy to spot in a crowd. All three versions of the Partida come in at the typical 80 proof.
The Blanco has a very pleasant nose that reminds me of creamed honey – I enjoyed it quite a while before sipping it. The initial sip has a very slight burn on entry, a nice mix of spices in the middle, and ends with a bit of pepper. Upon subsequent sips, I noticed a buttery, creamy note which I’ve experienced before in certain agricole rhums. Bryan Davis of Lost Spirits distillery tells me this is likely the presence of ethyl lactate, commonly found in distilled spirits.
For comparison, I tried the Blanco side-by-side with Cabeza tequila, my normal go-to for a solid mixing blanco-style. The Cabeza is fruitier and has a tiny bit more burn, not surprising given that Cabeza is three percent higher in ABV. I found the Partida Blanco to be quite enjoyable by itself, but it would also be great in a Ti’ Punch-type drink, simply subbing the Blanco for the normal agricole rhum. Mrs. Wonk wasn’t as much a fan of the Blanco, calling it “too earthy” for her tastes.
Next up is the Reposado. It also has a wonderful nose, although quite different from the Blanco. I get lovely spice notes, bringing to mind a great-smelling men’s aftershave. Tasting it, I found none of the creaminess that I get from the Blanco. Alongside the obvious agave notes is a hint of orange, bringing to mind a nice curacao. There’s very little burn, making it an excellent sipper.
Placing the Partida Reposado side by side with Patrón Reposado, I found the Patrón to me much sweeter and less complex. In this regard, the Partida Reposado was the clear winner. Of the three Partida expressions, Mrs. Wonk and I agreed the Reposado was our favorite. It’s refined, but the interesting characteristics haven’t been smoothed away by the aging process. The Reposado would be outstanding in a tequila-based Old Fashioned (tequila, simply syrup, bitters).
Finally, the Anejo.  Somewhat surprisingly, the nose wasn’t a more intense version of the Reposado, and instead is closer to the Blanco’s nose. Tasting the Anejo, I found it to be very smooth and round, to be expected given the additional amount of aging, and there’s no burn to speak of. Unlike the Reposado, I didn’t taste the curacao note. Make no mistake, the Reposado and Anejo are very different animals.
I also put the Anejo head-to-head with Corzo Anejo, one of my favorite sipping tequilas. The Corzo is more buttery (again, I’m guessing ethyl lactate) and also had cinnamon notes I didn’t perceive in the Partida Anejo. I’d happily enjoy a dram or two of the Partida Anejo neat so as to best enjoy all the flavors within.
Pricewise, the Partida bottlings are within the range of other premium tequilas such as Patrón or Corzo. Checking online at my usual sources, the Blanco can be had for around US $37, the Reposado for around $42, and the Anejo for $49. If you have to choose just one, I’d recommend going with the Reposado as the best mix of bold flavors yet refined enough to enjoy drinking neat.

Suitcase Rum: Coruba “Cigar” 12 year

“Suitcase” posts here on CocktailWonk cover spirits that aren’t readily available in the United States– they’re spirits I’ve discovered while traveling and brought home in my suitcase, warranting an in-depth look.

Within the rum world, the Coruba brand is reasonably well known, but almost entirely for budget priced “mixing” rums such as the Coruba Dark and more recently, a set of flavored rums – spiced, mango, coconut, and pineapple. Being from the United States, these bottlings were my only exposure to the Coruba brand, so I was shocked and possibly a bit too excited to find this 12-year aged Coruba rum at the Vintage House in London, alongside its older 18- and 25-year aged siblings. Being a nut for Jamaican rums, I knew at least one of those bottles would accompany me home. After consulting with Jamie Kimber at Trailer Happiness, I picked the 12-year. My wallet emitted a small sigh of relief, as the 25-year was well in excess of $100.

Piecing together the history of this particular Jamaican rum has been a challenge. The backstory of the Coruba brand is a particularly convoluted series of companies. Trying to make sense of the history and where these high end Coruba editions (the 12, 18, and 25) fit in wasn’t easy, but here are the basics: The Coruba name is a contraction of “Compagnie Rhumière Bale,” a Basel, Switzerland-based company, that in 1929 formed “The Rum Company Ltd.” in Jamaica. In 1965. The Rum Company Ltd. was purchased by the J. Wray & Nephew Group, another Jamaican rum producer. Diehard rummies know that J. Wray & Nephew is the parent company of Appleton rum, so my Coruba 12-year and Appleton 12-year are, in theory, stablemates. This of course begs for a tasting comparison – which we’ll get to after I drop some more twists to the story.

