It can pay handsomely to be at the right place at the right time, and for an upstart tequila producer trying to break into a crowded space, the right time was 2007. The right place proved to be the nascent luxury segment of the tequila market, though nobody really knew it at the time. When Clase Azul founder Arturo Lomeli launched a $1,2000 bottle of five-year-old Clase Azul Ultra tequila, the idea was to make a temporary splash rather than to launch a perennial favorite.
In the decade following, growth in the top end of the tequila market has exploded, manifesting itself most visibly in the sale of George Clooney-backed Casamigos to Diageo for a cool $1 billion. Clase Azul has been along for that ride, producing ultra-premium tequilas packaged in distinctive, handcrafted ceramic bottles that have fetched as much as $30,000 each. When approached in that context, its latest release—a $300 bottle aimed at bringing its beautifully crafted tequila and artistry to market at a more obtainable price point—doesn’t seem like such an extravagance.
This is still a costly bottle of tequila, and if you’re simply looking for a decent-quality bottle to pour into patio margaritas, keep moving. It’s important to keep in mind that when you talk about ultra-premium spirits that retail for hundreds or thousands of dollars, you’re generally not just talking about the liquid, but also about ancillary aspects like packaging, rarity, and even more superficial things like status—what owning a certain bottle says about you. There can be a bit of pomp around such bottles that is worth acknowledging, but it’s also important not to get lost in the extraneous.
Clase Azul telegraphs its luxury through signature glass and/or ceramic bottles, each of which is crafted by hand by artisans in the Mexican town of Santa Maria Canchesda. They share a distinctive silhouette, and you’ve probably seen these pepper-grinder shaped bottles at a restaurant or bar before, either on the top shelf of the back bar or repurposed (once empty) into flower vases or other decorative containers. Each Clase Azul GOLD bottle is hand-numbered (only 6,000 were made) and trimmed with 24-karat gold, a flourish that may lend an air of grandeur to your liquor shelf but does nothing to improve the quality of the tequila inside.
So does the tequila stand up to all this hype once outside of its opulent vessel? To craft this liquid, Clase Azul drew from two sources, both made from 100% Blue Weber agave: the brand’s youngest “Plata” expression and an eight-year-old extra añejo that spent time in both ex-bourbon barrels and used Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. In other words, Clase Azul blended its youngest, least-costly liquid with one that would likely retail in the four-figures if sold on its own.
An inexperienced blender could get in trouble here, and to some this might sound dangerously close to “watering down a great aged tequila.” In practice, however, Clase Azul has taken an older, heavily wooded spirit and expertly softened it in all the right ways, rounding off any hard edges. The oak (and PX sherry) is present in aromas of vanilla, raisin, and candied nuts. On the tongue, the green, vegetal note typical of younger tequilas is muted to a whisper, while richer, more decadent flavors of salted caramel, vanilla, cinnamon, and fig are trailed by a whiff of peppery smoke.
But most notable is the softness of this tequila on the palate. From nose to palate to finish, there’s nothing even faintly resembling an unpleasant burn or a rough corner. It is, simply put, very well-crafted tequila from beginning to end—the kind of thing you pour for friends who never knew neat tequila could taste this good or drink this easy.
With this limited edition expression, Clase Azul has essentially found a means bringing some of its super-premium aged tequila down to a price point that’s far more accessible to tequila lovers and collectors who don’t necessarily have the financial wherewithal to stock $2,000 tequilas in their bars. That may not make it a must-have value to every tequila drinker, but for those looking to enhance a collection with something special (and delicious), this bottle won’t disappoint.
Clase Azul GOLD is available beginning August 1 at a suggested retail price of $300.