Despite there being some very good tequilas, it’s a spirit, not unlike rum, that has a fairly workaday reputation. Old money still prefers brandy, port or a good scotch for those evenings of long-winded pontificating at old money hotel bars and such. Mezcal, of course, brought a dose of the hipsteriffic into the category—but it never really elevated above its Brooklyn-y sort of cool.
But Revel Spirits has been crafting fine agave spirits that are neither tequila nor mezcal since 2012, steadily winning over the sipping classes with their elegant trio of offerings. Of course, being aesthetes as we are, we ourselves were instantly seduced by the cool, modernista bottle design. In fact, at first glance, it’s not hard to imagine one has possibly encountered a new Tom Ford fragrance, with bottle styling by Zaha Hadid Architects.
But what is contained within is what really made our tastes buds flutter. The seductively clear Blanco is smooth as silk, offering a sort of herbal, citrusy mellowness—it’s as clean as the Arctic sea. While the Reposado is all rustic, earthy elegance and warmth—and we detected hints of nutmeg, porcini, and even a wisp of banana. And finally, the Anejo just might be the most luxurious product of the agave plant since, well…ever. And its stately, urbane packaging would likely be enough to bring the Tiffany design department to tears.
But with National Tequila Day upon us (today, July 24 to be exact), we asked Revel CEO and founder Micah McFarlane to further enlighten us on the differences between agave spirits. They were also kind enough to grace us with the recipes for a few signature specialty cocktails—the perfect change up for your Tequila Day celebrations.
What is an agave spirit?
Any distilled spirit made from an agave plant. The most commonly known agave spirit is tequila. However, many consumers are not aware that tequila is just a subcategory of agave spirits, and there are several others with unique flavor profiles, such as mezcal, bacanora and avila.
How are the others distinguished from tequila?
By law, tequila must be produced in a specific region of Mexico, primarily Jalisco, in addition to four other states—it must be made from only one variety of agave, Blue Weber, and is required to contain at least 51% agave. The traditional production method for tequila is steaming the pinas (heart of the agave) in autoclave ovens, which differs from mezcal (pinas are roasted in earthen pits) and avila (roasted and steamed).
Mezcal and avila, on the other hand, can be made from different varieties of agave. Mezcal can be produced in nine different areas of Mexico, while avila is made in the state of Morelos.
So that is where Revel is from?
Yes, Revel Avila is made in Morelos, a state which is crowned by an active volcano, making the lands that surround it rich with minerals—a fertile environment for growing agave.
What are the individual characteristics of the Blanco, Anejo and Reposado?
Blanco: Unaged, which leaves it with a very clean and crisp agave flavor. It also displays notes of citrus and lemongrass and can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or goes great in almost any type of cocktail.
Reposado: It’s often referred to by fans as the whisky of agave spirits. It picks up its traditional whisky notes of smoke, wood and caramel both from the once-used American Oak Whiskey barrels that it rests in for 12 months, as well as the production method of roasting/smoking 70% of the pinas underground before fermentation and distillation.
Anejo: Rests for 24 months in New French Oak barrels, giving it its beautiful amber color, as well as its deep and robust flavor. Some of the tasting notes associated with it are vanilla, caramel and cardamom, which are all intensified by the higher proofing on this expression (96 proof).
Can you reveal something unique about the process of making an agave spirit?
During the distillation process three compounds are released from the still, the apparatus used to distill liquid mixtures:
the heads (the poisonous compound of the distillate that is disposed of)
the hearts (the compound that is collected – it’s primarily ethanol and the good flavors)
the tails (the remaining biproduct which is lower alcohol content and usually consists of bad flavors and aromas – it is often redistilled).
The order in which these three compounds are released during distillation for all other spirits is first the heads, then the hearts, then the tails. But with agave spirits it’s the opposite, the tails are first, then the heart, then the heads.
Furthermore, like wines, the region and terroir impact the quality and taste of the spirit. Avila for example uses agave that is grown in mineral rich soil at the base of a volcano, and the land hasn’t been over-farmed like the soil where tequila is made, which produces a higher quality product.
The bottle design is stunning – how did that come about?
As a new brand catering to a higher-end audience, we wanted to break away from the stereotypical “Mexican” imagery you see from many tequila brands. We wanted to create a bottle that was more contemporary and luxurious, to match the quality of the juice inside. We wanted to make sure it stood out on the bar cart.
Additionally, we didn’t want to forget our roots, which is why the closure pays homage to a Mesoamerican Pyramid, a nod to the ancient tradition of agave spirits in that region.
Mezcal became very popular in the last several years. Do you see a trend now towards something else?
Mezcal is the second agave spirit, after tequila, to gain popularity in the United States and globally, which can only lead to an uptick in interest in other agave spirits. Just the fact that consumers are beginning to understand the differences between tequila and mezcal is a huge milestone and success for agave spirits across the board, and we certainly anticipate the trend to extend to other agave spirits.
How are Revel spirits best enjoyed? On their own, of course. But do they also pair well with food?
Revel Avila is best enjoyed neat; however they can be mixed. Additionally, Revel Avila Anejo is an amazing after-dinner drink, paired with a decadent dessert like pumpkin pie or chocolate.
Who is the Revel drinker?
Drinkers of Revel Avila are those who are interested expanding their palate, and above all else, enjoy a quality spirit. The bottle attracts drinkers who are interested in high-end products, but at the end of the day, it’s the taste and quality of the juice inside the bottle that brings people back.
Recommended Revel Specialty Cocktails
Last Mango In Morelos
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz spiced mango and coconut puree
3/4 oz Paranubes Oaxacan Rum (we used Paranubes Oaxacan rum because of it’s funky, tropical flavor profile)
1 1/2 oz Revel Blanco
**Garnish with fresh mango fan, lime wheel and a generous dusting of Tajin (If you don’t have Tajin, mix cayenne pepper with sea salt as a substitute)
**Spiced mango and coconut puree:
2 champagne mangos puréed
1/2 of a 13.5 oz can of unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 cup evaporated cane sugar
1/4 cup of filtered water
1 tsp cayenne
Pinch of salt
**Combine all ingredients in a pan over medium heat until emulsified**
En Mi Casa
1/2 oz Fresh lime juice
1/2 oz Fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz Pomegranate Juice (We used POM Wonderful brand which is easily accessible at most grocery stores.)
3/4 2:1 Rosemary Simple Syrup
2 oz Revel Blanco
**Garnish : Expressed orange peel and flamed rosemary
**Make your rosemary simple syrup by combining 1 cup of cane sugar or granulated with 1/2 a cup of filtered water in a pot over medium heat, add in 3-4 rosemary sprigs (leaves removed) and allow sugar to dissolve. Once the sugar has dissolved turn the heat to low and let the mixture sit for at least 20 minutes to achieve adequate potency, then strain out the rosemary and it’s good to go!
Stuck in Emerald Bay
1 oz Revel Blanco
3/4 oz G.E. Massenez Crème de Gingembre
1/4 oz lemon juice
2 oz FeverTree Ginger Beer
5 oz Prosecco
**Build all ingredients over ice in the largest wine glass you can find. Garnish with lemon twist and candied ginger.