Single Estate Tequila: Jesse Estes of Tequila Ocho

Jesse Estes | Tequila Ocho | Food For Thought

Ocho Tequila: Award Winning Single Estate Tequila

When it comes to artisanal tequilas, there are few brands that take it as seriously as Tequila Ocho. Their take the production of their tequila to such as extent, being the first ever single estate tequila, with each plot, which they call ranches, producing a different quality based on its unique terroir. We speak to Jesse Estes, Global Ambassador of Tequila Ocho to find out more about this unique tequila.

Tomas Estes | Tequila Ocho | Food For Thought

Can you tell us how Tequila Ocho started?

Tequila Ocho started as the meeting of two minds between Tomas Estes and Carlos Camarena. Tomas has been a bar owner and restaurateur for more than 40 years, as well as being named the Tequila Ambassador to Europe by the CNIT (National Tequila Industry Chamber). Carlos is a fifth-generation Master Distiller, whose grandfather founded the family’s flagship brand Tequila Tapatío in 1937. We’re very biased, but it’s safe to say that Carlos is one of the most respected and revered Master Distillers in the world.   

Tomas had been a wine enthusiast for many years by the time Carlos invited him to create a tequila brand together, and together they created the first ever Single Field Tequila (think single-vineyard wines), highlighting not only the essence of the majestic Blue Agave plant, but also highlighting the characteristics of the soil in which it was grown. In this way Ocho has demonstrated the extent to which terroir plays a role in agave growing and tequila production.

Harvesters | Tequila Ocho | Food For Thought

What is your philosophy behind the tequila you produce?

Our philosophy hinges around integrity, honesty, sustainability, transparency and respect. Respect for ourselves (to create tequila that we are proud of and that we believe in), to our consumers (we take it as our responsibility to create the highest possible quality tequila, without cutting corners and adding ANY additives, besides blue agave, water and natural yeast — something that is safe to drink and of course tastes great), to the members of our team (‘social sustainability’ – i.e. making sure that all the employees of the distillery are well cared for), and of course respect for the raw material – the noble agave plant. No chemical pesticides or herbicides are used in any of our fields, which are all owned by the Camarena Family.

Anjeo, Plata, Reposado | Tequila Ocho | Food For Thought

Which are your best sellers and latest releases?

Ocho Blanco is by far our best seller globally. We are proud of this because to us, our blanco is the purest expression of agave possible. In terms of latest releases, we had an exciting range of cask finishes out last year in collaboration with Maison Ferrand, including the first ever tequila to be finished in rum barrels (as far as we’re aware anyway!). This year we’ll have a limited edition Days of the Dead bottle, as well as some more exciting special releases to come from our Maison Ferrand collaboration. We’ve also just harvested our latest field, 2020 Cerro Grande, so look out for those bottles later this year!

Factory | Tequila Ocho | Food For Thought

What challenges do you face as a tequila producer that consumers might not be aware of?

Blue agave is at a record-high price right now, due to a shortage. Remember that the blue agave takes an average of 8 years to grow to full maturity, so this is a very inelastic supply. If we run out of blue agave today, we can plant as many millions of plants as we like, we’re still going to be waiting at least 5 or 6 years until we can harvest the ripe plants to be used in tequila production. 

Tequila | Tequila Ocho | Food For Thought

What has been the most common misconception of tequila that you have come across?

Probably that tequila should be used as a party drink, as a shooter with salt and lime. Nothing wrong with this, but if you’re drinking a well-crafted tequila this method of consumption seems like a bit of a waste. A high quality tequila should be enjoyed as one would a fine cognac or single malt scotch whisky.

Tequila Ocho Family | Tequila Ocho | Food For Thought

Ocho Blanco vs Ocho Reposado. Which would you use in what cocktail and why?

I think it depends on the style of drink. For cocktails containing citrus juice, I tend to favour Ocho Blanco over the Reposado. The fresh, bright herbaceous, grassy, vegetal and peppery notes in the blanco really hold up against an acidic ingredient like lemon or lime juice. For ‘aromatic’-style cocktails containing no juice (think twists on the Old Fashioned, Manhattan, etc.), I tend to favour Ocho Reposado.

Corpse Reviver #8 | Tequila Ocho | Food For Thought

Can you share a cocktail recipe that you like making?

I’ll give you two options, one simple and one complex, you can choose which you prefer!

The Matador

  • 45ml Tequila Ocho Blanco
  • 20ml lime juice
  • 25ml pineapple juice
  • 10ml Green Chartreuse
  • 5ml agave nectar

Shake all ingredients, strain into large rocks glass. Garnish with dehydrated pineapple slice and/or dehydrated lime wheel and mint sprig

Tequila Beyond Sunrise | Tequila Ocho Family | Tequila Ocho | Food For Thought

Tequila Beyond Sunrise

  • 45ml Tequila Ocho Reposado
  • 60ml freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 15ml lime juice
  • 10ml simple syrup
  • 10ml egg white
  • 5ml yuzu juice
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 15ml Pomegranate, Port & Chipotle Chile reduction*
  • Orange and Luxardo cherries, to garnish

Add all ingredients except Pomegranate reduction to shaker. Shake very hard and strain into highball glass over cubed ice. Add the Pomegranate, Port & Chipotle reduction over top of drink, to give it the ‘sunrise’ effect. Garnish with an orange and cherry ‘flag’.

