One of the goals of Alchemix Bar is to help you decide if paying a premium for your spirits is worth the price tag. Our answer to that question is almost always, "it depends."
There are so many variables to think about when determining the value of a spirit. But, I think the most important factors to consider are your palate, how you're going to use the spirit, and your budget.
I can't think of anything worse than splurging on a bottle of my favorite type of spirit and absolutely hating what I bought. So we decided to take the guesswork out of choosing a mid-range tequila.
We bought bottles of three of the most popular brands: Casamigos, Don Julio, and Patrón. Then, we enlisted the help of some friends to blind taste test their tequila reposado in a Oaxaca Old Fashioned.
What is Reposado Tequila?
Tequila Reposado is simply a tequila Blanco that has been "rested" or aged. To be considered "reposado," the distilled Weber blue agave spirit must be aged for at least two months, but no more than a year, in oak barrels.
This process makes the tequila smoother and imparts flavor notes of oak, vanilla, and caramel from the barrel into the tequila.
Oaxaca Old Fashioned: An Old Fashioned, But Make It Agave
The Oaxaca Old Fashioned (pronounced wa-HAH-kuh) is a remarkable variety of the traditional Old Fashioned, especially for people who aren't fans of whiskey or bourbon.
The cocktail was created by Phil Ward of New York City's Death & Co. in 2007.
His recipe replaces the traditional base spirit, whiskey, for a combination of tequila and mezcal and uses agave nectar instead of sugar.
The strong, smoky flavors one expects in a classic Old Fashioned are still present, thanks to a small ration of mezcal. However, the "South of the Border" variation offers a little more sweetness and is less aggressive than one made with whiskey.
Don't worry, though; it's still a stiff drink.
Oaxaca Old Fashioned Evolution: Ward VS. Morgenthaler
Over time, like many cocktails, this one has taken a life of its own. Many bartenders have experimented with the recipe, and we chose to use Jeffrey Morgenthaler's version for our experiment.
This adaptation substitutes mole bitters instead of the Angostura Bitters in Phil Ward's original recipe. Morgenthaler also chooses a grapefruit twist to garnish instead of a flamed orange twist.
Having tried both, I can tell you that both versions of this cocktail are delicious. However, Carl and I prefer to use mole bitters, which pair well with the aged tequila flavors.
Some sources say Ward's recipe called for mole bitters, but the ingredient was hard to find at the time. So, he adapted the recipe to use Angostura for the Death & Co. recipe book.
How to Make a Oaxaca Old Fashioned
- 1.5 oz. reposado tequila
- 0.5 oz. mezcal
- Bar spoon agave nectar
- 2 dashes bitters (Phil Ward: Angostura) or (Jeffrey Morgenthaler: mole)
- Add all ingredients to mixing glass with ice
- Stir until well chilled, about 45 seconds
- Strain chilled cocktail into a rocks glass over a large ice cube
- Garnish with a citrus twist(Phil Ward: flamed orange) or (Jeffrey Morgenthaler: grapefruit)
What Does a Oaxaca Old Fashioned Taste Like?
Overall, this is a delightful, easy-drinking cocktail with prominent mezcal smokiness. Agave sweetness from the syrup and tequila is present from start to finish.
The grapefruit peel garnish adds a heavy citrusy aroma that balances out the sweetness of the agave and mole bitters.
Since making this cocktail, we've tried several different mezcal varieties. Like anything, choosing a mezcal you like is going to be of the utmost importance.
We used Del Maguey Vida Mezcal because it is round, smoky, and spicy. Others we've tried have given this cocktail a vinegar-like finish, so we definitely recommend using the Del Maguey Vida.
The Oaxaca Old Fashioned is a delicious sipping cocktail that is much friendlier to the palate than its whiskey cousin.
Choosing Tequilas to Review
The cocktail we made is a spirit-forward one, so we wanted to make sure the tequila we chose would shine. We decided to use brands that would be considered "top-shelf" in your average bar and that are widely available across the globe.
Each tequila we chose is recognizable on the mass market and costs about $50 in our local liquor store.
Patrón was an easy choice since popular culture has made the brand synonymous with tequila. However, Carl and I think it is an incredibly overrated example of the Mexican spirit.
But, it needed a fair review and what better way to do that in a blind taste test?
Don Julio and Casamigos both belong to the Diageo portfolio, which also includes Johnnie Walker, Tanqueray, Cîroc, and numerous other high-profile brands.
Their wide distribution and brand recognition made them excellent options for this review.
Tequila Tasting Notes
First things first, we tried each spirit neat. We do this to get a better understanding of each of the tequilas separately. What do they taste like? How do they feel on the palate? Do we like this tequila on its own?
So what did we think?
Buying a bottle of Casamigos was an easy first choice because we'd already tried it and enjoyed the flavor.
