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For Patrón, an old tequila process is new again

Patrón's newest premium tequila may also be its most old-fashioned.

Visitors to the brand's distillery in Jalisco, Mexico, have long heard how its core line of tequilas is a blend of two different processes: One using a modern roller mill and the old-school method employing a 2-ton volcanic stone wheel called a tahona.

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Only the latter—rarely practiced in modern distilleries—is used to make the new line, Roca Patrón, which starts arriving in stores Friday. (Roca means "rock" in Spanish.) They're more agave-forward spirits, thanks to the rock-crushed agave fibers that remain with the juice during fermentation and distillation. In the modern process, those fibers are filtered out before fermentation.

"The process had changed over time, not for taste, but for efficiency," said master distiller Antonio Rodriguez, in an interview with CNBC. Now, he said, there's greater market demand for spirits produced in a more hands-on way. And it didn't hurt that distillery visitors, who get a taste of tequilas made by each method, often expressed interest in a tahona-only product.

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The Roca Patrón trio is made up of three types: silver ($69), reposado ($79) and añejo ($89). But it's not a straight correlation with the less expensive core Patrón line, which is smoother. The Roca Patrón tequilas have more complexity, and are less citrusy.

Source: Patron

Distillers experimented with proofs and aging, looking to maximize agave flavors. "What would be the perfect balance?" Rodriquez said. For the final result, it meant higher-proof products, and longer stints in single-use American bourbon barrels (versus Patrón's shorter stints in a mix of new and used oak).

Drink up

"My personal choice will be, sip it," said Rodriguez. But bartenders are excited about the new line's cocktail potential, too. Roca Patrón was one of the few tasting rooms we saw at the Tales of the Cocktail festival that generated a line of bartenders stretching down the hall, waiting to sample.

"I really like the flavor profile of the agave-forward notes, which makes it very mixable," said Anthony DeSerio, president of the Connecticut chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild. "It adds a different note to tequila cocktails that you normally don't get."

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(For an easy take on a classic cocktail, check out the Añejo Old Fashioned recipe below, from Esteban Ordòñez of Burning Waters Cantina in New York City.)

At a New York City launch event in late July, bartenders tried the tequilas in drinks from sweet to spicy.

DeSerio's cocktail "For Those About to Roca" used the Roca Patrón reposado, as well as dark maple syrup, pineapple juice and egg white. The ingredients are ones that most consumers already have on hand, and the combo highlights the agave and bourbon notes of the reposado, he said.

Patrón Roca Añejo Old Fashioned

  • 2 oz Patrón Roca Añejo
  • 1 bar spoon of light or amber agave nectar
  • 1 Tsp water
  • 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • 2 dashes of Peychauds orange bitters
  • 1 orange peel for garnish
  • 12 oz sparkling wine

In a mixing glass, combine all ingredients. Stir until completely mixed. Pour over large ice cube. Stir a few times. Express the orange oils from the peel over the cocktail, and then garnish with the peel.

Credit: Esteban Ordóñez

—By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant