The majority of individuals are familiar with classic tequila expressions like Anejo, Reposado and Blanco tequila, but many have not yet heard about Cristalino. This kind of tequila has not established the popularity of the other expressions. I’ve noticed more brands are experimenting with Cristalino tequila. If you have recently traveled to Guadalajara, you have most likely seen Cristalinos on numerous bar menus and billboards.
How is Cristalino Tequila Made?
Cristalino is an aged tequila filtered so all color added during the aging process is removed. The result is a crystal clear tequila similar to a Blanco. The majority of Cristalinos currently on the market are clear Anejos. This type of tequila is advertised as elegant and high-end. For this reason, Cristalino tequila prices are higher than traditional Anejos. The most well-known include Maestro Dobel Diamante and Don Julio 70, which are pictured below.
Pictured: Maestro Dobel Diamante and Don Julio 70.
The fast expansion in the market includes even more brands such as:
• Revolucion Añejo Cristalino
• San Matias Cristal
• Volcán De Mi Tierra Añejo Cristalino
• Herradura Ultra
Even clear Reposados are starting to enter the market.
More Cristalinos are on the way with 44 currently listed by the Tequila Matchmaker database. As stated, Cristalino is basically aged (Anejo) tequila usually filtered through charcoal with the colors from spending time inside of a barrel removed. During the filtration process, some of the woodier notes are stripped from the tequila. This process does not remove the rich textures and flavors from the barrel.
The final product is a tequila with both the character and complexity of an Anejo and the bright, crisp notes of a Blanco. One of the reasons for the recent popularity is the effectiveness of the marketing. Clear Anejo is a representation of a slightly showy and new option in the world of tequila.
In my opinion, this is just another way for marketing-savvy brands to get into your wallet. I’m not a huge fan of these ploys, but I can understand why it’s done, and I’m probably in the majority with that sentiment.
According to the owner of the Tlaquepaque, Jalisco El Buho tequila store, the number of Mexican consumers interested in Cristalinos is surging. The owner of San Diego, California Old Town Tequila agrees and has seen an increased demand for the product.
During the past year, the most requested tequila has become Don Julio 70. Despite the increasing demand, there are still a lot of customers unaware of what Cristalinos are. Half of all Old Tequila Town customers requesting Cristalino believe the product is a Blanco with a stronger flavor of agave and have no idea it has been aged. For this reason, there is a little confusion regarding the categories.
Numerous customers appreciate the light golden color of Volcan De Mi Tierra Cristalino because it has a different appearance than a Blanco. The color remaining is a good indication the tequila was not over-filtered. When tequila samples are offered to customers via a taste test to compare the same brand of Cristalino and traditionally aged tequila, it is interesting to note many people purchase the traditional Anejo. This remains true even if the customer was originally wanting a Cristalino.
Cristalinos are a good option for new tequila drinkers since the products are not too strong or spicy. The concept is similar to a new wine drinker. The individual generally begins with sweet wines, proceeds to white wines and eventually discovers complex reds. The process with tequila is similar. Cristalinos are a great first option for beginners because the stigma regarding the strength of all tequilas is broken. The senses are then prepared for a more complex tequila.
The target market of Cristalino is not for tequila connoisseurs. These consumers have educated palates and are not interested in products removing what is achieved through the aging process.
Why are the Names of Cristalino Tequilas Not Standardized?
The CRT or Tequila Regulatory Council regulates tequila in Mexico. This government entity has not yet established Cristalino tequila as an official category or class. This provides the producers with leeway. Even though there is no official category for the product, producers must show the tequila was placed in oak barrels to complete the maturation state, the color removal process must be specified and the tequila must maintain the characteristics of maturity once the process is complete.
This makes certain the Cristalino tequila is different than a Plata, Silver or Blanco tequila. Despite the similar appearance when in a glass, these types of tequilas are not aged in barrels.
Why Have I Never Heard of Cristalino Tequilas?
If you haven’t heard of these tequilas yet, it’s because Cristalino is still a fairly new category. The first commercial Cristalino tequila was not launched until 2012. Don Julio started to experiment with the development of Tequila Don Julio between 2006 and 2008. The first commercial variant was launched in 2012 as a celebration of the 70th anniversary of the tequila-making journey of Don Julio. This was the very first Cristalino and has since become one of the top-performing variants throughout Mexico.