According to their marketing materials, Casamigos Reposado uses traditional brick ovens to roast agave for 72 hours. Then, they use a proprietary yeast blend in an 80-hour fermentation process.
Finally, the Casamigos Blanco is rested for 7 months in an American white-oak barrel to age the tequila reposado.
When we tasted the Casamigos, there was an easy soft flavor that was pleasantly sweet. It was velvety on the palate with creamy and roasty flavors and a vanilla bean aroma. Most of all, there wasn't the burn one usually expects from tequila.
Overall, we found this tequila to be drinkable neat.
After filming this episode of The Tasting Room, several people pointed out that Casamigos probably uses additives in their tequilas, which creates an artificially sweet flavor profile and the vanilla and oak notes we tasted.
According to Mexico's Tequila Regulatory Council, additives can be used in tequila as long as they don't exceed 1% of the finished product.
However, companies aren't required to disclose if additives are used, and Casamigos has definitely kept their "proprietary process" under wraps.
The massive difference in flavor between Casamigos and the other two brands we chose leads me to believe that additives are probably used. But, we're not tequila experts, so we enjoyed sipping on this tequila and didn't find the flavors particularly artificial.
Instead, we attributed the difference to the oak barrels, and we still liked the taste.
Don Julio Sampling
Don Julio Reposado Tequila is aged for 8 months in American white-oak barrels. The brand was created in 1987 and has been a staple part of the premium tequila market since the mid-1990s.
Since then, Don Julio has been known as a top-shelf tequila.
The Don Julio Reposado was exactly what we expected from a high-end tequila, except that it was surprisingly thin on the palate.
It was smooth despite the traditional tequila burn. We identified bright citrus and spice notes within a prominent agave flavor.
Overall, Don Julio is an enjoyable tequila on its own. We were excited to see how the flavors were brought out in a cocktail.
Probably the most well-known tequila on the list is Patrón. It was introduced to the mass market in 1989, and its marketing team has made Patrón an international success.
Patrón is a little less detailed about its process, stating that it's aged for 3-5 months in "a variety of barrels" on their website.
Tasting Patrón side-by-side with two other tequilas in the same price range, it was hard to figure out why it's so popular. Patrón Reposado is sweet with notes of anise.
The agave flavor was lacking in both aroma and flavor. It smells like vodka with a slight "Eau du fish tank." Overall, we found this tequila to be unpleasant when consumed neat.
Maybe it's better in a cocktail?
Three Tequilas in a Oaxaca Old Fashioned
Once we've sampled each tequila, we make three variations of a cocktail. Each Oaxaca Old Fashioned was the same; Carl just swapped out the tequila brands.
He guarded the secret of the spirit as we blind taste-tested each cocktail to see if we could figure out which was which.
Don Julio Oaxaca Old Fashioned
The Oaxaca Old Fashioned made with Don Julio was the first one we tried. The grapefruit aroma from the garnish was very present, and the bittersweet notes of the chocolate bitters pulled through the cocktail.
But, the mouthfeel of the drink was disappointingly thin and flat. This cocktail had the least body and the least complex flavor of the three we tried.
Patrón Oaxaca Old Fashioned
Despite how little we liked this tequila on its own, the cocktail made with Patrón was balanced and enjoyable. This Patrón Oaxaca Old Fashioned packed more "oomph" than the Don Julio cocktail since it was sweeter and more flavorful.
It was pleasant on the palate, full and round, and had sweet notes that weren't overbearing. Much to my surprise, it's probably the first thing made from Patrón that I've enjoyed.
Casamigos Oaxaca Old Fashioned
Out of the three we tried, the Oaxaca Old Fashioned with Casamigos was the unanimous favorite among the four of us that tried it.
The grapefruit flavor pulled the agave forward on the nose, and the sweetness, vanilla notes, and creamy mouthfeel from the spirit mingled nicely with the smoky mezcal and chocolate bitters.
This version of the cocktail was dessert in a cup.
Premium Tequila Review: Final Thoughts
The Oaxaca Old Fashioned is a delicious cocktail. If you want something stiff and boozy without the aggression of whiskey, this is the cocktail for you.
Each of the spirits we tried provided a completely different cocktail. All of the cocktails were good, and each one stuck out in its own way.
We still think Patrón is overrated, and several tequila options taste better and cost less.
Casamigos, if you aren't a purist and don't care that there may or may not be additives in your tequila, makes a delicious Oaxaca Old Fashioned.
Don Julio, probably the "best" of the three tequilas, made a cocktail that lacked body.
The variety that comes from changing a single ingredient in a cocktail is what makes these side-by-side comparisons fun. Carl and I would like to thank Anders and Az for joining us in The Tasting Room.
Until next time, cheers!