Does the world need more premium vodkas? Whatever for? Vodka is officially defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division of the U.S. Treasury Department as "any neutral spirits, regardless of production method, which is without distinctive character and which contains less than four grams of natural flavor components per 100 liters at 100° proof." Vodka, in other words, is forbidden by definition to have any distinctive character — read "flavor." That's why the producers and importers of the stuff give us lots of hooey about how many times it's filtered, and spend all that time and imagination on packaging — and of course it's also why flavored vodkas (obviously defined differently), which used to involve just herbs or a few simple fruits, have gone crazy with whole menus worth of wacky variations (of course bacon vodka was inevitable and now there's peanut-butter-and-jelly vodka too, so where's the peanut-butter-and-bacon version?). I hope I speak for all sensible imbibers everywhere when I say "Хватит, уже!"
On the other hand, does the world need more premium tequilas? Absolutely. Bring them on. Unlike vodka, tequila has real flavor — the spicy, earthy, herbaceous flavor of the blue agave from which it's made, with agave from different regions lending various subtleties of flavor (in general, agave grown at higher altitudes is more robust and a little sweeter, while lowland agave has a more herbaceous character); and if we're talking about aged reposado or añejo tequila, add in various weaves of caramel and vanilla and wood. Suffice to say that no two tequilas (at least no two 100 percent agave tequilas) are alike, so the more well-made examples that are out there, the better, if you ask me.
Here are four new or newish ones I've recently encountered (with suggested retail prices), all to be recommended, if with varying degrees of enthusiasm:
Alacrán ($42). This tequila, whose full name is Autentico Alacrán Tequila, or A.T.A., is reportedly the project of a group of tequila-loving friends in Mexico City, and indeed the distinctive Alacrán bottle — an opaque black matte-finish flask with a vaguely rubbery feel and a scorpion logo (alacrán is the Spanish word for that creature) — has become a common site in upscale bars in that metropolis. Made by the Tierra de Agaves distillery in the Jalisco lowlands, which also produces the Lunazul and Certeza brands, this is a white tequila (there are no aged versions), light in body, clean, low-key, and faintly bitter. If the sometimes aggressive flavor and aroma of agave aren't for you, this might be a good choice.
Don Julio 70 Añejo Claro ($70). This unique offering from the always excellent Don Julio distillery (celebrating its 70th anniversary this year), based on agave from the Jalisco highlands, is billed as the world's first white añejo. That is, it is barrel-aged in small oak for at least a year (and no more than three) but, while it has taken on some wood-aged character, it has no color — which typically leaches into the tequila from the wood, usually with some help from added caramel coloring. This is medium-rich tequila in body, with the smooth, lightly smoky, elusively sweet character wood aging lends. The aroma is nicely developed, with some agave character, a hint of vanilla, and a whiff of oak. This is very pleasant sipping tequila.
Jose Cuervo Platino ($80). OK, so this isn't a new tequila — it's been around for about five years — but I had somehow never before encountered it, and I think it's so good that I have to mention it here. I'm a Cuervo fan in general: their fairly priced Tradicional Reposado is my standard tequila, and though I'm generally not a great fan of liqueur-quality añejos (God made cognac and armagnac for a reason), their top-of-the-line Reserva de la Familia extra-añejo is pretty remarkable stuff, satiny and floral but still rich with agave character. The Platino is a white counterpart to the Reserva de la Familia; in fact, it's billed as a Reserva de la Familia, too, and packaged in an antique-looking bottle and individually numbered and dated, just like the extra-añejo. It has an extraordinary aroma, full of agave with overtones of honey and a little Christmas spice. The agave (lowlands) comes through nicely in the mouth, too, with a peppery bite — this is tequila with an edge, but no harshness — and just a perfect balance of flavor. The Cuervo folks say this tequila is made by a proprietary process called esencia de agave — and agave essence is exactly what this makes me think of.
Qui Platinum Extra-Añejo ($57). On the heels of Don Julio's pioneering white añejo comes this offering from the Tequila Embajador distillery (which makes Embajador and several other tequila brands as well). It shows a little too much vanilla for my tastes — it's aged for three-and-a-half years in a combination of bordeaux and bourbon barrels — but it has good highland agave character (it's distilled in a pot still instead of by the more common column distillation), and is very smooth. In an earlier era, I might have called this "a ladies' tequila" — but it does have real some authority and makes a very pleasant shot.
Colman Andrews is The Daily Meal's Editorial Director. Follow him on Twitter at @Colmanandrews