Master sommelier Richard Betts's first foray into agave distillation was the acclaimed Sombra mezcal, which helps explain his quest for a tequila that evoked a similarly pre-industrialized spirit. As with many of our favorite tequilas, Astral roasts its sugar-rich agave hearts in traditional stone ovens and uses only wild yeasts, but two key differences in its production process stand out. The first is that its agaves are grown on mountainous slopes (the vast majority are farmed on flats) to give them more character from having to work harder to grow. Secondly, after the roasted piñas are crushed, the juice is fermented with the bagazo (the residual pulp) – most producers ferment the juice only – which explains Astral's especially pungent aromas and flavors. Astral is distilled to 92 proof, which Betts calls "a more honest proof," and, for now, hasn't released any aged bottles. [$35; flatiron-wines.com]
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