Tequila Fortaleza, Our Drink of the Week!

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Dave Lieberman
Nearly all of the distilled liquor in the world comes from three sources: sugarcane (rum, cachaça, caña), grain (wheat, rice, corn, rye) and potatoes (some vodka). They're not tied to a sense of place: there is rum from Mauritius and rum from Jamaica, there's whiskey from Scotland and whiskey from Canada.

Tequila and its cousins mezcal, sotol and bacanora are special, because they're made from a plant native to Mexico; there's nowhere else in the world where agaves are grown for commercial production of liquor. Spirits of agave have a particular taste, a wild, grassy, wholly Mexican taste, that instantly identifies them.

Unfortunately, it's hard to find tequilas that show off the agave taste; because it's such a strong flavor, the large brands either distill it three times to mute the flavor, or they mix it with sugarcane alcohol, or they age it to disguise the flavor.

Fortaleza is the brand of tequila owned by the Sauza family, whose namesake was sold off to an international conglomerate two generations ago. The Sauzas are throwbacks in that Fortaleza is made the old way: roasted in a traditional oven instead of an autoclave, shredded with a tahona (a giant stone wheel), though they now use a tractor to pull it instead of donkeys, and fermented in wood vats before being distilled.

The result is a tequila blanco that tastes more strongly of agave than nearly any other tequila on the market; it tastes exactly like the alcoholic version of the roasted piñas that went into it (trust me, I've tasted piña). If your experience with tequila is Sauza brand, or worse yet, the José Cuervo Gold we all drank in college, drinking Fortaleza will be an awakening into what tequila should be. It's expensive, sure, but it's worth the price just to see people's faces as they realize what they've been missing.

While Fortaleza reposado and Fortaleza añejo are great tequilas, the blanco is the place to start. Could you make a margarita with it? Sure. But it's much better to sip, alternating with a shot glass of the citrus-and-tomato juice known as sangrita.

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