As consumers we like to imagine that the spirit we’re enjoying comes from an old distillery. In our fairy tale picture of the place, the distillers are all dressed in period garb, speaking patiently to one another in their native tongue, and using ancient machinery and know-how to produce an artisanal tequila worthy of this fantasy we’ve built up for it. In the case of Tequila Herradura, our fantasy sort of lines up with reality. You see, Herradura is produced in a hacienda that has been producing tequila since 1870.
A “hacienda” is basically a large estate built during the Spanish colonial period. They are surrounded by expansive lands, are self-sufficient, and most of their workers usually live within the hacienda where they produce all manner of goods for the profit of the lord or hacendado. During colonial times the lord exploited workers in ways not dissimilar to the feudal system in medieval Europe. Thankfully, in the early 20th century the hacienda workers revolted against their exploitative lords and the traditional hacienda system collapsed. Only about a dozen or so “real” haciendas still exist today; some are in ruins, some are preserved as historic sites, one of them is even a hotel and golf course, and one as you have just learned is a tequila distillery.
As interesting as the hacienda history is to me, what truly drove me to Herradura is the way it produces its tequila. Unlike many of Herradura’s competitors who use modern, faster stainless steel autoclaves to cook the agaves, Herradura slowly roasts its agaves in traditional brick ovens. This slower cook develops more fermentable sugars in the agave hearts. When it’s time to ferment, Herradura again eschews the modern method of using commercial yeast, instead allowing the local wild yeast to perform its magic. This way of fermenting takes longer and is much more variable in nature but the longer fermentation times allow more complex flavors to develop. Using local wild yeast rather than a more consistent, commercial yeast strain gives Herradura’s tequilas a true and inimitable connection to the land that surrounds them.
The tequila category is enjoying a boom unlike anything the jimadores have ever seen. More specifically, though, during the pandemic consumers traded up from the silver to the more expensive reposado and añejo tequilas. As tequila producers rejoice in these increased sales of more expensive expressions, they should probably raise a copita to Casa Herradura’s Gabriela de la Peña. Aside from presiding over the company during its modernization and expansion, it was under her guidance that Herradura Añejo was released in 1962, widely considered the first commercial añejo tequila. Still under her watch in 1974, Herradura Reposado was released and you guessed it, it was the first commercial reposado tequila. Talk about a legend.
The Legend has a wonderfully complex nose with tons of oak, dried fruit, butterscotch, and peppery agave. Herradura employs a revolutionary method for aging Legend by cutting deep grooves into the barrel allowing for more contact between the spirit and the barrel. The result is a smooth and flavorful tequila with delicate notes of vanilla, banana, and dry sherry accompanied by a touch of pepper.
Cigar Pairing: A. Fuente Magnum R Rosado Sungrown
The cigar opens with notes of cedar, roasted nuts, and pepper which stand up beautifully to the tequila’s rich vanilla and agave flavors. The smoke cuts through the sweetness and brings out a delightful, toasted oak characteristic in the spirit while the sweetness binds nicely to the cigar’s profile adding a vanilla cream component to the smoke.