What’s the first thing that comes to mind when the word tequila enters the conversation? For a lot of people it conjures the image of crowds downing shots in a college bar or at a frat party. That’s a shame because genuine tequila isn’t produced for that purpose. Instead, it’s meant to be sipped and savored over a relaxing evening or afternoon; perhaps surrounded by friends or family, with good food and lively banter to go around. That’s the crux of what I experienced when I visited Mexico last week to visit Casa Noble Tequila as their guest.
During my visit, I tasted each expression of Casa Noble in numerous settings and in disparate manners. This started the moment I checked into my hotel (Quinta Real) and was handed a glass of Casa Noble in a Riedel Tequila glass. It was a great welcome and, quite frankly, I think every hotel should hand their guests a glass of tequila at the reception desk. A little while later at lunch and also that evening at dinner we enjoyed Casa Noble Tequila in a host of cocktails. In almost every case the cocktails were prepared with Casa Noble Crystal, this is their Blanco, which sees no oak treatment at all and is the expression best suited for mixing. In one case we had a cocktail specifically tailored for Reposado, which was also delightful. Despite the proliferation of cocktails I enjoyed over several days, all of them delicious, that’s not how most Mexicans enjoy their tequila. Our host, Casa Noble founder Pepe Hermosillo, explained that the most common way to enjoy Tequila in Mexico is sipped alongside a good beer.
The highlight of the trip for me was visiting The Casa Noble Distillery in the town of Tequila. It’s there that they cook, crush, distill, and age the agave that becomes Casa Noble. They have some agave growing onsite, a spot that has been home to a distillery since the 1700s. Casa Noble itself has been around for approximately 30 years as a brand. A couple of hours away from the distillery, in the mountains, sits their estate of more than 650 hectares. It was certified organic in 2009 and is farmed sustainably. From that single estate, they farm and harvest all of the agave used to produce Casa Noble Tequila. They’re a relatively small operation of 150 employees and they produce an average of 50,000 to 60,000 cases of Casa Noble per year. Contrast those stats with a company like Patron that produces more than 2 million cases annually and you start to understand that the super-detailed focus on quality includes making a manageable amount of product.
During the distillery visit we saw agave harvested, cooked, mashed, and coming off the still. They employ a triple-distillation technique that helps achieve the smooth, mellifluous flavor profile that is their trademark. Every step of the way Casa Noble takes care to create a hand crafted product, sacrificing speed and quantity for patience and purity. They’re one of only two distilleries that utilize native yeasts. It’s more common to hear yeast being discussed in the wine world, particularly with grapes such as chardonnay and pinot noir. However, it makes complete sense that they would choose to use native yeasts. The advantage is that those yeasts are part of the ecosystem that is Casa Noble and thus they are taking an additional step to ascertain that the complexity and authenticity of their spirit is site specific. Once the Tequila has been distilled and filtered the expressions that see barrel time go into French oak. Casa Noble hand-selects Burgundy barrels exclusively for their aging process; specifically barrels with the lightest (#1) toast level.
We sampled some tequila straight off the distilling line. At 140 proof, it was essentially the moonshine of Tequila. And while this untamed expression wouldn’t be my everyday beverage of choice, it was fascinating to sample. It had a huge, heady nose loaded with pure agave aromas and flavors. Having just a few moments prior chewed on some cooked Agave the connective tissue between them was obvious.
After touring the property, and the distillery itself we sat down in the middle of the barrel room, right next to a Day of The Dead altar they had prepared, to do a formal sit down tasting of their core line of Tequilas.
Casa Noble Crystal — Suggested Retail Price $39.95. This expression sees no oak treatment of any kind. A burst of pure Agave is the most prominent aroma here. Hibiscus and lime aromas are joined by wisps of vegetal notes which provide a compelling counterpoint. The flavors are pure and intense with fruit flavors and bits of spice bursting throughout. Lime characteristics continue forward through the finish which is smooth and refined with a bit of a honeyed edge. Swallowing this Tequila you feel a hint of pleasing heat down your throat but no burn to speak of. Casa Noble’s version of a Blanco is quite delicious on its own, but if it’s cocktails you have in mind, this is the one you’re going to want to use.
