“I used to drink mainly gin,” says Francisco Alcaraz, the sexagenarian master distiller and blender of Patrón Tequila. “Bombay. I had many good nights with gin.”
We’re sitting in the executive dining room at the Hacienda, Patrón’s sprawling head office and distillery in the hills of Jalisco, where the Blue Weber agave, tequila’s main ingredient, grows big and sweet and ripe for fermenting. Alcaraz, diminutive but distinctive with his mop of can’t-tell-if-it’s-real brown hair, has been quiet, picking at his plate of roast pork (filling up, though, on hot peppers delivered one by one from the kitchen at his request, eating them like carrots, without a hint of sweat). He’s reminiscing, as he’s wont to do, about his early days as a government tequila inspector, his courtship of his wife of more than 40 years, and his first travels outside his home country. Somehow — or maybe, obviously — this leads to a discussion of the relative drinkability of spirits. And funnily — or maybe, tellingly — tequila rarely factors.
Instead, Francisco enjoys telling us about his fondness for gin, or at least the fondness he once had, in another life — the life before Patrón, before getting old, before tequila and unthinkable money and private dining rooms with unlimited peppers. Now, he’s mellowed out, of course. Now, he prefers a quiet dram of Scotch in the evening, to ease the day’s stresses away.
That’s why he’s so proud of his special aged tequilas. He made his name on the base stuff, Patrón’s beloved Silver, the clear, young tequila that, while a definite step up from Cuervo or Sauza, still burns a bit on its way down. It’s supposed to. But the special aged tequilas are another story — his greatest professional accomplishments.
Thing is, tequila is a young drink. It’s been around for centuries, sure, but not so much in the popular North American diet. Patrón has only been around for three decades or so, and it’s only really been in the last 10 or 15 years that it’s forged its current identity, that of a “premium” spirit on par with single malts and fancy French vodka (here’s looking at you, Grey Goose). And of course, tequila is, most literally, a young drink. Once distilled, it’s effectively drinkable. Unlike other spirits, aging takes place over a matter of months, not years. The Reposado sits in French and American oak barrels for three months, the Añejo for just a year.
So while we liberally pour his special Añejo 7 Años, aged for seven years in French oak barrels — a preposterous experiment — Alcaraz looks on almost anxiously, as if to say, Don’t waste it. Enjoy it, drink it, but know that it’s a rare and special breed. And so it is.
The first thing that’s special about the Añejo 7 Años is its color. Aged for seven years inside French oak barrels once used to carry cognac, the tequila comes out a rich, dark amber. It looks a lot more like rum or whiskey than anything else on the tequila spectrum. And it tastes that way too, having soaked up the woodiness from the barrels, along with some vanilla and caramel notes.
While we liberally pour his special Añejo 7 Años, aged for seven years in French oak barrels — a preposterous experiment — Alcaraz looks on almost anxiously, as if to say, Don’t waste it.
“It’s a tequila for people who like Scotch,” says Miguel Escobar, one of Patrón’s plant managers and the man doing some of the liberal pouring down at his end of the table. And he’s right: it does drink like whiskey, though I’d argue more like bourbon than Scotch — the vanilla flavor is real, the sweetness a stark contrast to the typical burn of lesser tequilas, and maybe a bit much for some palates.
The other thing that’s special about it is that, unless you’re really lucky, you might not ever get to try it. Francisco and his team aged a mere 30 barrels, a small, small fraction of the barrels in Patrón’s wood-scented aging room. And they never made another batch. That accounts for roughly 2,000 bottles of the stuff, shipped worldwide (with a healthy reserve here at the Hacienda). When it’s gone, that’s it. It’s gone.
Luckily, there is a close second (or a strong first, if you’re the man who invented it): Gran Patrón Piedra, the company’s flagship extra añejo, aged for at least three years, and Francisco’s go-to. “I drink the Silver,” says Francisco, “but at night, to unwind, I like the Piedra.”
For what it’s worth, I’m with Francisco. I like a nice tequila, but it’s rarely my go-to; instead, I’ll opt for gin in the summers, Scotch and bourbon pretty much all year round. Piedra, though, is something of a game changer. It is the quintessential unwinding drink: clean, smooth, with hints of citrus and oak. The Piedra uses Patrón’s Roca line as its base, which means all the agave is mashed using the traditional Tahona. Even the lid on the distinctive bottle resembles the pulverizing device, and actually has some stone in it. Which is to say, the bottle is heavy, feels solid — as it should, for $450 a pop. It goes down smooth and warm, but pops just enough on the back end to remind you it’s tequila. It’s the perfect drink, in short, to enjoy on the Hacienda’s terrace just off the private dining room, hot Mexican sun blistering overhead, the haze of Cuban cigars and those unending liberal pours clouding your judgment, reminding you what’s great about summer, about life. It was kind of perfect, really.