If you're into judging by appearance, prepare to be surprised by Herradura Tequila's latest expression: Ultra. The magic of filtering has removed the color from what is an añejo Tequila, giving it the look of an unaged blanco. Color or not, Ultra packs a wealth of flavor in a Tequila that has no bumps in the road.
Casa Herradura last week announced it would launch the new product in the United States in key markets, which include California, Florida, Georgia, Nevada and Texas. Ultra was first sold in Mexico before entering the U.S. The initial rollout will be limited to on-premise accounts (establishments that serve drinks).
The spirit is officially an añejo Tequila, which designates that all the liquid in the bottle is at least 12 months old. However, the product is a blend that also includes some Tequila as old as 49 months. Tequila older than three years (36 months) is known as extra añejo, an age category created by the Tequila NOM (Norma Oficial Mexicana) in 2006, the same year that parent company Brown-Forman purchased Casa Herradura. (Regulated by the Mexican government, NOM protects appellation of origin, regulates production and continually establishes standards required to ensure quality.)
The company is pitching the drink with the catchphrase "Beyond Smoothness" and suggesting that it be sipped neat or on the rocks, as opposed to the traditional salt-and-lime treatment. The filtering certainly has removed the rough spots that have caused drinkers of rawer Tequilas to imbibe in a slap-dash-cover-up manner. However, Ultra has a full-bodied personality, which we couldn't resist introducing to a cigar.
Herradura Ultra (80 proof, or 40 percent alcohol by volume; age statement; $60 a 750 milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: Crystal clear with chunky legs that come down quickly.
NOSE: Sweetness is the overwhelming sensation. Tequila notes come through with slight bread dough and some spice, but rock candy, vanilla and the tiniest bit of marshmallow carry the day.
PALATE: This is where the sense surprise comes through: How could such a clear liquid have so much flavor? Again, it's packed with sugars, including the previously mentioned vanilla and rock candy as well some toffee, caramel, grape and other fruits. There is also a subtle nuttiness and, of course, a gentle reminder of agave syrup.
FINISH: The aftereffects seem to vanish quickly, only to return more resoundingly as you wait it out.
CIGAR PAIRING: Daniel Marshall DM2 Red Label Petit Corona (Nicaragua, 4 3/4 inches by 42 ring gauge; $6.90; 89 points, Cigar Aficionado August 2015) There's a sweet pipe tobacco and vanilla bean character to this dense, chewy smoke, which becomes earthy and oaky. The reasoning is probably obvious behind the choice of this cigar: like vanilla notes in both components. The result wasn't so predictable. Yes, the vanillin appeared on both, but the Tequila developed stronger barrel-flavors than initially observed. That freed some caramel charms and more of its fruitiness, with apple and pear flavors, and it became more robust in the bargain. The Daniel Marshall gained even more chewiness as a result of the Herradura's pronounced sweetness. At the same time its earthiness never wavered. A very felicitous pairing.