Tomas Estes is on a tequila expedition. Today he’s in Guadalajara en route to several agave plant-producing regions, but broadly, he is on a global expedition to bring Mexican culture to faraway cultures that might not otherwise experience the country’s fruits. He’s doing so with bottles of Ocho Plata Tequila.
Estes’ partner Felipe Camarena crafts Tequila Ocho products by slow-cooking raw agave and distilling it from mineral spring water that comes out at the distillery in the highlands of Jalisco. The spirit ferments slowly (no yeast accelerators are used) in small wooden tanks, and then ages in former American Whiskey bottles that have been used multiple times to produce wines and whiskeys.
“The two words that describe the process would be: taking time,” says Estes. He compares their distilling to the slow food movement. “If someone wanted a good hamburger, they would go to the cow,” he says. “They would raise the cow without chemicals or steroids or antibiotics, feed it with pure food, and love it. With agave it’s the same.”
Camarena carefully, and naturally (no pesticides or herbicides) tends to the agave plants until they have reached their peak maturity (usually about 8 years old) and then harvests them meticulously for the production process. The only part of it that isn’t decelerated is the aging of the spirits. Tequila Ocho’s Reposado, Añejo, and Plata varieties are aged for the shortest amount of time possible to maintain the flavors and aromas of the agave used, which reflect the terroir from which they were harvested. “Tequilas from Tequila Valley are masculine, forward, aggressive in a good way, earthy and herbaceous,” says Estes, “as opposed to [tequilas from] the region’s highlands which are feminine, recessive, rounder, fruitier, sweeter, and perhaps floral.”
Tequila Ocho takes these terroirs a step further, though, and actually bottles different products from each individual estate, or rancho, growing the agave. Each of these rare vintages is then hand numbered. “We’ve done eight estates, and we find that they’re all quite similar and all distinguishably different — perhaps like brothers and sisters in a family,” says Estes.
Tequila Ocho products are sold internationally, and are most popular in the UK right now. That popularity is, in no small way, the result of the tequila advocacy that Estes’ has done and continues to do throughout Europe. He developed a passion for the spirit at 15 years old when he snuck south of the border from his hometown Los Angeles. “I always loved Mexico — it’s realness as compared to the materialism and the status-seeking LA area, its soulfulness…”
Estes brought that soul with him to travel in Amsterdam, where he opened the city’s first Mexican cantina. He started another in London, then one in Paris, and two more in Cologne and Milan. Over the years, he delved deep into nuances on the tequila spirit, and actually started writing articles and teaching classes about it. The National Chamber for the Tequila Industry (CNIT) got word of his efforts, and appointed him the Ambassador of Tequila to the European Union. When he received this recognition in London, he also met Carlos Camarena, Felipe’s brother. They formed a friendship, which led to the creation of now world renowned Tequila Ocho.
Tequila Ocho is made at a distillery that was making tequila using slow food practices long before the “slow food” term was even coined. 75 years this year to be exact.
Cheers to this distillery’s unprecedented and unwavering quality standards. And cheers to Felipe Camarena and Thomas Estes, who are ensuring they stay that way.
Spirits from Felipe Camarena
Tequila Ocho Reposado
Tequila Ocho Anejo
Tequila Ocho Plata