With the huge success of flavored whiskey, including Fireball and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, there’s a clear market for sweeter and easier versions of popular spirits. While tequila has found great traction among imbibers, flavored tequilas haven’t. Enter Mariposa from Heaven Hill Distilleries, a unique take on this sweet but familiar space. Mariposa isn’t positioned as a flavored tequila – instead, it’s considered an Agave Nectar Liqueur. Not calling it a flavored tequila frees Heaven Hill to produce the spirit outside of Mexico (it’s bottled in Bardstown, KY), enables them to create a new class of spirit, and helps focus attention more on the brand than what it’s made from.
Although the Mariposa brand is slightly feminine (mariposa is Spanish for butterfly), the packaging is quite masculine, with a bottle that is more reminiscent of a whiskey bottle than a fancy liqueur. It’s really smart for Heaven Hill to walk the fine line between the sexes and deliver a sweeter spirit that should attract both men and women. It’s interesting that Heaven Hill doesn’t mention on the bottle anywhere what the actual spirit base for Mariposa is. Mariposa is made from a mix of agave, tequila, and vodka (aka neutral grain spirit) with rose oil and gardenia added to the mix.
Mariposa Agave Nectar Liqueur (30% ABV/ 60 Proof, $24.99) – from the first nosing, it’s clear that there is tequila in Mariposa, but the tequila isn’t overwhelming or overpowering, it’s just part of the mix. From the tequila we get a slightly vegetal note, fresh agave, and a slight hint of oak. Alongside the tequila is fresh agave. It’s a light honeyed note that intermingles with the flavors of the tequila. With that are clear floral notes including rosewater and gardenia. Mariposa presents as slightly spicy at the front of the nose and then sweet and floral at the back – all in all, a very inviting nose.
The entry is thick and sweet with a fairly heavy mouthfeel - unmistakably a liqueur. The taste is the nose in reverse. The first thing we get is a thick, sweet agave combined with the rose and gardenia notes. Then it switches and presents slight tequila pepper and oak spice. The finish reveals the fact that there is vodka in the mix as it clearly presents itself and then finishes with a slight vodka bite.
Mariposa Agave Nectar Liqueur is distinctly sweet and strongly floral, perhaps too sweet and floral to be enjoyed neat. In many ways Mariposa lives in the same universe as St. Germain, which is perhaps why the recipe on the back of the bottle suggests to mix it with champagne (3 parts champagne and 1 part Mariposa). There’s a little bit of disconnect between the way Mariposa looks and what it is. Mariposa’s bottle makes it look like something you’d grab and pour yourself a glass of, but the reality is that it’s more something you’d mix with than anything else. Heaven Hill has presented an unique entry into the liqueur space and it will be interesting to see if consumers and bartenders latch on to it. Without strong promotion and adoption, this product could be another interesting idea come and gone.