Spirit Of The Week: Tequila Ocho Plata Puntas 2023
The world’s first single-estate tequila releases its second high-proofed distiller’s cut.
“That is kind of the origin of Puntas: It is the most coveted part of distillation usually saved only for family and friends for special occasions, such as a wedding or baptism or quinceñera,” Carlos Camarena explains from the aging room of his brand new Los Alambiques distillery.
Sitting next to his daughter and protégé Fany, the stone-walled cellar provides us all shady respite from the arid Jalisco highland sun upstairs.
“If there’s something special happening in the family we’ll use this,” he says of his latest over-proofed expression, the follow-up to last year’s inaugural Plata Puntas 2022.
“Because it is not like your regular high-proof tequila, which is, ‘Okay, I distilled all of this at 120 proof and then I brought it down to 110.’ Because then you are using the whole distillation—but Puntas is just a little segment [of the distillation run].”
In tequila distillation there are three main parts: the head, the body (or “heart” in some parlance) and the tail. While we sip on a suite of different Ocho expressions before us, the esteemed Maestro Tequilero explains the exact sweet spot in a distillation where the puntas, sometimes dubbed the “distiller’s cut,” is sourced.
“When you begin distilling you have the head, and then you have the neck, which is very, very short, and then you have the shoulders,” Camarena explains, holding up a glass of his crystalline tequila as evidence. “We refer to all of this as the body distillation, but there’s different parts of those bodies. So I would say the punta is the neck and a little bit of the shoulders, and each one is completely different.”
To further complicate matters, not every batch of agaves will create puntas worth separating from the main distillation of that batch. Over the couple weeks that a particular batch is distilled, gas chromatography tests are utilized to detect which distillations have the necessary levels of different congeners (e.g. methanol levels, superior alcohols, esters, aldehydes, etc.) to be worthy of puntas consideration. When the lab identifies a perfect batch, the Ocho team strikes.
Very few labels bother with a puntas expression, however, because of the attention and handcrafted nature they require. But Tequila Ocho is not your average tequila label. Launched in 2008 by the third-generation maestro tequilero (and fifth-generation agave farmer) Camarena and Tomas Estes—the man widely credited with introducing tequila to Europe via his Café Pacifico restaurant in Amsterdam, earning the position of Europe’s official Tequila Ambassador by the Mexican National Tequila Chamber—Tequila Ocho was founded on the principles of expressing the terroir in blue agave.
The duo vowed to do this by focusing each batch of their tequila on a singular field, so each bottle of Ocho not only states the expression (e.g. Plata, Reposado, Añejo and Extra Añejo), but also the exact field those agaves were sourced from.
For instance this year Ocho bottled five different expressions of their single estate Plata—named World’s Best Blanco Tequila at last year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition—all sourced from different fields.
Most of these fields belong to Camarena himself, who as a degreed agronomist considers himself more of an agave farmer than a tequilero. (Side note: One of the funnier/sweeter behind-the-scenes moments of our meeting was hearing Camarena remind his daughter that at least he spared her from working the torrid Arandas fields as a jimador, or agave harvester, as his own father had forced him.)
The idea being that each field boasts unique elements (e.g. soil makeup, minerals, altitude, shade/number of trees, angle to the sun, temperatures, etc.) that makes its agaves unique. And these elements will uniquely influence the final tequil—and especially a puntas, which is considered the most authentic expression of the azul piña.
The field from which 2023’s Plata Puntas come from, Rancho Mesa Colorada, is located fewer than 18 miles from the stills of this Tequilera Los Alambiques where we sit.
Once distilled, the last step in the process becomes the difficult decision of exactly how much water—sourced from a nearby deep well—to add to proof the batch. Camarena goes into great pains to explain proofing a punta is not an exact science, but rather a subjective decision based on each unique spirit.
“It’s not me telling the tequila, I want you to be 110-proof,” he says of the delicate art. “No, it is the tequila that says, ‘Hey, I’m ready as I am. This is the perfect piece of art.’”
For last year’s inaugural Puntas expression Camarena made the final decision; for 2023 he invited Fany and a group of agave aficionados to vote. The final decision? A potent but shockingly smooth 53% ABV (106-proof).
The final liquid bubbles over with grassy flavors, profligate in notes of green agave, pine and ancho chiles. The whiff of fresh cut grass is strong, yet the mouthfeel is plush, the overall palate balanced with notes of toasted cocoa and sautéed butter. The profile, aided by the high proof, is so agave forward one could proudly share Plata Puntas 2023 with fans of ancestral mezcal, proving that tequila too can extract such profound layers of flavor from these plants.
“In the end the tequila will have its right point to tell you, This is my best mode of perfection. This is what I have to express,” Camarena says, pouring us one more glass of his pride and joy. “If you add any more water, you are taking something of my personality away.”
Only 1,100 cases of Tequila Ocho Plata Puntas 2023 will make their way to America. Find one however you can.