Homemade Cocktails — Experiments, Critiques & Travels
Continuing the series of spirit reviews prompted by my fellow drink enthusiast Lincoln, we next turn our attention to agave — specifically, two renditions of the enjoyably subtle Viva XXXII tequila…
Viva XXXII Joven
Origin: Distilled in Tequila, Mexico
ABV: 40% (80 Proof)
Makeup: Distilled from 100% Blue Agave; joven is a blend of un-aged Blanco and 3-year-old Añejo.
Color & Appearance: Almost perfectly clear, with a very slight gold tinge. No sediment to speak of.
Nose: Clear, clean, and somewhat heavy dose of peppery spice, but not overwhelming. Notes of agave nectar, roasted bell peppers, warmed butter, black or pink peppercorns suggesting herbal spice and sweetness. Slight scent of alcohol.
Taste, Build, and Finish: Grassy and herbal, surprisingly like a light version of Green Chartreuse, and just as zippy; notes of anise, dill, aloe vera, and coriander, with some hints of juniper and pine sap that come out later after the spirit warms up. There is also a woody edge that makes itself known on the first sip, akin to unfinished pine, which deepens as the spirit sits in the glass. The Joven has a medium body and leans toward the sweet side…this sweetness lingers on the middle of the tongue and later hangs on the back of the tongue after swallowing. The finish is medium-to-long in duration, and is sweet, lending additional hints of roast corn and butter to the flavor profile.
Thoughts: The Viva Joven would be solid in citrus cocktails, especially ones that used more subtle, floral ingredients in their build — things like meyer lemons, lavender, apricots, or lime. For being a tequila, the Joven is also surprisingly gin-like in its herbal “cut” or edge as well as its flavor profile, doubling my conviction that it would function well in citrus-based drinks. As it comes off as tasting sweet, I would advise going easy on adding sweeteners to cocktails. As a sipper, it’s quite nice, though as I said, it has a slight, lingering sweetness that could turn cloying unless paired with something acidic.
Curiously, this is a joven — a blend of blanco and aged tequila. This extra dose of aged spirit will give the tequila a bit more complexity and roundness that is atypical of its age and price point. In a way, a joven is more flexible or versatile, working as both a base for mixing and as a sipper. Often you see jovens that are mixtos, or tequilas that are not 100% agave and that include additives such as caramel or neutral grain spirits — no bueno. Spirits like Viva may help revive the category, however.
Lastly, Value: Viva suggests a price of $40.00 per 750mL bottle, which is very reasonable given the taste and quality of the product and the fact that the blend includes a 3-year-old añejo. If you’re looking for a more refined mixing tequila (my minimum benchmark is Cazadores, which goes for $25-$35 — Herradura and Cuervo Tradicional also fall in this range, but to me are less enjoyable and polished) or an affordable-yet-enjoyable sipper, Viva is there for you.
Second, Viva’s older spirit…
Viva XXXII Reposado
Origin: Distilled in Tequila, Mexico
ABV: 40% (80 proof)
Makeup: Distilled from 100% Blue Agave, aged in new American oak barrels for 6 months
Color & Appearance: Very pale, straw-colored gold, and perfectly clear.
Nose: Clear, but not sharp, and distinct, with direct notes of agave and agave nectar and just a tinge of alcohol; notes of lemon, vanilla, black pepper, and a touch of green bell pepper also come through, with bits of lime and fresh grass and, surprisingly, polished leather. This smells lovely, though hints at a subtle taste.
Taste, Build, and Finish: Surprisingly light in the mouth, yet rather astringent, like a clean gin. Its peppery-ness is more on the juniper side, and it’s grassy rather than spicy. Contains hints of clover and/or clover honey, and aloe vera, and it is not nearly as herbaceous as the younger Joven. The spirit is medium-dry, with a delicate sweetness akin to watered-down agave syrup (but this is by no means a bad thing). A bit of agave / cane sugar sweetness comes out after it warms — or maybe it’s more caramelly — and sits on the back of the tongue for a long while, but the spirit clears out from the front and middle of the tongue very quickly. There is a sweet, briefly sharp burn on the swallow that quickly dissipates. The finish is of medium-to-long duration, faint, and vegetal, with hints of hay or sorghum, but sharp, similar to the grassy notes you get in a white rhum agricole. The grassiness eventually gives way to a subtle brininess and fruit, like a very dry sherry. Interesting.
Thoughts: The Viva Reposado would be best for light sipping. As the delicate color suggests, this is not a burly, brusque tequila, and it would rapidly become lost if paired with bolder, more aggressive flavors in a cocktail. If it is mixed, it should be treated simply with lighter accentuating flavors — cinnamon, perhaps a small amount of chocolate, or light, sherry-like fruits or sherries themselves. And this would be excellent alongside cheese.
Lastly, Value: This one is going for $45.00 per 750mL bottle. As this tequila makes a lovely, subtle sipper, this is quite a good value. Something more robust, with more character and more traditional production methods (like, say, Siete Leguas Reposado, which is my favorite) will push $60 or more, so Viva rests squarely, solidly, and comfortably on middle ground. Grab some nice cheese to go with it and you’re set!
Viva falls into the “affordable luxury” category of tequila (though I’m not going to be sucked into that semantic and socioeconomic debate right now) and is relatively transparent in their cost breakdown, but the bottom line is that they’re a very solid, middle-of-the-road spirit that’s worth seeking out for anyone starting to break into the upper echelons of tequila tasting.
And last but certainly not least, Viva currently donates 10% of its net proceeds to charities and organizations geared toward animal abuse prevention — SPCALA, ASPCA, and START are among those listed — and their mascot Phil adorns every bottle. This is in line with a growing trend of distillers and brand owners moving toward greater transparency (especially in their farming and production practices — though I’d love to know more about this in regards to Viva) and social responsibility, which they’re also using, with great effect, for brand promotion via social media. That being said, if we can appreciate the action and results of making a spirit as much as we enjoy drinking it, we’ll all be better for it.
Photos and text by Ian J. Lauer
Please Note: Sample bottles of Viva Tequila Joven and Reposado were provided by the producer for this review.