Casa Noble Reposado — Suggested Retail Price $49.95
Any tequila that spends a full year in oak is legally declared to be an Anejo. So to keep this expression within the Reposado category, and to add maximum complexity, they age it for exactly 364 days. When you pour this Reposado into your glass, the color of fresh apple juice stares back at you. Toast and vanilla bean aromas are prominent on the nose here. The palate feels lighter and smoother, layered with far more complexity from the 364 days it spent in entirely French oak barrels. Bits of cocoa and brown sugar are present as well as a gentle hint of mango. The finish is long, luxurious and laden with a host of spices such as cardamom and nutmeg. Continued sugary reference points are present as well. This is a stunning example of Reposado that over-delivers on quality and value for the price point. The bottom line for me is that I have a new standard everyday sipping Tequila.
Casa Noble Anejo — Suggested Retail Price $59.95
Their Anejo spends two full years in French oak. A shimmering coppery hue is resplendent when you pour this Anejo into your glass. Dried apricot aromas light up the nose along with vanilla notes that show more authority than those on the Reposado. The two years in French oak has made this an even more resolved and cohesive example of tequila. Numerous layers of fruit and spice join together, forming a core that is light on the tongue but belied by layer after layer of complexity. Bits of candied orange and a touch of flaky biscuit are in evidence. These lead to an intense finish that shows off dusty dark chocolate and a bit of anise. Sipping this Anejo is an extremely pleasurable experience that will light up your taste buds and inspire you to go back for taste after taste. In a small way it brought to mind some high-end sipping rums I am fond of. If you have single malt Scotch-loving friends who don’t drink tequila regularly, this is the one you’ll want to bust out to get them on the tequila train.
We also tasted barrel samples of tequila that has spent five-plus years in French oak. This particular selection isn’t a commercial product; it’s one they keep a barrel of around for visitors as well as their own enjoyment. The color brought to mind Tawny Port and the smoothness, depth and gentle complexity reminded me of fine cognac or well-aged (think 21 years or more) single malt Scotch. They have no plans to release this particular expression commercially, but if they change their minds I’ll be the first one in line.
The whole trip was timed in conjunction with The Day of The Dead, a huge occurrence in Mexico each year. Everywhere we went, altars had been erected by local people to honor their loved ones who had passed. It was fascinating to learn what each element on the altar represented and to see the great care and level of detail it took to put them together. Our final stop was the oldest cemetery in Guadalajara. We toured it at night with several guides who filled us in on the history and paranormal occurrences and people laid to rest there. The stories included a young boy who reportedly died in the 1800s due to his fear of the dark and a vampire who is interred there. A strangely shaped tree with an almost rectangular trunk is growing over the vampire’s grave. Legend has it that when and if the tree dies or falls he will be released from his grave.
I ate lots of delicious food and shared some good times with my hosts and fellow travelers. But what stood out the most for me is that Casa Noble is making stand out examples of hand-crafted Tequila. Whether you’re looking to mix cocktails together or sip some neat, they’re a fantastic choice for an artisanal spirit. The care they take in producing their tequilas extends to packaging. The bottles are gorgeous and make it obvious that this is an item that was produced with painstaking attention to detail. So in addition to all the other terrific attributes Casa Noble Tequila possesses, it also makes a gorgeous gift for the tequila lover on your list. So if you still think of tequila as that college-era drink to take shots of and then scrunch up your face in horror from the burn, think again. Grab yourself a bottle of Casa Noble — I’d recommend the Reposado to start — and slowly sip what will certainly be a revelation. If you’re already a Tequila sipper but you’re not familiar with Casa Noble be prepared to have a new favorite. If you’re going to be in Mexico, near Guadalajara, head over and visit Casa Noble Tequila. However, if you’re travels aren’t taking you there soon, whichever bottle of Casa Noble sounds most appealing will make for a virtual journey into the essence of Mexico. Invite some friends along for the ride, they’ll thank you.