You're at the bar and you see that your favorite top-shelf tequila is right next to your favorite top-shelf mezcal. What do you do?
What if I told you that there was some kind of non-blasphemous way of satisfying both of your agave needs at the same exact time? Welcome, indecisive person, to the brave new world of Humito—the world's first smoked tequila.
Consider this the tequila industry's response to the mezcal trend, which came out swinging a few years ago and probably converted a few sworn tequila-lovers to the smokier of the agave spirits. In a nutshell, Humito is made from 100-percent blue Weber agave and is smoked with wood rather than cooked with steam, as tequila traditionally is processed. The flavor is exactly what you would imagine: smoky, but a few degrees less smoky than some of the bonfire-tasting stuff you've grown to love—and, of course, definitely not as fiery on the way down.
At an insanely ridiculous soiree in Los Angeles last night, I sat down with Juan Domingo Beckmann, the soft-spoken, 11th-generation master tequilero—who also happens to be the CEO and executive of general direction at Jose Cuervo—behind the ingenious beverage. Just to give you an idea of how crazy things got, the party involved celebrity hatmaker Nick Fouquet burning a hat in public, Jaime Camil shouting at the top of his lungs, and plenty of free-flowing smoky negronis. We talked about the future of tequila, what makes his smoked tequila different from a mezcal, and why he prefers to enjoy his latest product in a cocktail instead of sipping it straight.
MUNCHIES: Hi, Juan. How's your night going so far? Juan: It is going great. I'm very happy that we were the first ones to bring back tequila that tastes and is done in the same way as we think it did 100 years ago, when they used to cook the agave with mesquite wood. We are excited to have mixologists and tequila aficionados taste this tequila, too.
What led you to smoke a tequila? All we wanted to do was have the best tequila in its class but also, we wanted to innovate. We are very proud of Humito. Before gas came along in Mexico, tequileros would cook the agave with wood, just like mezcal. Then tequila evolved, and they started to cook it with steam because it was much more efficient and you didn't have to cut trees. I saw that people were talking a lot about mezcal but I was like, "Wait, that is how tequila used to be and taste before!" Let's just say that we are trying to bring this tradition back from the dead.
What is the main difference between your smoked tequila and a traditional mezcal then? The main difference still is the agave. The agave for tequila is blue agave and with mezcal, they generally use other types like espadín or other wild agaves. Humito's smoke flavor doesn't overpower the flavor of the tequila, too.
How many times do you distill Humito? Twice. I tried three times but then it becomes too neutral. At that point, you are getting closer to a vodka.
Mezcal has been trending around the world for years now. Why should people give your smoked tequila a chance? I think both are great products, but the difference is taste. Mezcal, as you probably know, is more smoky. If you like this taste, it is a great product. With tequila, you taste more pure agave. Our smoked tequila is a little bit more balanced from the two.
Your family is kind of a huge deal, since you guys pretty much defined the mindset for tequila drinkers around the world throughout several generations. What was it like to grow up in this environment? Some of my earliest memories are inside of a house in the town of Tequila. My family and close friends would drink tequila straight or in paloma form. It was always before a meal and it was always paired with botanas [appetizers] like fresh cheese, quesadillas, and some vegetables. I was always around tequila and when I was old enough to drink, they gave me tequila straight to taste it. At first, I thought, "I don't know about this," but then you grow into it. Now, I absolutely love it.
How does it feel to come up with such a radical beverage? Very proud. Coming from the first family of tequila producers, I wanted keep things interesting in the world of tequila. Humito is definitely one way. Dobel Diamante, which is the world's first aged and then filtered tequila, is another one of these ways. I'm very proud and happy to continue promoting tequila. I love giving different types of tequila to the world. I hope that people like it, too.
How have people responded to your smoked tequila? In the US, people love to taste new things and learn about it, so they are loving it. In Mexico, it is also doing well but the trend right now is leaning towards the more friendlier, ultra-premium, softer tequilas, like our Diamante line. We have seen people switch from their favorite 12-year-old Scotch to this new line of sweeter, smoother tequilas.
Where do you see the future of tequila going in general? I see the future of tequila growing. Aside from the US and Mexico, tequila is still a very small category around the world. There is a huge opportunity to grow the category. In 20 to 25 years, I think tequila is going to become like Scotch or single-malt Scotches—which is to say a very sophisticated, very international, well-recognized category. In California, it is a very premium and respected spirit. I think this is going to happen around the world soon because tequila is such a great product. I can only see more people liking tequila.
What is your favorite way to drink Humito? Humito works better as a cocktail for me, but you should taste it straight it at least so you can experience tequila the way it used to taste.
Thanks for speaking with me. Editor's note: Parts of this interview were translated from Spanish.