Tequila tends to get a lot of attention in May, when Cinco de Mayo encourages Margarita-fueled revelry. Although blanco Tequila is the bottle most often reached for to mix drinks, a growing number of agave connoisseurs are pouring añejo Tequila instead.
In order to be called añejo,the agave-based spirit needs to be aged for longer than a year. That said, most producers go the extra mile, often aging from 18 months to as long as three years.
And don’t forget extra añejo Tequilas, the most rare and (usually) expensive bottlings, aged for longer than three years. This is a relatively new category, established in 2006 by the Consejo Regulador del Tequila—the Mexican agency that regulates Tequila production. All that barrel time under the watchful eyes of maestros tequilieros yields extraordinarily complex, deeply flavored Tequilas that often rival fine Cognacs and whiskies.
These “sipping Tequilas” are well worth seeking out. At the lighter end of the scale, they layer delicate notes of wildflowers, tropical fruit and jalapeño, with honey and vanilla. Meanwhile, longer-aged versions often show robust caramel and spice, often with surprising touches of chocolate, espresso or even hints of dried fruit or smoke.
Although añejo Tequila is sometimes considered too precious to mix, a growing number of bartenders are using it in cocktails, often in drinks where you might expect to see whiskey instead.
These expressive añejos are delicious enough to encourage a trip to Mexico—or at least a trip to the nearest Tequila bar to try more.
Recommended Añejo Tequilas
Cazul 100 Tequila Añejo Reserva (Mexico; Distiller Sales Co., Princeton, MN); $38/750ml, 95 points. This golden Tequila balances honey and lighter jalapeño and bell pepper notes for a classic profile, finishing with vanilla, ripe banana and echoes of cinnamon and clove. Sip or mix. Best Buy. abv: 40%
T1 Tequila Añejo Estelar (Mexico; T1 Tequila, San Antonio, TX); $54/750ml, 94 points. This lush Tequila has a caramel and maple profile, shored up with plenty of baking spice and jalapeño. It finishes long with enticing touches of espresso, leather, baking spice and burnt orange peel. abv: $40
Santera Tequila Añejo (Mexico; Santera Spirits, New York, NY); $55/750ml, 92 points. Soft rose gold in the glass, this añejo has a distinctly sweet, rich fragrance, like vanilla syrup. That rounded sweetness is echoed on the palate, with vanilla, almond and toffee, drying to allspice, clove, leather and espresso. Overall, it drinks a bit like an overproof bourbon. Aged up to 16 months in American oak barrels then blended with a touch of extra añejo. abv: 40%
Recommended Extra Añejo Tequilas
Gran Patrón Piedra (Mexico; Patron Spirits Company, Las Vegas, NV); $400/750ml, 97 points. Patrón’s first-ever extra añejo is aged at least three years, and is named for the stone wheel (piedra) that crushes agave to make Tequila. It has an amber hue and a rich aroma that mixes caramel, dried fruit and peppery notes. The palate is silky and rounded, with lots of caramel and oak up front, tapering off gently with anise, ginger and cinnamon. abv: 40%
Dulce Vida Extra Añejo Tequila (Mexico; Dulce Vida Spirits, Austin, TX); $160/750ml, 95 points. A special edition for the company’s five-year anniversary, this Tequila was aged a full five years in Napa Valley wine barrels that previously held Merlot and Cabernet. The end result is a tawny, rose-gold hue and lovely, complex fragrance that melds floral, fruity and honeyed agave, spiced up with peppery hints. At 100 proof, it’s understandably fiery, but mellows with some dilution to a juicy-sweet profile that shows orange, red fruit and honey, finishing long, spiced and warm. abv: 50%
Herradura Seleccion Suprema Extra Añejo Tequila (Mexico; Brown-Forman Beverages, Louisville, KY); $350/750ml, 93 points. It would be easy to mistake this añejo for a Cognac: the rich, complex aroma suggests stone fruit and caramel, like an aged brandy. It’s soft and rounded on the tongue, with peach and apricot, almond and hazelnut, and vanilla. Only the spicy finish—baking spice, cayenne, black pepper—gives it away as Tequila. abv: 40%