Tequila is the James Dean of spirits—mysterious to an almost mythical level and as misunderstood as the most iconic Rebel Without a Cause. While connoisseurs have known of its nuances for many years, the average consumer of tequila still regards it as a wild party companion, typecasting it as the shot with salt and lime that changes the trajectory of so many nights, the pitcher of limeade margaritas that unleashes the summer, or the excuse to set Jimmy Buffet on replay. And, while there’s nothing inherently wrong with the tequila’s reputation, if more people could look beyond its standoffish sunglasses, leather jacket, and tight jeans, they could see its inner heart and its true beauty; they could appreciate this Mexican elixir in the same way that people revere scotch or even craft bourbon. In December, 2019, the Chatham Bars Inn set forth upon a journey to help guide its guests to such an end, and the result is a truly unique tequila, exclusive to the resort, one that will happily open its soul to anyone adventurous enough to take a sip.
The team from Chatham Bars Inn included Managing Director Gary Thulander, Director of Food and Beverage Kyung Lee, Master Mixologist Adam Couto and Director of Sales and Marketing Simon Rodrigues, and their mission to tequila country began with a flight to Guadalajara, in the state of Jalisco, followed by a 130-kilometer drive to the town of Arandas, home of La Altena Distillery. Founded by Don Felipe Camarena in 1937, La Altena has been passed down through three generations of family; grandson Carlos currently holds the position of Master Distiller. The visitors were given tours of the agave fields and the entire production process, one that features centuries-old traditions. In fact, fermented agave predates the town of Tequila, also in the state of Jalisco, which was founded in 1530. Agave plants take about six years to reach maturity, at which point, workers harvest them and use a sharp hand tool called a coa to shear off the “leaves,” or pencas, leaving the pina, which resembles an oversized pineapple and contains the juice, or honey. Simon Rodrigues recalls, “They still use the old process in making their artisan tequila, cutting and roasting the agave in walk-in brick ovens, then extracting the juice, fermenting it with yeast, and distilling the final product.” La Altena uses a traditional Tahona volcanic stone millwheel to crush the pinas, and the agave fibers and juice are mixed by foot in open air fermentation barrels. Copper pot stills are used for the double-distilling process. Once complete, the aging begins. For blanco tequilas, the spirit goes straight into bottles; American oak barrels, usually repurposed from Bourbon distilleries, are used to impart flavor in the reposados and añejos. Because each barrel is unique, each aged tequila carries its own distinct qualities. Master Mixologist Adam Couto and the Chatham Bars Inn team were seeking exactly the right one for their signature barrel.
After an informal sampling of a variety of tequilas, La Altena provided the CBI team with an official tasting. Rodrigues says, “They set down three lines of numbered glasses, and each line had four or five varieties. Some were more appropriate for sipping, while others were more suited to mixing in cocktails.” Couto prioritized flavor, but he also wanted versatility, finally deciding upon one particular barrel from a reposado under the El Tesoro brand. Rodrigues explains, “Reposado means ‘rested.’” El Tesoro reposados typically rest for nine to 11 months, which imbues the straight agave flavor with sweetness from the oak barrel along with a flavor spectrum that includes earthy, citrus and peppery notes. “The whole process, from experiencing the city of Guadalajara to seeing every aspect of tequila production, was super educational,” says Rodrigues. Even the glasses in which La Altena served its tequila offered a new experience. “They were like shorter champagne flutes,” he says, “which encouraged you to sip and really enjoy what the tequilas had to offer.”
The Chatham Bars Inn received its barrel of signature El Tesoro Reposado in early June, and is proud to offer this traditional yet one-of-a-kind tequila to visitors and guests. For those who prefer cocktails, Adam Couto has already concocted the Latitude 41, which features house-made ginger syrup and lime juice along with the zing of chilis from Ancho Reyes liqueur. Named for Chatham’s location on the map, the drink also pays homage to the distance the tequila has traveled from its town of origin, 40 latitudinal degrees to the south. The Chatham Bars Inn signature barrel contains the equivalent of 240 bottles, but Rodrigues expects that it will sell quickly. “We’re already preparing for a second one,” he says. “There really aren’t many bars on the Cape where you can experience this type of tequila.”
Chris White, a frequent contributor, teaches English at Tabor Academy.
Read more about Chatham Bars Inn HERE.