Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Partida is where Tequila meets Jack Daniel's

José Valdez
Partida is popular Tequila for several reasons: It's well-marketed, production standards are impeccable -- and it tastes a bit like Jack Daniel's.

Partida master distiller José Valdez was in San Francisco recently, and he talked about the Jack Daniel's effect.

Partida's Reposado and Anejo versions are matured in once-used Jack Daniel's barrels. And to ensure the JD flavor, those barrels are used only once by Partida before they're sold to other Tequila distilleries.

"We did some tasting with Cognac barrels and other types of barrels," Valdez says. "We found that with the flavor of our product, Jack Daniel's is perfect."

Valdez, 32, is the youngest master distiller in Mexico, with clean-cut movie-star looks. He got into the profession in what seems like a very Mexican way: his brother knew a guy.

"I was an industrial engineer," says Valdez, who graduated from Pan American University. "I used to work in electronic engineering: cellphones, computers, servers. I didn't feel identified with any brand."

Partida founder Gary Shansby and his partner went to visit Guadalajara, where Valdez' brother works as a lawyer.

"They said, 'I'm looking for an engineer.' He said, 'My brother is an engineer'," Valdez said.

Some things are meant to be: Shansby hired Valdez and made him production manager.

Valdez was a beer drinker at the time -- he's from Baja, California, where Tecate is from -- but he took to Tequila, quickly passing the tests needed to become a master distiller.

Valdez talks more like an engineer than an artisan, which is appropriate because Partida has exacting standards. Valdez uses agave only from the hot Tequila valley, not from the cooler highlands. He says the agave flavors get more concentrated in the heat.

Partida uses more mature, sweeter agave than the industry standard and ages it longer. The leaves are trimmed as closely as possible to reduce bitterness. The agave is cooked at 100 degrees Celsius, low for the industry, for longer than usual.

Partida Blanco is the best way to taste the flavors of the agave, as the others all have the Jack Daniel's effect. It's an austere Tequila, with notes of grapefruit skin and salt, and perfect for cocktails that accentuate but don't hide the flavor, like a simple classic Margarita.

I prefer Partida Anejo to the Reposado, oddly because I think it better integrates the Tequila and Jack Daniel's flavors. The texture is rich and soft, without the hot bite of alcohol that the Reposado and Blanco have, and while there are caramel notes from the barrels, the agave's characteristic grapefruit comes through on the long finish.

For me, the Reposado is a little too sweet on the finish, and I wonder if the barrel effect comes through stronger in the six months Partida takes to make a Reposado before mellowing in the extra year an Anejo gets.

There's also a longer-aged Elegante, which smells like Cognac with its caramel and cocoa notes, but has the saltiness you expect from Tequila. It's not as graceful on the finish as the Anejo and costs more.

I love the story of how Partida got its name. Valdez says that many of the field workers in the area have the same last names: there are a lot of Riveras, and a lot of Partidas. So Shansby, a marketing guru who built up brands including Famous Amos cookies, Vitamin Water and Mauna Loa macadamia nuts, chose the name Partida. It's named after the people who harvest the agave, giving it a strong Tequila base, with a little touch of Tennessee.

Shansby's a marketing guy, so it's not surprising that Partida has a pretty funny video, in this case one that can't be shown on TV, for reasons that will quickly become apparent. Enjoy.

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