* To make Pomegranate reduction: –

  • 500ml Freshly squeezed pomegranate juice
  • 500ml Ruby Port
  • 500 grams light muscovado sugar
  • 2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder

Add pomegranate juice and Port to a saucepan and simmer until liquid is halved (about 45 minutes). Add sugar and chile and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool before bottling and refrigerating.

Tequila Ocho Rancho Map 2020 | Tequila Ocho | Food For Thought

Can you tell us a bit about the bat friendly programme and how is Tequila Ocho participating in this initiative?

The Bat Friendly Program is an initiative aspiring to support local bat populations in different parts of Mexico, while simultaneously aiming to reintroduce genetic diversity into the blue agave species. Bats feed on the agave flowers, and pollinate over 180 species of agave and several other plants throughout Mexico. Going to flower involves the agave growing a quiote (a long stalk that grows out of the center of the agave plant, and contains a fluorescence at the top end). Tequila producers typically prevent the agave from going to flower, as the plant is no longer of use for tequila production. This is because allowing the quiote to grow will consume all of the energy (sugar) from the plant. Because the blue agave used for tequila production is essentially a monoculture, these plants are all – in theory – resilient to all the same things, but could also potentially be susceptible to all the same diseases/pests/etc. By letting the plant’s quiote grow and flower, and as the flowers open up at night, bats (being nocturnal) come to feed and will help cross-pollinate the plants, and thus help naturally reintroduce genetic diversity in the blue agave species. Our hope is also that letting quiotes grow will sustain and enhance the population and migratory patterns of our agave pollinating friends.

This project may take 60-80 years (or more) to see results and also means a great deal of lost profits due to the fact that when agaves’ quiotes are allowed to grow, these agaves can not be used for tequila production. Bat Friendly Tequila Producers have agreed to let at least 5% of their agave’s flower [this has since been reduced due to the agave shortage], allowing the bats to feed on the quiote and do their magic. La Alteña, where Ocho is produced, is one of the first three distilleries to participate in the Bat Friendly Program, and hope to be a catalyst for more producers to take notice and help to sustain Mexico’s agave crop for generations to come.

Maison Ferrand | Tequila Ocho | Food For Thought

Can you briefly tell us about your  casks exchange with Maison Ferrand and the blends of Tequila Ocho made by Ferrand?

As you said, Tequila Ocho and Maison Ferrand engaged in a barrel swap — more specifically, we sent Maison Ferrand 10 barrels previously containing Ocho and they sent us 5 barrels previously containing Plantation Rum and 5 previously containing Ferrand Cognac. Last year we released two different Añejos finished in former Plantation barrels and one former Ferrand Cognac barrel. To my knowledge this was the first ever tequila to be finished in rum barrels. These were released last year and are now basically sold out although there are still a few bottles available in different markets. Absolutely delicious juice, if you can get your hands on a bottle! We’ve got more collaborations with Alexandre Gabriel and Maison Ferrand coming out soon — stay tuned!

Salted Caramel Old Fashioned | Extra Anejo | Tequila Ocho | Food For Thought

How has the Covid-19 affected business and the industry that people might not be aware of?

I think Covid-19 will affect the tequila industry in similar ways to all industries. Unfortunately, it seems clear that there will be a downturn in the economy as a whole everywhere in the world, which will of course affect tequila as well as other spirits categories. I certainly do hope that we all bounce back quickly from this and that the negative effects of the pandemic remain minimal, within the tequila industry as well as all other industries.

Jesse Estes Headshot | Tequila Ocho | Food For Thought

How is Tequila Ocho as a brand adapting during the Covid-19 crisis?

Same as most other brands, since we are all confirmed to our homes, we need to take all marketing activities ‘virtual’ to social media or other digital platforms. I think the online trainings, virtual distillery tours, livestreams etc. that we are all seeing today will stay with us long after we’ve recovered from the pandemic. Maybe one of the upshots of this crisis will be less overall travel and carbon emissions going forward in the medium- and long-term.

| PHOTOGRAPHY: TEQUILA OCHO | WEBSITE: TEQUILA OCHO |

Nicholas Ng

Nicholas Ng is a restaurant critic, travelogue and opinion columnist which is curated on Food For Thought. He has been a freelance writer for 10 years and has previously worked as a lawyer. He currently is the Principal Counsultant of A Thoughtfull Consultancy.

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