The Coruba brand has a confusing corporate parentage. In 2012, Gruppo Campari bought the parent company of J. Wray & Nephew. Here in the US, Coruba, Appleton, and Wray & Nephew rums are imported by the Campari group and are listed as being a product of Jamaica. The only Coruba bottlings we have in the US are the value-based Coruba Dark and the flavored rums.

On the back of my Coruba 12, there’s no mention of Campari or J. Wray & Nephew, however. Rather, the listed producer is “Haecky Drink and Wine AG.” A little time with Google turns up that Haecky is a Swiss company, based in Basel. Their web site says about Coruba: “Even today it is still blended and filled for the whole of Europe at Haecky in Reinach BL.” In addition, the Haecky web site has a link to rumcoruba.com, a Flash-based monstrosity pushing the sunny island lifestyle and, by extension, Coruba Dark. (The site seriously needs to ditch the music and chatty Jamaican beachbum character.) With enough patience on rumcoruba.com you can find the “Prestige” section that says this (quoting verbatim): “The three exclusive Rum Coruba Cigar 12 years, Rum Coruba 18 years and Rum Coruba 25 years are the noble flagships of the Rum Company Ltd. The tropical climate, the many years maturing in selected oak barrels and the careful processing lend the three noble” (sic)

At this point, I was thoroughly confused and dug in deeper, trying to piece together how both Campari and Haecky produce Coruba branded rum. Eventually I found a PDF file in German that says J. Wray & Nephew sold the majority of the Rum Company Ltd. shares to Haecky in 1993. My speculation is that when J. Wray & Nephew sold to Haecky, it retained distribution rights for the Coruba brand to certain regions, while Haecky does its own blending/bottling for European Coruba. Fun fact I learned along the way: Coruba has been the bestselling brand of rum in New Zealand since the 1970s. While the Campari sourced Coruba focuses on the budget-friendly, fun time beach party Coruba, the Corubas from Haecky straddles the fence, pushing both the fun time sunshine as well as the prestige “aged rum” category.

As best I can identify, all Coruba branded rum originates from a J. Wray & Nephew-owned distillery, of which there are several in Jamaica.  However, the exact distillery (or distilleries) that the 12-year Cigar originates from remains a mystery. The bottle label only says: “Produced in Jamaica by the Rum Company Ltd., Kingston.” I’ve seen reference in some pages translated from German that it’s a blend of a dozen or so different rums. It’s unclear if all of the aging occurs in Jamaica, or if additional aging is done in Switzerland by Haecky.

The Coruba 12 bottle is old-school handsome, topped by a wood-capped stopper. It’s bottled at 40 percent alcohol by volume and the color is a medium gold, and noticeably lighter than Appleton 12. The Coruba’s nose is less fruity and more subtle than the Appleton. The initial entry of the Coruba has a slight bit more burn than I’d expect for a rum of this age and cost. The usual Jamaican funky esters are dialed way back, even next to the Appleton 12, which I don’t consider particularly funky relative to other Jamaicans in my collection. I also get a small taste of wet cardboard on occasion in the finish. To be honest, in a blind test I wouldn’t have identified the Coruba 12-year as Jamaican. It’s certainly not an unpleasant rum for sipping, or presumably for smoking a cigar with, but at a price of US $75 I won’t be rushing to replace the bottle when it’s gone.

For another in-depth discussion of this particular rum, check out the Lone Caner’s review. And if you have additional insights about the Coruba history, drop me a note in the comments.
Appleton 12 (left), Coruba 12 (right)

Suitcase Rum: Bristol Black Spiced Rum (Bristol Classic Rums)

“Suitcase” posts here on CocktailWonk cover spirits that aren’t readily available in the United States– they’re spirits I’ve discovered while traveling and brought home in my suitcase, warranting an in-depth look.
The Bristol Black spiced rum is among the most interesting of my finds during our recent trip to London. I don’t normally gravitate towards spiced rums – Captain Morgan, begone! Away with you, Kraken! Too often they are vanilla/sugar bombs. However I have a soft spot for Chairman’s Reserve spiced rum from St. Lucia Distillers, and I will confess to using and abusing Sailor Jerry’s in my early proto-mixology days.

