You can blame my old-at-heart tendencies, but if I hear about a new trend, I’m generally suspicious of it. One such development is the rise of so-called “Cristalino” tequilas, in which a tequila that has undergone barrel aging is turned clear as a blanco by the process of charcoal filtering.
As someone partial to dark spirits generally, I felt somewhat aghast that the beautiful color imparted by oak should be hoovered up to make for a better-looking (to some) bottle. However, the choice to filter the color isn’t about aesthetics alone: makers claim that it also re-introduces a certain brightness to the spirit, combining the fuller flavors of an añejo with a blanco’s lighter touch.
Curious about this hypothesis, I tested it out on a few bottles below. Spoiler alert, but I did find my initially skeptical thoughts about Cristalino to be softened up by the end (and it wasn’t just the tequila talking).
Avión Reserva Cristalino ($145)
Introduced in February 2022, Avión Reserva Cristalino is distilled from agave plants that were cultivated at a high altitude and aged in American oak barrels following their distillation. It’s essentially a blend of añejo and extra-añejo tequilas, which were then double charcoal-filtered to grant it Cristalino status.
In the glass, it proves spicy and peppery on the nose with clear aromas of green pepper and a touch of hay that pushes it ever so slightly into agricultural territory. It starts sweet on the palate with juicy bell peppers and pineapple, before rolling into spice with black pepper and jalapeno. It turns grassy and vegetal towards the back, before segueing into a sweet, round finish with creamy marshmallow, marzipan, and even a bit of agave syrup.
Penta Diamante Reposado Cristalino ($100)
Penta’s Diamante Reposado Cristalino happens to be the best-selling of the label’s three tequilas and is aged for seven months in a mix of old and new French oak barrels. The nose reveals fresh and juicy agave, plus a dark, herbaceous sweetness that brought black licorice to mind.
It’s clear and sharp on the palate, beginning with fresh agave and citrus juice flavors. This is followed by coffee grounds at the center as the palate grows creamy, then the familiar tang of licorice followed by fresh vanilla beans and ginger before finishing with a gentle touch of dark cacao.
Tequila Enemigo 89 Añejo Cristalino ($70)
Tequila Enemigo 89 Añejo Cristalino is aged for a full year in a custom-built American oak barrel before the juice is stripped clean of color via a three-part carbon-cellulose filtration system. It possesses a spicy, vegetal nose with a plenty of pepper and a hit of volcanic rock ash.
Its palate is green and mellow at the start with green peppers and fresh agave. The middle of the experience introduces coconut and spearmint as the spirit’s texture grows increasingly creamy, culminating in a trinity of vanilla, cream, and banana—or what I like to think of as banana cupcake batter. I found it to be the most mellow of the three I tried, but by no means deficient in flavor.