“Charm is a product of the unexpected” – Jose Marti
I sit, holding glassware that contains a spirit as clear as the glass itself, between two coconut-growing palm trees in the continental United States’ only tropical region capable of supporting such flora: southern Florida. Overhead the breeze is indicated by the swaying evergreen leaves, though it’s hardly felt, and the sand beneath my feet (a pet peeve on most occasions) is offering a cool and welcome respite from the heat of the midmorning sun.
That, then, makes at least two departures from the norm for me: the color of the spirit and the pleasure of the beach. The occasion, as you might assume, is a vacation, and I find myself here in a meditative mood. Though I’m not typically one to enjoy the beach, I do very much enjoy the ocean for all of the usual reasons. It makes you feel small and insignificant, and that makes you smile. It offers context; in a world that often makes little sense, there can be no mistaking that the ocean is large and we are small and at Mother Nature’s mercy.
The thought then occurs that the spirits world is another thing far larger than I’ve given it credit for. The reason for that is quite by choice: I don’t particularly dislike other spirits, but I overwhelmingly prefer bourbon, and so I make it my business to wade in those waters whenever possible. However, when one is in such a place (Florida, the beach, and unfamiliar territory generally speaking) it is good etiquette to follow the lead of locals. With tequila being the drink of choice, I thought I might embrace this uncharted territory on my Malt Review map and made the decision to review the bottle at hand: Fortaleza Blanco Still Strength.
For those who – like me – are unfamiliar with some of tequila’s particulars, allow me to briefly run down a bit of what makes it unique. Tequila is made by distilling the fermentation of Weber Blue agave plants, a succulent in the lily family. It must contain at least 51% blue agave distillate and by law must come from one of five Mexican states, the most well-known being Tequila, Jalisco in central Mexico.
The heart of the agave plant is first slow roasted and shredded, then combined with cane sugar and yeast before being fermented for a number of days. Once deemed ready, the fermentation is run a minimum of two times through a still. “Blanco” is a designation typically reserved for non-aged blue agave plant distillate, though some blancos are stored for up to two months in either stainless steel tanks or neutral oak barrels.
As someone familiar with whiskey production, one immediately striking parallel is the effect time has on each product. That’s to say: while whiskey spends the majority of its production time being aged, tequila spends most of its time being cultivated. The blue agave plant necessary for tequila production takes between six and eight years to reach maturity, which is also right around the sweet spot for bourbon aging. This means that while the time invested in both is comparable; that time is spent in growing and harvesting for blanco tequila where it’s spent more passively on barrel aging in whiskey making.
Some of these thoughts swirl in my head as I watch the undulating waves wash right up to my toes, but then an even better thought surfaces: “have a sip.” Before my official notes, let’s parse some of the specifics. Fortaleza Blanco Still Strength clocks in at 46% ABV and is so-named because of the extra proof it carries by forgoing water dilution (tequila is permitted to be proofed between 35% and 55%, though most fall on the low end of the spectrum). Additionally, it’s verified as being additive-free.
The brand debuted in 2005 but the family behind it has roots in tequila production that extend back to 1843 with Don Cenobio Sauza, the great-great grandfather of Fortaleza’s current Owner/Operator Guillermo Erickson Sauza. The elder Sauza is known simply as “the Father of Tequila” in part because he’s the man who determined blue agave is the best agave for the spirit’s production, and he served as Tequila’s municipal president for a short period as well. In 1873 Don Cenobio became the first to export tequila to the United States, pre-dating his biggest rival and former partner Don José Antonio de Cuervo (of Jose Cuervo fame) by over 30 years. Let’s find out what his great-great grandson’s spirit tastes like today in 2022…
Fortaleza Blanco Still Strength – Review
On the nose: Chewing gum is the first surprise and it’s joined by fresh squeezed lime, cracked black pepper, and honeydew melon. Notes of fresh almonds and orange cake soon waft out of the glass as well as some agave syrup and interestingly a sweet string bean aroma. Overall the scents play together nicely and mesh well.
In the mouth: Immediately a creamy mouthfeel carries a surprising burst of citrus and peanut shell to go with the juicy honeydew note from the nose along with the earthy verdant taste of freshly picked string beans – a note that very much reminds me of my childhood. There’s also a bit of smoky toffee on the back end which joins the black pepper from the nose. The finish hums, but doesn’t distract from the lush texture or the refreshing cavalcade of flavors indicating that the proof point was chosen to highlight balance rather than brashness.
Fortaleza Still Strength is a delicious pour that does a fantastic job of melding bright fruit notes with earthy, more vegetal ones. The proof point delivers fabulously for those more acclimated to spirits over the 100-mark but, because of its creamy texture and inviting flavor, it doubles as a solid sipping blanco for anyone more accustomed to your standard 40% ABV options. Oftentimes calling something a “crowd pleaser” can be a backhanded compliment, but I think it’s truly commendable praise in this case. It’s clear to me that Fortaleza Blanco Still Strength is worth the hype, and I’m sure you’ll be inclined to agree whether you’re between two palm trees or enjoying it in the comfort of your own home.