The Bristol Black is my third rum from Bristol Classic Rums, along with the previously covered Royal Vale Wedderburn and the 1999 Port Morant Demerara from Guyana, which I found in Glasgow on the last day of our previous European excursion. I fully expect my Bristol Classic Rum collection will grow at the next available opportunity. As the store clerk pulled the Bristol Black from the case at The Vintage House in London, it pained me that I had to forego its Cuban stablemate sitting next to it. Even though the change to US-Cuban relations had been announced just days before, the U.S. import laws on Cuban rum acquired somewhere other than Cuba were still cloudy enough to not risk it.
The Bristol Black’s color is, well, darn-near black. Holding the clear glass bottle up to bright light, it has the hue and opacity of a deep red wine. It comes in at 42% ABV (84 proof), a tad lighter than I’d prefer. I paid U.S. $62 for it in London, and it’s still available online at a few UK sites.
The components of the Bristol Black are a blend of 6-year aged from the Caroni distillery in Trinidad, and 3-year aged white rum from Mauritius. Mauritius, if you’re not familiar, is an island country to the east of Africa and Madagascar, with six active rum distilleries. Unfortunately, I can’t dig up exactly which distillery produces the Mauritian component. However, Bristol Classic Rum has another bottling of Mauritian rum that appears to be from the Rhumerie de Mascareignes, which produces Rhum Agricole style rum. If I had to bet, I’d put money on the two bottlings being from the same distillery.
Taste wise, the Bristol Black is a head-turner, unlike any other spiced rum I’ve encountered. There’s no vanilla, and it’s not syrupy sweet. Instead, it’s fruitcake, tea, tobacco, and mince. The exact flavorings aren’t listed anywhere on the bottle or Bristol’s site, but one source says they include blackstrap molasses, salt liquorice, and orange zest.
How to use the Bristol Black? The bottle suggests “over ice with your favorite mixer.” Not particularly helpful. With its mince, orange, and tobacco overtones, I can picture it being nice with a bit of sweet vermouth, a kind of Holiday Rum Manhattan, if you will. However, I’m perfectly content to sip it neat, ideally by a nice fire on a cold winter night.

Suitcase Rum: 2002 Vale Royal Wedderburn (Jamaica)

“Suitcase” posts here on CocktailWonk.com cover spirits that aren’t readily available in the United States, and possibly other locales – they’re spirits I’ve found while traveling and brought home in my suitcase and warrant an in-depth look.

The Vale Royal Wedderburn 2002 is a Jamaican rum, distilled at the Long Pond distillery in 2002 and bottled in 2011 at 40% (80 proof.) It comes from Bristol Classic Rum, a label of Bristol Spirits Limited, an independent bottler based in Bristol, England.

Of all the many types of rum, the one I consistently acquire almost anything I can get my hands on is Jamaican. Good Jamaican rums are high in fruity esters, which most people describe as “funk” or “hogo”, rarely seen at similar levels in rums elsewhere. The funk is the result of the Jamaican tradition of using “dunder”, a nasty cocktail of bacteria that (while toxic by itself), supercharges the production of fruity esters by the yeast and sugar during the fermentation process.

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Berentzen Apple and Pear Liqueurs

Today I’m looking at apple and pear liqueurs from Berentzen, a German distiller founded in 1758 in Haselünne. In 1976 they started blending their wheat distillate with various fruit juices to create liqueurs. Both the apple and pear liqueurs are a blend of wheat-based neutral grains spirits and fresh apple and pear juice, respectively.  Neither the apple nor the pear is an infusion, where the fruit soaks in high-proof alcohol to absorb the flavor before dilution to the final proof. Some sources refer to the apple and pear liqueurs as schnapps, but schnapps has different meanings in different contexts (some of those not so positive, if you’ve ever been a freshman in college), so liqueur is the better term here.

