altos tequila

Altos Tequila would inspire tequila lovers in the know to naturally think of “Los Altos,” the higher-elevation area of Jalisco state where much of the the most interesting agave is grown and some of the most complex tequila is made. The spirit from this clay soil area tends to have more tastes flitting around the palate than the lowland volcanic soil versions, with floral notes, different spices, and a more delicate nose.

If you pour your first glass from a bottle of this Altos Reposada Tequila brand with those expectations, you’re probably going to be disappointed. I picked this up in a U.S. liquor store after seeing it for the first time, impressed by the bottle and thinking this would be a nice highlands sipping tequila. My high hopes were dashed before my first sip, when the aromas were heavy on the citrus, pepper, and agave, with more alcohol vapor than usual. I didn’t pick up any of the floral notes I would expect from the highlands.

It got better on the tongue, however, with varying bits of vanilla and caramel from the barrel aging, but the heaviness, the masculinity as some would describe it, still took me back to the town of Tequila. It didn’t remind me of the complex brands like Avion, Cazadores, Clase Azul, Corzo, Don Julio, and Milagro.

Altos tequila from Olmeca, owned by Pernod Ricard, in an attractive bottle but best for cocktailsI kept admiring the bottle though, which looks more expensive than it really was. (Retail price for 750ml seems to range from $20 – $28). It’s heavy glass, with a nobby texture all around and the name embossed in glass.

I like to go in not knowing who the producer is, so I didn’t look that up until after I had a few hefty sips to swirl around and evaluate. It turns out this brand is from the Olmeca company, owned by Pernod Ricard. They are located in Los Altos, in the town of Arandas.

Olmeca has three brand names. The low-end one is not 100% agave and I’ve seen it in “the well” at several mass market hotels and bars in Mexico. Avoid that unless you love headaches. Altos is made from agave only though, so it’s a big step up. While it would grow on me after a while if I were knocking back multiple glasses in a cantina with friends, there are much better tequilas out there for sipping.

Which brings us to my conclusion: this would be a better-than-normal mixing tequila, resulting in really good cocktails to serve when entertaining. There’s nothing inherently bad about Altos, there are no off-putting flavors you would want to cover up. It’s just not at the same level as those other high country Jalisco brands mentioned earlier.

I mentioned before that there are three brands in the Olmeca portfolio. The last one is Tezón, which is a true premium tequila. The name comes from the big stone wheel that crushes the roasted agave—this is the only brand that exclusively uses this traditional method to extract the juice. I got to see that process in action when I made my first trip to Jalisco to write this tequila story and it was one of my favorite brands from that tour.

tezon tequila wheel at Tezon distillery

The bottom line, in my opinion, is this: 1) avoid Olmeca entirely. 2) Get Altos for cocktails (or party shots) and admire the bottle. 3) Step up and spend more on Tezon for sipping tequila, especially their excellent añejo aged in used bourbon barrels.