It might be surprising to learn that you can savor tequila in much the same way as whiskey, Cognac or brandy. Connoisseurs will wax lyrical for hours about the different subtleties in flavor and aroma. And the main reason is how much effort goes into its production and the entire aging process.
Tequilas are aged using wooden barrels or tubs made of oak. Wood helps to soften the tequila and give it a smoother flavor. The oils released by the wood also infuse the tequila and create complex flavors and provide the drink with its color.
Let’s take a look at this infamous drink and see what all the fuss is about.
Tequila production and aging
The production of tequila is heavily regulated. In fact, there are only five geographical areas in Mexico that are allowed to produce tequila – Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, Tamaulipas and the most famous Jalisco.
Authentic tequila is made from 100% Blue Weber Agave (Agave Tequilana). Tequila producers still harvest the agave plants by hand — they cut the leaves away from the plant and the remaining Piña is used to make Tequila. The Piña are then baked in an oven for 2-3 days, and then the remaining sweet juice is extracted and fermented. The liquid is distilled at least twice, often three to four times. After the final distillation, the tequila is ready to be bottled or aged.
Reposado, Añejo and Extra Añejo tequilas are all aged using wooden barrels or tubs made of oak. Wood helps to soften the Tequila and give it a smoother flavor. The oils released by the wood also infuse the tequila and create complex flavors and provide the drink with its color.
Just as rules govern the production of tequila, they also control the aging process. A tequila can only be aged in barrels or vats sealed by the Consejo Regulador de Tequila (CRT). This helps to verify the ages and quality of the tequila when it is bottled and sold. Like many whiskey producers, most tequila manufacturers purchase used oak casks, typically from whiskey producers such as Jack Daniels and Wild Turkey. Sherry casks are another popular choice.
Producers choose old barrels as it is easier to judge the amount of wood oils the tequila will absorb. New barrels release far more tannins and impart a much stronger, less predictable flavor. A new barrel is also more expensive than its used counterpart.
Every barrel has a 25-30 year lifespan. Every time a barrel holds tequila more of the wood oils seep into the liquid. Finally, there is no flavor left to add anything to the tequila. A barrel is only used to age a maximum of five batches of tequila. After that, it is used for repairs or discarded. While tequila absorbs the wood flavors over time, there is also a saturation point. After approximately five years, the spirit is fully saturated and can’t absorb any more tannins. It’s the reason why five years is the top end of aged tequilas.
Is aged tequila better tasting?
On paper, yes. Generally, Añejo and Extra Añejo are only made with the best quality, 100% blue Agave Blanco Tequila. Producing Añejos takes time and cost more money, so the base liquid needs to be of good quality to make it worthwhile.
Whether you prefer an Añejo or Extra Añejo to a Reposado or Blanco is a personal choice, there’s no right or wrong. Many people consider Blanco to be a better representation of tequila because of its pure Agave flavor. Others prefer the complexity and layers of flavor found in an aged tequila.
What are the different types of tequila?
Now that we’ve introduced the aging process, let’s get into the five types of tequila. There are five types of Tequila – Blanco, Joven, Reposado, Añejo and Extra Añejo. Tequila Blanco is not aged, and Joven is usually a combination of Blanco, Reposado and other flavorings. The remaining three types, Reposado, Añejo and Extra Añejo, are all aged anywhere from two months to five years and over.
- Blanco – Also known as Plato or Silver. This tequila is clear in color and light on flavor. It is bottled after distillation so is considered the purest form of tequila.
- Joven – Made from a minimum 51% Blue Agave and another sugar compound. This tequila is essentially a Mixto with added colors and flavoring. Joven is also known as Gold Tequila because of its color. It’s often the base for cocktails or shooters.
- Reposado – Aged in wooden vats or barrels. This tequila is usually a light yellow in color, smoother than a Blanco with a little more complexity in flavor.
- Añejo – Typically made from higher grade 100% agave. Anejo Tequila is aged in barrels for 1-3 years. It is light to dark amber in color and has a complex flavor. Anejo should be drunk neat or with ice.
- Extra Añejo – Extra Añejo is a new type of Tequila that the CRT approved in 2006. It is tequila aged for over three years. Typically between 3-5 years but producers are starting to experiment with even longer aging. Just like the younger Añejo, this tequila is to be enjoyed neat or with ice.
Popular Brands of Aged Tequila
There are several great-tasting brands of aged tequila. The list includes Añejo, Extra Añejo and Reposado. Blanco and Joven are not included since they are not aged.
- Don Julio 1942 – This Tequila is Don Julio’s premium Añejo. It’s aged in American oak barrels for 2.5 years. The result is a smooth, complex tequila with notes of butterscotch, tropical fruit and a touch of white pepper.
- Pentagon Añejo – Aged in American, Hungarian and French oak barrels for 14 months, this Tequila is one to savor. A rich Tequila in color and flavor, expect to discover earth and tobacco tones with a touch of allspice.
- Casa Noble Añejo Tequila – Casa Noble ages its Añejo in new French oak barrels for a full 24 months before bottling. This creates a smooth drink with warm, sweet tones of caramel and dried fruits. Casa Noble Añejo is an affordable, top-quality tequila that also happens to be certified organic.
- Herradura Seleccion Suprema Extra Añejo Tequila – One of the best Extra Añejo tequilas on the market. Herradura ages this tequila for four years in used Kentucky Bourbon American oak casks. Expect vanilla and caramel flavors with underlying hints of citrus and spices.
- Gran Patron – This tequila is distilled once, aged in used American and new French oak barrels, distilled for a second time and then finished off in vintage Bordeaux wine barrels. The resulting tequila is a rich, dark amber and throws up hints of tobacco, caramel and maple sugar.
- El Tesoro Añejo Tequila – El Tesoro is one of Extra Añejo tequila’s original pioneers and has been producing it before the CRT even approved it. The tequila is allowed to age in bourbon barrels for four to five years. The finished product is surprisingly pale but certainly not short on flavor. Expect to taste coffee, dark chocolate and toasted almonds.
- Casamigos Reposado – Aged for seven months in American white oak casks that have already been used for aging whiskey, this tequila has hints of caramel and goes down well as a sipping tequila.
- El Tesoro Reposado Tequila – This one is aged from eight to 11 months in oak barrels and another one that is great for sipping, boasting subtle wood tones.
- Casa Noble Reposado Tequila – Another Casa Noble certified-organic tequila, this is matured in French oak barrels for 364 days. The finished product is full-bodied and smooth, and great over ice.
Tequila is a unique distilled spirit that has its roots in Mexico. It’s traditional production and aging process make it a great drink. Through extensive aging in wood barrels or tubs, tequila gets its unique flavor and smells. The wood’s oil imparts a smooth texture that can be appreciated by many.
And while tequila originates from Mexico, it continues to gain popularity around the world.