A beautifully designed decanter containing a gleaming amber liquid with copper highlights. Peach and prune notes on the nose yield to walnut, caramel and apple strudel on the palate, with a buttery, honied finish. Sounds like the perfect single malt Scotch to enjoy over the festive season. Except that this isn’t a whisky at all. It is Maestro Dobel 50 1969 Extra Añejo Tequila. Yes, we are seriously recommending a tequila for Christmas.
Where exactly is it written that your Christmas tipple has to be produced in Scotland… or even made from barley? Given that one of the best Christmas songs is Puerto Rican José Feliciano’s Feliz Navidad, why can’t your choice of spirit to sip by the fire be equally Latin American?
And, just in case there is any suspicion about tequila, we are not talking here about the cheap stuff drunk as shots and blamed for terrible behaviour and hangovers (as if the multiple units of alcohol drunk before those shots were utterly innocent).
Maestro Dobel is the premium marque of Jose Cuervo – the Lexus to the more famous brand’s Toyota. It’s one of those great examples of craftspeople not being hamstrung either by a loyalty the way things have always been done, or by a duty to do be disruptors. Instead, they use both tradition and innovation to their advantage. Maestro Dobel has produced the first Cristallino tequila – a complex, aged tequila with the colour charcoal-filtered out – and Humito, tequila with a hint of smokiness similar to some mezcals.
In tequila production, there are decisions taken at every stage that weigh up efficiency (cheaper) vs quality of flavour (adding time and cost). Maestro Dobel opts for the older method, aka the quality option, every time – for example. leaving the agave to grow till fully mature (around eight years) not just mature enough (around five); or cooking the agave piña in a brick steam oven (at least 36 hours), rather than the more modern autoclave (less than 12 hours). In fact, for the Humito, the smoky character is achieved through cooking in an even more traditional underground fire pit for several days. And distillation takes place in copper pot stills rather than continuous column stills.
As for any aged spirit, the choice of cask is important. Oliver Pergl, tequila educator for Maestro Dobel, says, “For primary maturation, the Beckmann family [owners of Maestro Dobel and Jose Cuervo] use new oak barrels, not casks previously filled with other spirits. The aged tequila evokes the wood itself, not just another spirit’s character. These fresh casks can be used a maximum of five times – less if we believe the flavour is spent – before selling the wood on to furniture-makers or carpenters to extend its life.”
Note he says primary maturation, though. The 50 1969 Extra Añejo is finished, after blending, for an undisclosed period in a Sauternes cask. The previous Maestro Dobel 50 (1967) was finished in sherry casks. It’s worth addressing the name. This tequila is not 50 years old, or distilled in 1969. Due to the Mexican climate, wood-ageing takes a fraction of the time as it does in say, Speyside in Scotland. An extra-aged tequila is a minimum of three years old – and rarely more than five years old, or all the agave character would be lost.
The first limited-edition release, Maestro Dobel 50 (1967), celebrated maestro tequilero Juan Domingo “Dobel” Beckmann’s 50th birthday, and he was born in 1967. So far, so clear. This new 50 (1969) is to celebrate events of that year half a century on. Its release was delayed by Covid, but only from 2020, so the whole concept is a little confusing.
However, forget the name. The important thing is that this tequila is very special indeed. It is made from 100% agave from a single estate in the lowlands of Jalisco, the area known for its lighter spirit with more citric notes. The result is a smooth, rich and fruity spirit equivalent to a great single malt whisky or Cognac, but with complex herbal notes, like a digestivo. Which means it could be the perfect combination for that post-Christmas feast tipple.
Maestro Dobel 50 1969 is served at The Connaught and Annabel’s. There are just 40 of the 175cl decanters, each in a special presentation box, available at Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Hedonism, for £895 each; maestrodobel.com