Most of us are suckers for tradition—the fourth-generation distiller, the wine estate dating to 1600. At the same time, we cherish entrepreneurs, and admire the visionary person who creates something out of nothing.
Partida Tequila falls firmly in the second category. It was created by J. Gary Shansby, who worked his way up to Chairman of the Board and CEO of Shaklee Corporation. Following that, he founded a consumer goods private equity firm and devoted himself to building brands: Famous Amos cookies, Mauna Loa macadamia nuts, Terra Chips and La Victoria Mexican foods, among others. Shansby had a fondness for tequila, as well as a love for Mexican culture and history; he started Partida with the goal of making it the most respected premium tequila in the world (the brand launched in 2001, so he likely took some inspiration from the success of Patrón, the first ultra-premium tequila on the market). The product may be made in the Mexican state of Jalisco, but this is a distinctly American story.
Back in Jalisco, though, the production process is traditional, quality-oriented and uncompromising. Like Patrón (and the rest of the world’s top tequilas), Partida is made from 100% blue agave. The agave plant flourishes in and around the town of Tequila; it has a high percentage of natural sugars, which makes it ideal for fermentation and distillation. The plants take between six and ten years to mature. Like grapes, their sugar content is measured in the field to determine whether they are ripe. When harvested, they weigh between 40 and 70 pounds and are called pinas, because of their resemblance to pineapples.
The harvested pinas are slow-baked for 20-24 hours, which softens the fibers and helps transform carbohydrates into sugars. Partida is distilled twice; the Blanco is hand-bottled as soon as the distillation process is finished, while the Reposado and Anejo are aged in American oak barrels for 6 and 18 months respectively.
Aromas of bay leaves, cloves and stewed citrus highlight the nose of the Partida Blanco ($50). It enters the mouth smoothly, followed by a rush of spice in the mid palate; citrus and bell pepper flavors linger on the finish, along with hints of candied fruit and mint on the extreme length. This presents just the right blend of smoothness and spice to make a range of interesting cocktails.
The light tan-colored Reposado ($54) has a more forceful nose with scents of menthol, spearmint and chamomile. The mouth feel is more aggressive as well, marked by an herbal and peppery mid palate and framed by flavors of ripe melon. The finish is extremely long, filled with inflections of pepper.
By contrast, the nose of the Anejo ($63) is elegant and mellow, filled with lush aromas of apple, citrus and oak. In the mouth, the tequila displays a ripe texture reminiscent of Cognac, but with a pronounced vegetable edge. The wood dominates the fruit in the mid palate, and the finish resonates with echoes of pepper and spice.
This version was invented by Julio Bermejo of Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco:
1.5 oz. Partida Blanco
1 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
¾ oz. organic agave nectar
¾ oz. water
Shake all ingredients with ice in cocktail shaker; strain into Margarita glass.
Recipe by Dale De Groff, the one and only King Cocktail:
1.5 oz. Partida Reposado
1.5 oz. fresh Ruby Red grapefruit juice
.5 oz. Cointreau
.5 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
.5 oz. French cassis
Shake the first four ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Dribble the cassis down the inside of the glass so it will settle to the bottom.
Anejo Old Fashioned
Recipe by Julie Reiner of Manhattan’s Flatiron Lounge:
3 oz. Partida Anejo
¼ oz. agave nectar
Dash Angostura bitters
In an Old Fashioned glass, gently muddle the orange peel, bitters and agave nectar to release the orange oils. Add ice and Partida Anejo. Stir to mix all ingredients, and garnish with brandied cherries on a stick.
Mark Spivak is an award-winning writer specializing in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He was the wine writer for the Palm Beach Post from 1994-1999, and since 2001 has been the Wine and Spirits Editor for the Palm Beach Media Group, as well as the restaurant critic for Palm Beach Illustrated. His work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Robb Report, Ritz-Carlton, Continental, Art & Antiques, Newsmax, Dream of Italy and Arizona Highways. From 1999-2011 he hosted Uncorked! Radio, a highly successful wine talk show on the Palm Beach affiliate of National Public Radio.
Mark began writing Iconic Spirits after becoming fascinated with the untold stories behind the world’s greatest liquors. As a writer, he’s always searching for the unknown details that make his subject compelling and unique.
You can learn more about Mark at http://www.iconicspirits.net/index.htm
ABOUT THE BOOK: Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, by Mark Spivak, will be published in November by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot). Writing in an engaging and appealing style, Spivak chronicles the untold tales of twelve spirits that changed the world and forged the cocktail culture. While some are categories and others are specific brands, they are “the best kinds of stories—the type a writer could never make up.”