Which tequila should become our role model spirit? Fortaleza of course!, and I found an uncut version of it bottled at 46%. This is special stuff and it proves itself as exemplary immediately.
Years after my first taste, the true story of the tequila remains the same improbable thing I almost didn’t believe the first time. The distillery was so small it was literally a museum related to the Sauza family and producing the traditional way. I did not know then it would even have a public intellectual, Guillermo Erickson Sauza, which is something I recently criticized Bacardi 10 for not having.
“We’re not going to change nothing,” Guillermo says. “We’re going to keep making it the way my great-grandfather made it. And you know, if there’s a supply problem at some point, there’s a supply problem at some point. We’ll stop adding territories. They won’t be able to drink our tequila in Russia.” -From a TOTC feature.
I had first tasted it when it was called Los Abuelos and had to be hand imported from Mexico. I guess the name had to be changed because of the Los Abuelos rum distillery. Funny enough, there is already a Fortaleza rum distillery in Cape Verde imported into Massachusetts, but I guess they aren’t large enough to take their copyright seriously. My liquor reps tell me they get constant questions about Fortaleza, mainly because it has fringe distribution here. There is growing demand because the quality is so evident. Hopefully produced will be inspired. Contrary to the above quote, if they blow up and have to change their juice, because demand dramatically outstrips supply (as is common), we may know because we have a birectifier record of it close to its quality peak.
Fortaleza nearly blew up the birectifer (metaphorically), just like the 24 year Jamaica rum! What is relegated to each fraction, as described by Arroyo, was defied with glorious special character bleeding across the lines. The hallmark penetrating character of tequila is quite volatile and bleeds across the first four fractions. A rum oil-like terpene emulsion appeared in fraction 5 that contributes unique persistence to the spirit. Questions are raised; do other tequilas do that? To what degree is this role model special and beyond everyone else? We will have to analyze more tequilas.
The Fortaleza story is very much like the Maker’s Mark origin story and very much conforms to the idea of guided traditional practices I’ve been elaborating over the years. Tequila, just like Bourbon, has gone the route of practical distillers often inadvertently making fine products to the big ultra efficient scientific operations reducing everything to a stripped down commodity and finally forwards, regaining philosophy, and calling their shot to produce truth seeking fine products of singular identity.
Fraction 1: Definite non-culinary aromas and solventy character. This seems like the upward bound I’ve seen in a role model spirit. There is also unique character that is definitely a slice of tequilas distinctive aroma.
Fraction 2: Notes belonging to tequila plus typical notes from a fraction 2 following a strong fraction 1.
Fraction 3: Definite notes belonging to tequila.
Fraction 4: Definite notes belong to tequila. Top notes of fusel oil comparable to other spirits high in fusel oil. If you pause and breath it in, the evil fusel oil wraith enters your longs and steals a piece of your soul. Upon re-nosing, it almost seems like a fruit aroma lives in this fraction.
Fraction 5: Cloudy and intense. Nothing like rum, but probably most akin to the fraction 5 of the pear eau-de-vie. No definite notes that belong to tequila, but whatever is here is very special. More drinkable than other fraction 5’s that had strong emulsions, but there is a definite acrid quality.
Fraction 6: Very slight spill over in aroma from fraction 5. Unique character is present, but hard to associate with tequila. No significant acidity.
Fraction 7: No distinct tequila notes. Nothing negative. Only slight perception of acidity.
Fraction 8: No distinct tequila notes.
Non-volatile Fraction: The non-volatile stillage has almost no aroma, but definitely has some acidity. I suspect this would be lactic acid.
This was bottled supposedly uncut at 46% and may illustrate some principles Arroyo was trying to weave into rum production. How a tequila can be distilled so low relative to other spirits is not well understood. Is there something unique about the substrate that makes it possible? Or, is fermentation given special care? Do special yeasts have any say in the matter?
Do tequila ferments typically have lower fusel oil to allow them to distill lower and further? Just like discussed in my sensory sketches post, are tequilas with very strong fraction 5’s, on a sensory level, able to cram in higher amounts of other congeners and still remain harmonious? If this is true, it may be because the substrate allows the capture of a strong fraction 5 more easily than molasses. Fraction 5 contributes to mellowness perhaps more so than the erosion of fraction 1 and 4 by aging (ethyl acetate and fusel oil respectively). Deliberate inefficiency of starch conversion may create an abstracted amount of prized aroma and this may be part of success.
The same concept may exist in grains as evidenced in the birectifier deconstruction of the new Overholt Bonded. Ryes have unique fraction 5’s, very much like great rums, and if there is anything to this sensory theory, it may allow them to hold more of other congeners while still being harmonious. Early 20th century practical distillers of Bourbon where known to buy the cheapest grains (priced by starch content and thus potential alcohol content). What they may have captured was abstracted amounts of aromas that let them build their spirits into successful brick houses. If early Bourbons had elevated amounts of ethyl acetate and fusel oil while being distilled remarkably low, it may have been possible because of elevated fixative fraction 5 aromas. Connoisseurs of the era loved them. These unique properties were not quantifiable with the chemistry of the era so they were quickly erased by the quest for efficiency.
I should probably share this paper I never got around to writing about: Yeast-communities-in-a-natural-tequila-fermentation. It is from 1995 and takes place at the Herradura distillery.