After winemaker Richard Betts became only the ninth person in the world to pass the strenuous Court of Master Sommeliers’ Master examination on the very first try, he began looking for other challenges. He cofounded wine labels Betts & Scholl and Scarpetta, and then went on to author two New York Times best-selling books: The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert and The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Whiskey Know-It-All.
It was the last book that shifted Betts’s attention from wine to spirits—specifically, spirits from Mexico.
First, he created Sombra mezcal, but then he decided to make what he considered the perfect blanco tequila. He named it Astral ($40) to signify both a lofty endeavor and a heavenly spirit. Befitting this goal, Astral is made from organic agaves grown on a single estate in the Mexican highlands. After harvesting, the agaves are slow-roasted in traditional hornos, or brick ovens, and then fermented using native yeasts, a process that takes 10 times longer than conventional fermentation.
During crushing, the bagazos (solid pulp from the roasted agaves) is retained in the juice to preserve maximum agave character. The spirit is then copper-pot-distilled and bottled at a higher-than-normal 92 proof. The result is a blanco with a rich, floral crispness and just enough elegant spice to make it ideal for sipping straight up and chilled. It is also a standout in a margarita.
“Astral is really a throwback, or heritage tequila,” says Betts, “the likes of which have not been made in decades.”