When it comes to tequila, you rarely hear phrases like “terroir” or “additive-free,” but both have a tremendous impact on the spirit’s flavor. Like wine, tequila is heavily influenced by where the agave is grown and how it’s processed. Both are exceptionally important to Tequila Ocho, a family-run distillery in Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico.
Terroir is a French term that translates to “sense of place” and refers to the unique environmental factors and characteristics of a specific geographic area that influence the taste, aroma, and overall quality of products.
Master distiller Carlos Camarena and co-founder Tomas Estes decided to create a tequila with the most agave flavor possible to demonstrate that the concept of terroir was not exclusive to wine.
Like most innovations, the process started with a little experimentation — and a lot of heart.
The pair was determined to create more than just the best tequila. Camarena and Estes were committed to crafting a tequila that honored Jalisco’s agave and heritage. Camarena developed about a dozen different samples using various productions, all at the same distillery.
Once he’d produced a range of samples, Camarena and Estes reunited to have a blind tasting, ultimately selecting the most agave-forward of the bunch, which happened to be sample No. 8.
In 2008, the pair wasn’t thinking about marketing or fancy names for the brand. For them, it was about the tequila, the process, and leaning into their unquestionable agreement over sample No. 8. And so the name “Tequila Ocho” was born.
As it turns out, the number eight would appear over and over as the company evolved: It takes an average of eight years for agave plants to reach maturity. Once harvested, it takes eight days for the plants to transform into Tequila Ocho. It also takes about eight kilograms of agave to make one liter of tequila, and the brand’s Reposado is rested in used American whiskey barrels for eight weeks and eight days before it’s bottled.
As it happens, “Ocho” was a more powerful name than either Camarena or Estes realized.
Tequila Ocho is known for its single-estate approach, meaning that the agave for each vintage it produces is harvested exclusively from one estate rather than multiple sources. This focus on specific terroir and agave cultivation results in flavor profiles that are unique to that particular area.
Since the beginning, the family has focused on making tequila in a slow, artisanal way — the brand is the world’s first single-estate tequila that designates both the year of harvest and where the agave in that tequila was grown.
Another important focus for the brand is to ensure that each bottle of tequila is additive-free.
“Our family [has] been distilling tequila since 1937 — and there is some proof that a few generations before then, our ancestors were also distilling agave in the area — so additives were not an option. Most likely, they didn’t even exist nor were considered,” says Fany Camarena, Carlos Camarena’s daughter. “Our commitment is to make tequila as it should be: full of aroma, flavor, and character. When using fully mature agave, the plant provides all you need in a high-quality tequila.”
Did you know that by current labeling standards, brands can legally call themselves 100 percent agave tequila and still add up to one percent of additives?
When a tequila is labeled additive-free, it means that the tequila doesn’t receive the addition of any artificial substances during the manufacturing process, including flavorings, colorings, preservatives, or other chemical additives that aren’t naturally present. Tequila Matchmaker, the leading additive-free registrar, has certified Tequila Ocho.
And you can really tell the difference.
Additive-free tequila is frequently preferred by connoisseurs and enthusiasts who want to experience the natural flavors and characteristics of the agave plant. By remaining additive-free, the tequila provides a more genuine and traditional tequila experience, allowing the unique flavors derived from the agave plant and the production process to shine through without the influence of artificial additives.
“During fermentation, the agave will produce hundreds of different chemical compounds, which result in a spirit full of aromas and flavors, so there is no need to use additives,” says Camarena. “When you let Mother Nature express itself, doing it right with no shortcuts, the result will be amazing.”
Tequila Ocho focuses on traditional and artisanal production methods, using mature agave plants and employing skilled jimadors (specialized agave farmers) to harvest the agave. Traditional methods often involve slow-cooking agave in brick or stone ovens, natural fermentation with wild yeast, and a combination of stainless and copper pot still distillation, which can enhance the tequila’s natural flavors. Additive-free tequila allows you to experience the uncompromised flavors of agave without interference.
“That’s the only way a consumer can really know a well-made tequila and what the agave plant is trying to express in terms of aromas and flavors. Additives could cover up the fact that non-mature agave plants were used and then processed with very industrial technology, the presence of major defects in the production process, or simply add that sweet taste that some consumers love. But that is not what the agave plant nor real tequila tastes like,” Camarena says.
High-quality tequilas made from 100 percent agave and without additives often signify a superior product. In Tequila Ocho’s case, that’s certainly true: In 2020, it was voted “world’s best tequila” by the Ultimate Spirits Challenge.
By purchasing additive-free tequila, consumers support traditional tequila production methods and the communities involved in the tequila industry. For enthusiasts and those interested in learning more about tequila, choosing additive-free options allows a more genuine exploration of the spirit’s diverse flavors and styles.
While there are quite a few tequilas on the market, additive-free tequila like Tequila Ocho offers the most authentic tequila experience possible, and despite its nearly hundred years of operation, the brand still has more in store for the future.
“Always expect innovation, or as we would say, crazy ideas. We like to try different things, all with the commitment to make tequila the right way, with no shortcuts,” Camarena says. “In all new releases or vintages, expect tequila full of character, done the right way — by being transparent about our practices.”
This article is sponsored by Tequila Ocho.
The article How Tequila Ocho Became Leaders in the Additive-Free Space appeared first on VinePair.