Don Julio is a Tequila you'll find in most grocery stores or bottle shops and so definitely qualifies as a home drinkcart staple - so we've got to review it!
Meet Don Julio, The Man Himself
Don Julio - is an actual person. For starters, this isn't just a brand name - Julio Gonzalez-Frausto Estrada, better known as Don Julio, is the man behind the brand. Julio had grew up in 1920's Jalisco, Mexico, and had taken on numerous jobs, one of which by fate, was distributing Tequila on horseback.
By the time he was 17, with the help of a small loan from a local merchant, Julio would start his own Tequila distillery, the La Primavera, producing a Tequila he branded as "Tres Magueyes" or Three Agaves. This was 1942 - and that's where that year comes from on the top of every Don Julio bottle label.
Don Julio himself.
But of course, Julio is Don for a reason! Not every Tequila-maker made it, and Julio was certainly set apart. He would figure that by using further grown apart agave plants that were also more mature and older, as well as slow roasting the cut agave (called the pina) for much longer and using more agave per bottle - he could produce a Tequila that was much smoother than what was available at the time.
He would even create the smaller squarical bottles that we see today so that when drinkers were consuming Don Julio's Tequilas, they wouldn't be blocked from seeing one another.
While Don Julio plowed on for decades building his brand, it wasn't until his son, Eduardo, that Don Julio the brand really took off. Eduardo would bottle a special edition of his father's Tequila only for guests of their home - but this was so good that guests were constantly asking where they could get it, and eventually Don Julio the brand was born.
And there you have it - Don Julio Tequila!
At the Don Julio Distillery.
What We're Reviewing Today - Blanco vs Reposado vs Anejo
Don Julio Tequila's core range comes in three expressions - the Blanco (unaged), the Reposado (aged for 8 months) and the Anejo (aged for 18 months).
These are all pretty easy to find and they're wallet friendly too - which has made it highly popular as one of the earliest commercially available premium Tequilas.
But here's the kicker - you've got to choose the right expression for what you want to do with it.
Whether you're doing Tequila shots, a Tequila Sunrise cocktail or be sipping on Tequila neat - we'll figure what goes where down below.
Don Julio Blanco Tequila, 38% ABV - Review
All of Don Julio's Tequilas are built off the Blanco, or unaged, expression which is distilled and then left to rest and mellow out in containers before bottling.
Worth noting is that all of Don Julio's Tequilas are 100% Blue Weber Agave, while the legal requirement to be labelled a Tequila is only 51% Blue Agave.
Let's give it a go neat.
Aroma: Bright vegetal scents of fleshy succulents, a dash of black pepper, some lime sherbet, dried rosemary, and vanillic notes to top it off. The vegetal quality is very classic Tequila, and is probably most striking here but otherwise nothing to throw you off.
Taste: Vanillic notes, noticeably sweet and creamy, and then more of that herbaceous quality of the dried rosemary and the vegetal notes. There’s a wedge of orange in there too. The herbaceousness is definitely prominent but it’s rounded out by the vanilla cream.
Finish: A little more peppery here, with more salinity and chalky minerality to the finish. More punchy here too.
This certainly passes the threshold of being harsh or pokey - it’s really creamy and rounded with lots of vanilla backing up the vegetal notes. In that sense, even though the vegetal notes are pretty forward, they’re blunted by the sweeter vanilla that makes it pretty friendly and approachable. Compared to other blanco Tequila’s, this is rounder and more mellow, not as crisp or clean, with alittle more creaminess to it.
I definitely liked the light bit of orange and also I liked that the vegetal quality here came across like dried rosemary which was pretty interesting to me. Nevertheless I can see how the vegetal notes might be alittle difficult but it’s really standard blanco Tequila in terms of that austerity (in which case you either don’t like Tequila or you need some darker sweeter notes - which is where the Reposado and Anejo comes in).
That said, this doesn’t have the punchiness to warrant being a shot, nor does it have the complexity to be something you’d want to sip on. I think this works best in a cocktail - which is exactly what it’s meant for.
Works Best For: Cocktail🍹
Don Julio Reposado Tequila, 38% ABV - Review
Let's get on to the Reposado, which is aged for eight months in American White Oak barrels - so definitely expect some influence from the usually sweeter and vanillic barrel.