You may have seen the apple liqueur referred to as Apfelkorn, korn meaning “grain” in German. I’m told that Apfelkorn and apple liqueur are the same product, however. In addition to the apple and pear liqueurs, Berentzen produces other spirits including a cherry liqueur, a bourbon/apple liqueur hybrid, and a high-proof mint schnapps – yes, actual schnapps in this case.
I have to confess, when I first heard about the apple and pear liqueurs, my thought was they might be overly sweet and syrupy thick. However, upon receiving bottles of each from Berentzen, I was pleasantly surprised to find they were very reasonably balanced – not tart at all, and just sweet enough to make them pleasing to sip straight.
The apple liqueur, which retails for around $20, is clear and medium brown in hue. Taste-wise it’s akin to a clear, sweet cider. The taste seems reasonably authentic and the twenty percent alcohol is barely noticeable. Consistency-wise, it’s equivalent to apple juice, as you’d expect given its ingredients. There is a touch of caramel coloring added for consistency.
The pear liqueur, which retails for around $24, is very slightly cloudy — I noticed a few, very tiny particles, presumably pear, floating in the bottle. The taste seems reasonably true to my perception of pear juice. At fifteen percent alcohol, it has less punch than the apple, but the alcohol content is a hair more noticeable, although nothing close to a burn. The consistency is the same as the apple liqueur, i.e., not particularly thick.
Depending on your tastes and availability of other ingredients, you could easily chill a bit of either and sip them straight. Conceptually they’re not terribly different than adding a bit of high-proof vodka to your favorite juice (hopefully natural and organic) to give it a bit of a kick. You could also add a bit to a glass of sparkling wine to add a nice additional flavor element.
More interesting to a wonk like me is how these liqueurs can be used in cocktails. Berentzen’s website offers a variety of recipes which are somewhat predictable, e.g. the Kentucky Apple; I wanted to use these products in a less-obvious fashion.
When I first started experimenting with recipes, I thought 0.5 to 1 oz of the Berentzen liqueurs in conjunction with 1.5 or 2 ounces of 80 proof base spirit would be a good starting point. However, I found that while the fruit liqueurs have a good flavor intensity on their own, the flavor gets lost when mixed with significantly more base spirit. At roughly equal amounts of base spirit and fruit liqueur, I found a good balance; this also corresponds with what I had seen in Berentzen’s suggested recipes.
With the apple liqueur, I targeted a match-up of the apple with complex herbal flavors. Berentzen is German, and Germany’s nearby eastern European countries specialize in just the type of herbal bitter spirits fitting that flavor profile. Two that worked well are the Czechoslovakian Becherovka and Hungarian Zwack. For the Zwack, I started with 1:1 ratios, but found that upping the Zwack yielded more interesting results.
Appleovka

  • 1 oz Becherovka
  • 1 oz Berentzen Apple liqueur

Stir over ice, strain into chilled coupe. Cut a spiral lemon twist over the glass, then add twist as garnish.

Applezwack

  • 1.25 oz Zwack
  • 0.75 oz Berentzen Apple liqueur
Stir over ice, strain into chilled coupe. Cut a spiral lemon twist over the glass, then add twist as garnish.
Pear on Fire
I’m a big fan of the smokiness of mezcal combined with pear. For the pear liqueur I found this to sour-pattern variation works well:

  • 1.5 oz mezcal (I used Wahaka Joven Espadin)
  • 1.5 oz Berentzen Pear liqueur
  • 0.25 oz lemon juice
Shake over ice, strain into chilled coupe.

A closer look at Denizen Aged White rum

White rum is one of those spirits categories that shouldn’t be a category. The style of rums under the “white” umbrella are all over the map: Some, such as Wray and Nephew from Jamaica are raw and unaged – bottled almost straight off the still. Others are aged for months or years, then run through charcoal filtration to strip out the color – and unfortunately, some of the flavor as well. And while most white rums are single-distiller, there are also white rum blends that pull together rums from all over the Caribbean to target a specific flavor profile. Flavor-wise, the relatively tame Bacardi Superior Silver tastes nothing like the grassy funk of a rhum agricole blanc such as La Favorite Coeur de Canne. If you care enough to craft a good cocktail, it’s worth the time to understand exactly what kind of “white rum” you’re using.

I recently wrote about mixed-heritage rums, i.e., blends of rum from multiple countries. In that post I wrote about Denizen Merchant’s Reserve and briefly mentioned its sibling, Denizen Aged White. Despite having written an in-depth post about the Merchant’s Reserve, I’d never had a good opportunity to try the Aged White. After seeing my mixed-heritage rums post, Nick Pelis, founder of Citizen Spirits and maker of the Denizen line, contacted me and arranged to get a bottle of the Aged White to me to evaluate. Let’s take a look.

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