The United States is the number one consumer of tequila in the world. Surprised? Maybe it would also intrigue you to learn that tequila is not the most popular spirit in Mexico, which far prefers brandy and beer.
Despite its popularity in the U.S., however, there is a wealth of information about the spirit most of us don't know, and much misinformation about tequila to boot.
David Suro-Pinera is just the man to teach us. A successful restaurateur, Mr. Suro-Pinera has embarked on two complementary missions: first, to bring the true culinary nature of Mexico to his home, and, second, to help change the consumer market's general misconception of tequila.
Originally hailing from Guadalajara, Mexico, Mr. Suro-Pinera founded Tequilas Restaurant in Philadelphia in 1986. It was that city's first upscale Mexican eating establishment, and it's still going strong. Always a tremendous tequila lover and connoisseur, in 2005 he founded Siembra Azul, a tequila producing company that has sensibilities far more in line with the slow foods movement than a frat party.
Siembra Azul tequila is aged in small batches in virgin white oak barrels. The "virgin" distinction is important; according to Mr. Suro-Pinera, many tequila producers use barrels that have already been used to age bourbon. This has the effect of covering up the natural agave-derived flavors
"We only use fresh oak," he told Hispanic Business. "It's more expensive, but there's no contamination. "
That's important, as Mr. Suro-Pinera wants Siembra Azul's fresh ingredients to make the tequila sing. The blue agave in his company's tequila is grown and produced in the town of Arandas, in the Highlands of Jalisco, Mexico. It slowly absorbs all the essence and minerals from that environment, eventually reaching the point where it will age into an excellent spirit.
"The name of the game in tequila is time," Mr. Suro-Pinera said. 'The agave takes up to 12 years to reach maturity, so you have to plan it far, far in advance. While we launched officially in February 2005, we started putting together the project about 15-16 years ago."
Agave itself, much like the tequila makes, is very misunderstood according to Mr. Suro-Pinera.
"Agave is about 80% fructose versus 20% glucose, which makes it easy to break down in the body," he told Hispanic Business. "Agave sweeteners are recommended for diabetics because they are easy to break down."
Accordingly, tequila aged in fresh oak and with 100% blue agave is one of the most healthy spirits
"Tequila gets a bad rap about hangovers," he continued. "But that's because people often consume mixed tequilas that take a large percentage of the sugar from other sources than agave. A 100% agave tequila is easier to assimilate in human body."
Siembra Azul produces three types of tequila -- blanco, which is bottled as soon as possible; reposado, which will age 3-12 months; and anejo, the priciest, which ages a minimum of 12 months. Most tequila manufacturers have similar designations.
While many would think the most expensive, longest-aged spirits are the finest, Mr. Suro-Pinera is quick to point out that's a matter of opinion. He, in fact, prefers the blanco.
The market desires reposado and anejo, and thus Siembra Azul produces them. However, Mr. Suro-Pinera says that he "respectfully disagrees" with the aging of tequila. He believes the vibrancy of the blue agave truly sings within the younger spirit.
"12 years -- 12 summers, autumns, springs, winters -- in contact with Mother Nature, absorbing all the nutrients, soil, elements, so the plant develops. Blue agave generates a tremendous amount of character and flavor," he insisted.
"Start with blanco, stay with blanco, finish with blanco," he concluded. "The true essence of tequila is with the blancos."
Siembra Azul is currently available in seven states, and Mr. Suro-Pinera is confident that there will shortly be more. Mass expansion is not in the cards, though. Siembra Azul is aiming for boutique distribution, and he is very selective about where and how much of the product is available. He aims to keep the quality of the product the highest it can possibly be, in an effort to meet the standards of today's consumer.
"The U.S. consumer is very savvy and has matured greatly in the past five to six years," he shared. "To be competitive, you really have to come up with quite a competitive product."
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