Now as a Southern Californian, I love Tequila. With us being so close to Mexico, with there being so much Mexican influence in our region’s culture, Tequila was one of the first alcohols I tried. As someone who has grown up in a Family Owned Business, I appreciate when Family Traditions stay with businesses as they grow. So when I got back home from my trip to Jalisco, Mexico, spending time in both Tequila (yes, that is a real town) and Guadalajara, I found myself appreciating Fortaleza Tequila even more than I did before the trip. And the one thing that stuck with me more than anything else from that trip was when I was able to sit and talk to Guillermo Erickson Sauza (The reason we have Fortaleza Tequila) while he was signing bottles of his own Libations for me. He asked where I was from, to which I proudly stated “Long Beach.” His face slightly light up and he said “That’s awesome man, we’re still trying to make our way into the Long Beach Market.” Which honestly shocked the hell out of me!
In the past 5-10 years Long Beach has been going through a resurgence. Just look at the overhaul Downtown Long Beach has had if you need proof. Not only Downtown, but all over Long Beach there are fantastic bars with great spirits list and awesome cocktails. So how is it that in a town as beautiful as Long Beach, some of the most beautiful Tequila out on the market isn’t being drunk? Some of you might be rolling your eyes at the term “beautiful Tequila”, but when you understand the history in the Erickson Sauza family, the way they run their business, the taste of their products and the honesty and realness of the Father and Son duo that is Guillermo and Billy. There is no other way to describe their Tequilas besides beautiful.
When Guillermo launched Fortaleza in 2005 he wasn’t some dude just trying to cash in on a growing market. On the contrary, Guillermo grew up thinking he would be selling Tequila, the Tequila his ancestors had been making since Don Cenobio opened the distillery La Perseverancia in 1873 in Tequila, Jalisco. But those dreams were shot down when his Grandfather, Don Javier, sold the Family business in 1976. If you recognize Guillermo’s last name, you can guess who his Grandfather sold the business to. But Don Javier was a smart man, while he sold the business itself, he kept the Family’s land, their Hacienda and the distillery he had built in Tequila named Fortaleza. And it was with these 3 properties that Guillermo was able to continue his family’s tradition of making Tequila by using stone ovens to cook the Agave, crushing the cooked plant with a Tahona (2-ton stone wheel) and fermenting in giant oak vats. Putting their three Tequilas, Blanco, Reposado and Añejo, in glass bottles that are all hand blown and capping them with decorative corks representing the piña, which is the heart of Tequila, that are handmade. If you talk to either Guillermo of Billy, you can tell they are men of the time, both living in 2017 just like the rest of us. But if you talk to them about how they make their Tequila, or are lucky enough to see how they make it, it’s like stepping back in time to the turn of the 1900s.
It is that attention to detail, that much care into the process of making Tequila that resonated with me when it came to Fortaleza. In a time where Spirits companies flat out make up grand stories about how they have a long tradition, or how they make their product just how their founders did, and at over a million cases, it was reassuring to see Guillermo and Billy back up their claims. Now as they say, the proof is in the pudding, I can wax poetically all day about the history of Fortaleza, no really, the degree in history allows me to. But how does that transfer to the bottle? Can you taste the work put into making that Blanco, that Reposado, that Añejo? Does a sip of any of them transport you to Guillermo sitting at Panteon Mezquitan during Dia de Los Muertos paying homage to his ancestors or to Billy tasting with you in the Cave at the Distillery sharing his family’s history? As someone who had drank Fortaleza before I went on this trip, I knew it was unique. After the trip, I now know what makes it so.
Commonly when a Blanco Tequila is enjoyed, it is either in shot form along with salt and lime, lemon if you’re real desperate or in a Margarita. None of that is needed when drinking Fortaleza Blanco Tequila. A mild creaminess coats your palate leading to a very pleasant mouthfeel. Delicate notes of salt and robust flavors of the Agave come out, giving it a somewhat earthen rustic profile. The creaminess lingers allowing the drink to be very smooth. While I think this Tequila would be a shame to just shoot back, this is the shot of Tequila Blanco you give to people when you want to prove not all Blancos are created equal. And it will keep you away from anything called “Silver” again.
When you take a wonderful Tequila Blanco and put it in used American Oak for 7 months, only good things can happen right? Light hints of oak come out; subtle coco flavors, a touch of cinnamon and a delicate smokiness from the char of the barrel itself. The creaminess of the Blanco is not lost, but allows the oak flavors to layer on top of it. Causing a bit more of a warming sensation than the Blanco, the Reposado is made to be on the rock, cause you only need one ice cube, and enjoyed slowly.
With 2 years of age in American Oak barrels, how could Fortaleza Tequila Añejo not be out of this world? Rich notes of coco and caramel explode onto your palate with a bright cracked pepper characteristic to balance the sweet flavors out. Lighter Agave herbal notes pair with hints of cinnamon and vanilla. The creaminess of the vanilla just adds to the lovely decadents of this Añejo Tequila.
So this is my call out to you Long Beach, the city I love, the place I will always call home no matter where I live. Our lovely city deserves to drink lovely Tequila. A Tequila that has just as much heart, depth and soul as we do, and one that is made with only good intentions. Long Beach, it’s time to say hello to Fortaleza.