What’s Cristalino? Meet the Tequila with a Tweak

Aged yet crystal clear, this agave spirit is meant to be savored.

cristalino

Courtesy of JN Silva/Diageo North America

In recent years, a new kind of tequila has joined bottlings of blanco, reposado and añejo on liquor store shelves. It’s called cristalino, Spanish for “crystalline,” describing its lack of color. What’s unusual is that, unlike virtually all other clear tequilas, cristalino is aged.

Typically, when spirits are laid down for long periods in wooden barrels, they take on a darker hue. To make cristalino, producers begin with an aged tequila such as añejo, which spends one to three years in oak, and filter it through activated charcoal to remove the naturally occurring deep gold and soft brown tones.

The result is an agave spirit that looks like blanco tequila, but has a taste profile similar to añejo. Cristalino presents complex flavors of vanilla, sweet agave, peppercorn and distinctive “enhanced floral and fruit notes,” says Jose Coira Villanueva of producer Casa Maestri, which offers a cristalino under its brands El Padrino and Identity Tequila.

“The creation of cristalino is a unique and innovative process that differs from that of the more traditional tequila variants,” agrees Christina Choi, who oversees the popular Don Julio brand as senior vice president of tequila at Diageo North America. In a charcoal-filtered cristalino, “the crisp agave notes are restored, and the citrus and fruity notes are brought back to a more concentrated strength, resulting in a stronger flavor.”

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Although no official designation or regulations exist for cristalino, many producers are embracing the style, which was first released to the American market by Don Julio in 2012. In Mexico, cristalino makes up around 35 percent of the high-end tequila market.

Here in the States, tequila is one of the fastest-growing spirits categories, with sales up 55.5 percent in 2020. Cinco de Mayo this month is a great time to try it. Don Julio 70 is perhaps the easiest cristalino to find in stores. Also look for ones from Volcán De Mi Tierra (named for the volcano that supposedly erupted near the town of Tequila more than 200,000 years ago), as well as Tequila Komos, Tequila Herradura and Tierra Noble.

At Tio Taco + Tequila in Edison, beverage director Mike Spence has amassed an impressive tequila list, including several cristalinos. You can also get a taste at Casa Taco & Tequila Bar in the Tropicana in Atlantic City.

Wherever you take your first sip, make it just that. Cristalino is not made to be knocked back in a shot. In every sip, there’s a lot to savor.   

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