Patron deserves a lot of credit – they really helped kick off the current premium tequila craze, and they did it during a time when much of the tequila in the US was mixto (50% agave based and 50% “other”, often sugar cane). Now, there are a dizzying number of tequila choices, most of which are now 100% agave based. This change in the market is greatly due to Patron’s unwavering commitment to create a product (and product category) that elevated tequila to a premium product that you’d be just as happy sipping as shooting.
As the tequila market has grown, so has the opportunity for ultra-premium tequila releases. Patron has played in the ultra premium space with their Gran Patrón Platinum, a +$200 tequila which has been distilled three times (most tequila is only distilled twice). Platinum was designed to appeal to the high end crossover vodka drinker, but its price has kept it well out of the reach of most vodka and tequila consumers. Gran Patrón Piedra, which has been available in travel retail/duty free for some time, comes at the ultra-premium space from another angle. Instead of trying to appeal to crossover vodka drinkers, Piedra is an extra anejo tequila meant to appeal to die hard aged tequila fans as well as crossover ultra-premium American whiskey drinkers. The timing to move Gran Patrón Piedra from a travel retail offering to full blown product isn’t accidental. Patron, one of the titans in the tequila space, has seen some stiff competition from the likes of Don Julio and upstart Tequila Avion. Avion recently released an extra anejo tequila called Tequila Avion Reserva 44 which competes in the very same space that Piedra lives, and Don Julio’s 1942 has begun to find some significant traction. Patron’s quick response to Tequila Avion Reserva 44 (which was released only of a couple months ago) is an important indicator of just how fluid the tequila market is and just how fierce competition has become.
Gran Patron Piedra is markedly different than Patron’s other tequila offerings; while most tequila is produced in an industrialized process, Piedra uses the traditional process of grinding the roasted agave heart (called the pina) using a stone wheel called a tahona. The resulting juice is called agua miel, which translates to “honey water”. Typically this agua miel is fermented on its own, but for Piedra, the crushed agave fiber is added back into the mix. This mix is distilled and then aged in a combination of new American oak and French oak casks for at least three years (making it an extra anejo tequila). As with many high end releases, Patron Piedra is then bottled in a fancy etched glass decanter topped with an enclosure that emulates the tahona stone. This bottle is then enclosed in a fabric lined display case that looks a lot like a fancy coffin.
Gran Patron Piedra Extra Anejo Tequila (40% ABV / 80 Proof, $399) – medium amber in color, the nose on Piedra clearly shows off its time in barrel with a fair amount of oak, cigar box, and clove spice combined with black pepper, clove, and spicy jalapeño pepper. The integration between the oak spice notes and pepper from the tequila is very solid and the two different kinds of spice work very well together. There is also a nice undercurrent of sweet caramel that helps bring it all together. The entry for Patron’s Piedra is a lot less spicy than the nose would suggest, with the sweeter caramel and butterscotch leading things off. It’s not until the midpalate that we really get the spice from the nose with black pepper, clove, and jalapeño pepper joined by cinnamon and light oak. As with the nose, the combination of the different kinds of spices is nice, but here the old cigar box and deeper oak notes really aren’t in play. It’s a combination of sweet caramel and both oak and pepper spice which defines the finish which is medium length, slightly dry, and fairly pleasant. The mouthfeel on Patron Piedra is nice, a little more dry than lush, but well balanced with the taste.
There’s no question that Patron Piedra is an expertly crafted tequila which manages to maintain the core character of the Patron flavor experience while coming at it with a lot more balance and finesse. Side by side with Tequila Avion Reserva 44, it’s much less sweet with a much tighter focus on integrating different kinds of spices. The toughest thing about Patron Piedra is its price, however. It’s extraordinarily difficult to get past the staggering $400 price tag, especially when you consider that Don Julio 1942 is priced at $140 a bottle and Tequila Avion Reserva 44 priced at $150. Yes, one can make the argument that Piedra is angling for the space that Don Julio Real occupies, which is much closer to $400, but we feel even Real is overpriced in that space. Patron Piedra IS the best expressions of Patron we’ve tried, and with a sense of balance we’ve yet to see in Patron’s products. Unfortunately, at this price, it’s well out of the reach of most Patron fans which is a shame, because Gran Patron Piedra Extra Anejo Tequila is exceptional tequila.