The product initially launched under the name Don Julio 70 Anejo Claro. The tequila was recently renamed and is now called Don Julio Anejo Cristalino. When the variant was introduced, the term Cristalino was not frequently used for tequila. A small and steady number of tequila manufacturers are introducing Cristalino bottlings. The terms used by these producers do not always mention Cristalino in the name. This makes it more difficult to recognize the category.
A few good examples of Cristalino tequila are Dobel Diamante, Qui Platinum and Herradura Ultra. Platinum is also used often but should not be confused with silver or plata since this is a synonym for Blanco.
How Does Cristalino Tequila Taste?
Despite the appearance of a Blanco, the taste of Cristalino is similar to an Anejo or Reposado tequila. Cristalino has coconut, almond or honey tones frequently with a less citrusy or peppery bite and a long finish as opposed to a typical Blanco. Many offer a light sweetness. In general, Cristalino is easy-sipping and smooth. Bartenders in the United States are mixing Cristalino into cocktails similar to dessert drinks or martinis. These drinks are usually sweeter.
Despite the continuous release of new Cristalino bottlings from tequila producers, not all consumers approve of this category. Hurtado understands the disapproval of some critics. Tequila is extremely traditional. Some tequila drinkers only drink Reposado or Blanco. They do not approve of Cristalino since a new category has been created through the use of modern practices. The idea is the creation of a premium tequila every audience will be able to enjoy including modern and traditional.
How are Aged Tequilas Made Clear?
One of the most common questions about Cristalino is how are aged tequilas made clear. The answer is that activated carbon dust is added to aged tequila by the majority of tequila producers. Cellulose filters or paper are then used for the removal of both the dust and color. The color can also be removed when the tequila is re-distilled. This method is not often used because it takes a long time, needs a lot of equipment cleaning, burns energy and less volume is produced. This is because heads and tails must be cut again and the evaporation.
How Does Filtering Affect Tasting Tequila
The taste of tequila is only impacted if the process is not performed correctly. Filtering just the color and ensuring the aromatic characteristics remain is an art. Everything is dependent on how much carbon is used for each liter combined with the contact time. This means the color can be eliminated without affecting the aromas from barrel storage including caramel, chocolate, vanilla, coconut and maple.
The answer to the question of how does filtering affect tasing tequila changes when the exposure is too lengthy. In this instance, the aromas are often removed. Volcan De Mi Tierra Anejo Cristalino from Romero Mena is a good example of Cristalino tequila because the pleasant aroma from the barrel obtained during the aging process is retained.
How is Mouthfeel Affected by Filtering?
If the color elimination is performed using the right amount, the Cristalino will be silky. This is due to the esterification produced by the barrel. The process of esterification occurs when esters are made by carboxylic acids and alcohol. This process affects the mouthfeel. Esterification is an important part of the process and must be respected. Many of the Cristalino tequilas have a lighter mouthfeel with certain brands watering down this particular version.
A good example is Herencia Historico Cristalino. The abv is 35 percent as opposed to the 38 percent contained in the original version. Even if the Cristalino is the same proof as the original version, the mouthfeel is generally lighter. Herradura Ultra takes an extra step and alters its Cristalino. This is accomplished by adding agave syrup. The result is a more appealing and sweeter version for non-traditional drinkers.
What Happens when the Flavors and Aromas are Stripped Out?
The issue is some of the Cristalino brands have not yet mastered the process of creating a naturally aromatic and clear aged tequila. Many of the Cristalino tequilas are overly filtered resulting in the removal of all of the color and most of the flavor for a neutral product. In these instances, additives are frequently used by the producers for the creation of a flavor profile. Getting the manufacturers to admit this for the record is extremely difficult.
A good example is a comparison between a five-year Herencia Historico Extra Anejo and the same tequila produced as a Cristalino. The original version contains barrel flavors including vanilla, oak, caramel and a rounded mouthfeel. The Cristalino version has an astringent finish, little flavor and is watery within the mouth. When a comparison was made between Tierra Noble Reposado and the Cristalino version, the Repo demonstrated light and pleasant barrel flavors.
The Cristalino version had an extremely strong flavor of eucalyptus. The flavors and aromas of the barrel are retained by Volcan De Mi Tierra Anejo Cristalino. The reason requires a closer look. This Cristalino has a slight color tint remaining.
