If there’s one facet of the alcohol market that has taken on a particularly visible level of importance during the era of pandemic and quarantine, it’s been e-commerce. The ability to purchase beer, wine and spirits online has been invaluable to those who can’t or don’t wish to venture outside the safety of their homes, and a way to still experience new flavors without browsing a crowded package store or putting in a special order with your usual retailer. Many states amended or suspended existing laws regarding alcohol delivery during this period, potentially establishing precedents that will be hard to dislodge even after the pandemic has subsided. The longer we get used to the idea of shopping for our liquor online, after all, the harder it will be to go back.
It makes sense, then, to make new products available throughout the U.S. in this particular moment, and one of the companies taking advantage has been Santera Tequila, which began offering its core lineup online throughout the country this May. With MSRPs between $45-59, Santera positions itself as a mid-to-to-shelf alternative to the likes of Patron, with the expected core expressions: Blanco, Reposado and Anejo. They come in cleanly designed (some would say “basic” or “antiseptic”) rectangular bottles, with rather plain front labeling but a lovely illustration on the reverse side. Visually, it feels like a “less is more” approach, but as ever, we care more about what’s in the bottle.
Santera’s tequilas are 100% blue agave, made at the Casa Maestri Distillery “in the heart of Tequila, Jalisco.” This is obviously the source of many classic-style tequilas, which is what we expect from these bottles, which are made in the traditional brick oven method. With that said, let’s get to tasting.
Santera’s unaged blanco tequila weighs in at the expected, basic 40% ABV (80 proof) common to mass-market tequilas, with predominantly fresh aromatics of grass, salt and pepper. Agave influence is there, but it’s not necessarily what you’d call robust, playing second fiddle to a briny sort of salinity and notes of grapefruit citrus.
On the palate, this one is pretty light and moderately sweet, with notes of salinity and green plantains, earth and grapefruit citrus. It’s also quite peppery, but the low ABV makes for very easy drinking, almost effortlessly so. This isn’t the most assertive blanco I’ve had in recent memory, but it’s very clean and fresh, and should make for easy mixing. Still, one might expect a bit more intensity for that price point, and a slightly higher proof point might have helped this one stand out more.
The reposado version of Santera is aged in oak for “up to seven months,” which is a respectable amount of time for a category that only requires two months to qualify as reposado. Regardless, you don’t get a lot of wood or oak on the nose or palate here—like the blanco, this one initially presents as salty and herbal, with peppery notes but also a slightly smoky/roasty quality that begins to hint at the presence of the barrel.
On the palate, this one seems a bit more creamy in texture than the blanco, with more fruity notes, especially apple. Slight vanilla modifies the blanco flavor profile, as well as the faintest hint of green oak. All in all, this is still more “fresh” and grassy than something reflecting much age, with more pink grapefruit citrus rounding it out. The difference is subtle, but that’s the case with many reposados.
The anejo expression is aged for “up to 16 months in American oak barrels,” but also mentions that it is blended with “a touch of extra añejo” for additional complexity. The result is the most distinctive of these three Santera offerings, although it still errs on the side of approachability rather than bombast. Like the other two offerings, this is still 40% ABV (80 proof).
The nose here gives significantly more indication of the spirit’s time in the wood, with more of a toffee-like note, hints of tobacco and mild oakiness. As I dig into it further, the thing that starts leaping out at me more is a pleasant note of cacao nibs in particular.
On the palate, this is significantly more rounded. There’s a burnt sugar flavor that puts one in mind of caramel candies or a Werther’s Original, but also a drying spice with slightly astringent qualities, ‘ala red chile pepper. Again, though, I ultimately end up feeling like a higher proof point might have yielded a more well-earned sense of richness. Ultimately, this entry is the most distinctive of the three, but I’m not sure it projects the decadence it would like to, whereas the Blanco at least is providing the freshness it intends to capture.
All in all, the Santera Tequila lineup all strike one as various shades of easygoing tequila. They are perhaps not quite as vivacious as they would like to be, but all are fairly easy to enjoy, and should be effortless mixers. Sometimes, that’s all you need.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.