“That is kind of the origin of Puntas: It is the most coveted part of distillation usually saved only for family and friends for special occasions, such as a wedding or baptism or quinceñera,” Carlos Camarena explains from the aging room of his brand new Los Alambiques distillery.
Sitting next to his daughter and protégé Fany, the stone-walled cellar provides us all shady respite from the arid Jalisco highland sun upstairs.
“If there’s something special happening in the family we’ll use this,” he says of his latest over-proofed expression, the follow-up to last year’s inaugural Plata Puntas 2022.
“Because it is not like your regular high-proof tequila, which is, ‘Okay, I distilled all of this at 120 proof and then I brought it down to 110.’ Because then you are using the whole distillation—but Puntas is just a little segment [of the distillation run].”
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In tequila distillation there are three main parts: the head, the body (or “heart” in some parlance) and the tail. Maestro Tequilero describes the sweet spot of a distillation as we sample a variety of Ocho expressions. puntas, sometimes dubbed the “distiller’s cut,” is sourced.
“When you begin distilling you have the head, and then you have the neck, which is very, very short, and then you have the shoulders,” Camarena explains, holding up a glass of his crystalline tequila as evidence. “We refer to all of this as the Bodybuilding distillation, but there’s different parts of those bodies. So I would say the punta is the neck and a little bit of the shoulders, and each one is completely different.”
It is also important to note that not every batch will yield puntas which are separated from the main distillation. Gas chromatography tests can be used over the two weeks of distillation to determine which distillations are containing the right levels of various congeners. methanol levels, superior alcohols, esters, aldehydes, etc.) Puntas are only considered when the lab deems a batch perfect. The Ocho team will strike when the lab has identified a perfect batch.
Few labels use puntas, due to the time and attention they require. Tequila Ocho’s label is different from the average tequila. Launched in 2008 by the third-generation maestro tequilero (and fifth-generation agave farmer) Camarena and Tomas Estes—the man widely credited with introducing tequila to Europe via his Café Pacifico restaurant in Amsterdam, earning the position of Europe’s official Tequila Ambassador by the Mexican National Tequila Chamber—Tequila Ocho was founded on the principles of Blue agave – a great way to show off the region’s terroir.
The two decided to achieve this by focusing on one field for each batch. Each bottle of Ocho, therefore, not only contains the name (e.g. Plata, Reposado, Añejo and Extra Añejo), but also the exact field those agaves were sourced from.
For instance this year Ocho bottled five different expressions of their single estate Plata—named World’s Best Blanco Tequila at last year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition—all sourced from different fields.
Camarena, an agronomist with a degree, considers himself to be more of a tequilero than a farmer of agave. Camarena told his daughter, in a funny/sweet moment, that at least his father spared him from having to work the Arandas fields for a jimador or agave harvester.
This is because each field contains unique elements, such as soil composition, minerals and altitude. The idea is that each field has unique elements (e.g. Its agaves are unique. And these elements will uniquely influence the final tequil—and especially a puntas, which is considered the most authentic expression of the azul piña.
The field from which 2023’s Plata Puntas come from, Rancho Mesa Colorada, is located fewer than 18 miles from the stills of this Tequilera Los Alambiques where we sit.
Once distilled, the last step in the process becomes the difficult decision of exactly how much water—sourced from a nearby deep well—to add to proof the batch. Camarena goes into great pains to explain proofing a punta is not an exact science, but rather a subjective decision based on each unique spirit.
“It’s not me telling the tequila, You need to be 100-proof,” he says of the delicate art. “No, it is the tequila that says, ‘Hey, I’m ready as I am. This is the perfect piece of art.’”
For last year’s inaugural Puntas expression Camarena made the final decision; for 2023 he invited Fany and a group of agave aficionados to vote. What is the final decision? A powerful but surprisingly smooth 53% ABV.
The liquid is bursting with a grassy flavor, accompanied by notes of pine, green agave and ancho chilies. The whiff of fresh cut grass is strong, yet the mouthfeel is plush, the overall palate balanced with notes of toasted cocoa and sautéed butter. The profile is agave-forward, aided in part by the high proof. One could share Plata Puntas, 2023 with pride. Fans of mezcal ancestral can now enjoy tequila, which has the same rich flavors.
“In the end the tequila will have its right point to tell you, This is the best way I can express perfection. This is my best way of expressing myself,” Camarena says, pouring us one more glass of his pride and joy. “If you add any more water, you are taking something of my personality away.”
Only 1,100 bottles of Tequila Ocho Plata Puntas will reach America. Find it however you can.
Follow Deputy Editor Nicolas Stetcher on Instagram at @nickstecher and @boozeoftheday.