Cristalino Tequila Prices
Cristalino tequila prices are more expensive. According to research, individuals in Mexico will pay more for an aged and clarified tequila. The average cost of Cristalino in Mexico is 30 percent higher than the non-clear version. The price in the United States is only 16 percent higher.
Image Source: Liquor.com (Tim Nussog)
Is Cristalino a New Tequila Category?
The official answer is no. The actual answer is sort of. Cristalinos are permitted by the Tequila Regulatory Council. The CRT technical committee issued standards for aged and clear tequilas during a meeting in November of 2016. Despite this, no new category was established at this time. According to the rules of the committee, Cristalino tequila producers are required to show documentation the tequila has been aged in barrels. The manufacturing process must also be made clear.
The reason this is so interesting is that the committee stated the rules were established to demonstrate the distinct attributes of Cristalinos. This is similar to the categories for aged and Blanco tequilas. The committee also stated certain aging attributes obtained due to the barrel must be conserved during the process of de-colorization. The presumption is completely stripping away the flavors and aromas obtained during the process of aging in the barrel and over-filtering is not permitted.
Don Julio 70 Anejo Claro Tequila
The cost of the first Cristalino available on the market is $65. The release of this tequila was in 2011 as a commemoration for Don Julio Gonzalez. He entered the world of tequila 70 years previously. This tequila is aged in American white oak barrels for 18 months. The product is then filtered with charcoal to remove the color. This is a premium tequila enjoyed both on the rocks and neat.
The Don Julio 70 is often mistakenly called a blanco tequila.
The first sip contains notes of toasted oak, honey and vanilla in addition to minerals and green herbs. Don Julio 70 can be used to mix into a cocktail. The recommendation of the brand is a simple drink containing sparking water and Cristalino tequila. Serving the drink tall with ice is essential for preserving the integrity of the tequila.
Qui Platinum Extra Anejo Tequila
The cost is $60. This product is different from the other Cristalinos because the aging period is three and one-half years longer than French Bordeaux and Tennessee whiskey barrels. The Cristalino then undergoes a process referred to by the brand as proprietary filtration for the removal of the color. Although sipping this tequila neat is preferable, drinkers are encouraged to try the tequila in numerous types of cocktails.
The idea was to make the once inaccessible category of Anejo tequila more accessible. This means instead of manufacturing an Anejo, Reposado or Blanco, the goal of Platinum Extra Anejo is the creation of a high-end sipping tequila at an affordable price.
Maestro Dobel Diamante Cristalino Tequila
The cost is $50. According to Maestro Dobel, the Diamante expression is the first multi-aged clear tequila available in the world. The product is a blend of Reposado, Anejo and extra-Anejo tequilas aged using European oak casks prior to the double-filtration process necessary for the removal of the color.
This unique technique is used by the brand for the retention of various flavors obtained from spending different amounts of time in barrels. Notes of roasted agave and brightness are due to the Reposado. Deeper flavors of dark fruit, caramel and oak flavors are received from extra-Anejo and Anejo.
Volcan De Mi Tierra Cristalino Tequila
The cost of the two expressions of Cristalino and Blanco from Moet Hennessy tequila is $60. The name Volcan De Mi Terra was derived from the volcano located close to the town of Tequila. The eruption of this volcano occurred approximately 200,000 years in the past. The volcanic soil resulting from the eruption became part of the terroir of the region. This volcano has also be incorporated into the design of the bottle.
A variety of casks are used for aging this Cristalino and it is supposed to be sipped as opposed to used for mixing cocktails. The tequila goes down very easily due to the notes of chocolate, caramel and vanilla positioned with mild citrus and agave. The creation of a Cristalino blend is for embracing the heritage of Mexico. When aged in old-world barrels, the tequila has a subtle and soft personality.
Rock N Roll Cristalino Tequila ($55)
The cost is $55. Although the appearance and name may seem like a joke, this Cristalino is a serious tequila. The product is sold in a bottle shaped like a Flying V Gibson Guitar. The manufacturer also produces mango and Blanco expressions but the Cristalino is most likely the best option.
This tequila is aged in oak barrels for one year before filtration. The aromas of herbal mint and baked agave are alluring. The flavors are cedar, roasted agave, cooked fruit, dark chocolate and citrus.