Color: Very Light Gold Tint
Aroma: Rather aromatic, it’s a mix of the vegetal succulent but with a more pronounced citrusy brightness of orange peels. It’s still pretty agave forward, but that’s matched with the light honey scents.
Taste: The very light caramel notes take the place of the vanilla cream in the Blanco, here it’s more of a combination of the earthy vegetal notes with a light dash of darker sweetness, kind of like raw honey. The orange citrus notes are more prominent here as well, with alittle bit more clay and ginger candy. It’s still pretty bright but alittle more two-toned with the sweetness and vegetal flavours being most prominent.
Finish: Really smooth, the sweetness comes through alittle bit more here, giving it a softer texture. Very light wood grains. Nice warmth.
This was a pretty good intermediate offer for those who want the vegetal notes but also want some dark tones to match that and give a fuller taste profile - it’s equal parts vegetal and caramel.
I can really see how this would be a very solid drink for most folks, giving you the best of both worlds with sufficient punchiness but still making sure it’s very approachable. I like that it’s very cohesive and bonds the high tones and darker tones together really well.
That said, I think more depth would be nice - while this is really “complete”, it doesn’t go very deep.
I think within the range, this should be where someone gets introduced to Tequila. Really solid flavours, still keeps that Tequila identity intact, but is still very approachable and satisfying to drink.
If you’re doing shots, this would be the move right here.
Works Best For: Tequila Shots 🔫
Don Julio Anejo Tequila, 38% ABV - Review
Finally the Anejo! This is probably the most popular of Don Julio's core range given that it's only a touch more expensive than the Blanco.
The Anejo is aged for 18 months in the same American White Oak barrel, and also noticeably comes in a more squarical bottle versus the rounder bottle for the Blanco and the Reposado.
Color: Light Gold
Aroma: Definitely thicker and richer, here the caramel comes through first, butterscotch candy, chocolate sauce, and then there’s also the vegetal note that’s alittle earthier too. Some orangettes, sugared pineapple, dried apricots, flecks of lime.
Taste: More full-bodied here, really rounded and almost syrupy, it’s quite velvety even. It starts off dark and sweet, more of that butterscotch, chocolate sauce, vanilla cream, some orange liqueur and orange zest - this is outlined by the vegetal notes that are all softer and more earthy. It’s really rich but at the same time the flavours are pretty vibrant and saturated. The woodiness is noticeable, but just gives a slight oakiness to it, albeit not bitter or tannic.
Finish: The flavours really last and carry through all the way, really long finish with a deep warmth. Alittle bit more of that peppery and briny notes, but it’s always backed up by more honey and chocolate sauce.
This has alot of presence - if you like aged spirits then you’ll really enjoy this. It has the depth to make it very satisfying for sipping, whilst giving a good amount of complexity that makes it very enjoyable to savour.
That said, I also think the Anejo is really versatile - if you don’t like Tequila, this would probably be your best pick anyway. With all that caramel and butterscotch, the vegetal qualities are really much more friendly, rounded out and sweetened.
If you do want something that screams stereotypical Tequila, with all that intense vegetal notes, then this isn’t for you. Also if you’re not into aged spirits, then you might find this alittle oaky.
I personally liked how everything is deepened and darkened here, with even the oranges taking on more of a liqueur-like quality. The deep long warmth and the flavours really carrying through all the way to the end was really splendid. This was very enjoyable for me - my personal favourite.
Works Best For: Sipping / Dinner Party 🥃
Famous Last Words
I think one of the things Don Julio does right is that it’s always giving its Tequila’s alot more body than most commercial Tequila’s do - it’s always also retaining that signature citrusy note that’s very slick and catches your attention.
Across the board, they’re all really smooth, really not much of a burn, no booziness or sharpness - so all in, definitely above average. They keep to the same profile except it darkens and deepens across the range, so they’re all really consistent as well. And look, let's not dance around the fact that these aren't artisanal craft spirits, you're not going to find something wild or super unexpected - rather, these are pretty wallet friendly, bang for buck, really reliable, always available, always there for you, count on them to do the job Tequilas. And for that, they do a surprisingly good job.
That said, here’s my take - Blanco for cocktails, Reposado for parties and shots, Anejo for sipping or a dinner party.
Now, less reading, more drinking.