Thursday, August 7, 2014


                            Tequila Fortaleza Reposado Lote #21 NOM1493

Just recently I got the chance to visit Destileria La Fortaleza (Tequila Los Abuelos, S.A. DE C.V. NOM1493) home of the brand Fortaleza Tequila and Los Abuelos Tequila in Mexico (*a trademark dispute over Los Abuelos prevented the use of it in the United States). For whatever reason the distillery stopped using the Los Abuelos labels for its bottles in Mexico and started using Fortaleza (Fortitude). If I'm not mistaken the last Lote that garnered Los Abuelos labels was Lote #14. Although Guillermo Erickson Sauza, 5th generation distiller, has stated that the Los Abuelos trademark will be retained by using the name periodically in Mexico. (*Los Abuelos is still being used in Mexico as there are a few accounts that will not sell Fortaleza, but only Los Abuelos)

Destileria La Fortaleza is nestled in a quiet area of Tequila, Jalisco aptly named "Tequila Row". The distillery and estate sits 4000 ft. above sea level in the 'Heartland' region. "Tequila Row" consists of Cuervo, Sauza, Orendain, Arette, El Tequileno, and La Tequilena to name a few. La Fortaleza's entrance can be found at the Atizcua and Tabasco junction in the town of Tequila. One definitely can't miss the old facade facing the street that bears a distinct FSJ emblem at the top of it. Once again reminding visitors of Don Francisco Javier Sauza, the grandson of Don Cenobio Sauza (founder of Tequila Sauza).

Don Cenobio started his own tequila distillery called La Perseverancia in the 1870s in Tequila, Jalisco. It must be noted that Don Cenobio was the first to export tequila into the United States - albeit called it "Mezcal de Tequila" later shortening it to just "Tequila". Then in the early 1900s Don Cenobio (tatarabuelo) passed the tradition on to his son, Eladio Sauza (bisabuelo). Don Eladio continued the tradition and in turn built another distillery called La Constancia. Later he passed the family business onto his son, Francisco Javier Sauza (abuelo) in the 1930s. Don Javier built Tequila Sauza into the biggest global producer of tequila. Javier was a pioneer in the tequila industry by helping establish the Tequila Denomination of Origin and for taking the lead on an a application process for a Tequila Appelation of Origin . Later he bought 70 acres of land and built another distillery called La Fortaleza on the outer edge of Tequila. Then some time in 1976, after entering a partnership with Pedro Domecq Mexico, the remaining outstanding interest in Tequila Sauza was sold to Pedro Domecq. Tequila Sauza is currently owned by Beam Suntory. Though the Sauza family did retain this small prime section of property on the outer edge of Tequila that the small La Fortaleza distillery sat on.

In 1999, Guillermo Erickson Sauza, grandson of Don Francisco Javier Sauza, decided to resurrect La Fortaleza into a functioning distillery to create a 100% agave Tequila. Naming the tequila Los Abuelos was an obvious choice for Guillermo to pay homage to his abuelos. Just by spending part of an afternoon with Don Guillermo in the family estate's natural caves, one can easily notice the passion & pride (my wife even said so) for his family legacy and tequila. "Everything on our bottles' labels (Blanco,Reposado,and Anejo) actually exists in real life" - Guillermo Erickson Sauza.

Fortaleza uses its own estate blue agave but also purchases agave from the small farmers around Tequila. La Fortaleza cooks the halved agave pinas minus the cogollo in a 16 tonne 1 metre thick 15000 KI Capacity brick oven (horno) with steam for 36 hours. After the cooked agave cools it goes through a chipper. Then the chopped agave fragments are crushed with a stone mill (tahona). Then the crushed agave is washed with estate well water to further separate the pulp from the wood fibre (bagasso). The wood fibre is removed and the milling process continues. This is repeated a few times. The resulting mosto is placed into one of six 3000 litre or a 6000 litre pinewood tanks for the open fermentation process that lasts about 5 days. Once that process is complete the next step is a double distillation process with La Fortaleza's two original small copper pot stills (400 litre & 250 litre) that are steam tubed and not direct fire. A good week at La Fortaleza is about 3000 litres of production. The workhorse at La Fortaleza is a 1903 Ames Iron Works boiler from Oswego, New York that is fuel-oil fired. The resulting Blanco is approximately 45% Abv. (90 Proof). The Reposado is aged 7 months in the barrel. The Anejo is aged for about 23 months in the barrel. The used American Whiskey barrels (Jack Daniels and Jim Beam) are chipped and slightly charred prior to the Blanco tequila entering - a barrel typically lasts 3 chipping cycles. Next to the main barrel room is about fifteen or more 12000 liter capacity stainless steel holding tanks labeled for Blanco, Reposado and Anejo where stock is stored ready to be bottled. La Fortaleza is expanding its barrel aging capacity by using the Cava La Fortaleza - natural cave formations under the property - to store more barrels. All expressions of Fortaleza tequila are filtered and diluted to 40% Abv. (80 Proof) with natural spring water from the Tequila Valley. "Fortaleza Lotes are not an indication of a vintage or a barreling Lote - it's a bottling Lote. A bottling Lote could end up being five different barrel Lotes. With slight variations in it" - Guillermo Erickson Sauza. The current Lotes being bottled and packaged at La Fortaleza's bottling facility are: B-L-23, R-L-23, and A-L-22.

Appearance: golden straw colour with dark amber hues; its body clings to the side of my Glencairn glass. Aroma: mild cooked agave, grassy, sweet honey, caramel & vanilla (butterscotch?), citrus (dried orange peel), basil, spicy pepper, pine and mild alcohol. Flavour: initial taste of earthy, cooked agave, slight citrus, butterscotch hard candy/caramelized apple?, and hint of cinnamon. Roll the oily juice around the mouth - immediate mild spicy (almost jalapeno-like) tinge that slightly numbs the gums & palate - talk about vegetal, that slowly recedes to a pleasantly balanced agave and hint of wood (pine?) taste around the tongue. Finish: medium duration, warms the throat, a dried fruit and spice aftertaste lingers with very mild alcohol heat. Aged well yet still holds on to many characteristics of its foundation, which itself is probably one of the best blancos available on the market. Definitely a tequila that can be sipped all night. Well played Memo. OUTSTANDING **HIGHLY RECOMMENDED**   **TOP 5 FAVOURITE BRAND**

Guillermo's passion and emphasis on using traditional, very old-fashioned methods of production and due-diligence to picking the best blue agave yields some of the best tequila being made. Hands down. While sipping on the whole Fortaleza tequila lineup in the Cava La Fortaleza Guillermo did mention a few interesting developments: the distillery may be replacing the natural cork with synthetic - due to a 'corking' complaint - still retaining the ornamental agave top; due to recent quality control issues Fortaleza may be sourcing a new bottle manufacturer; the elusive Fortaleza Extra Anejo will be released soon - of course many aficionados have heard this for years yet are anticipating for that day; and a possible future Barrel-Proof Fortaleza Reposado release. I am sure both products will be nothing short of exceptional. Thanks to the people at La Fortaleza and thank you to a gracious host for sharing the fresh, unfiltered still-strength 46% Abv. (92 Proof) Fortaleza Blanco. Saludos.

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