Why The Best Tequilas Are All Grown Up

With age statements becoming the name of the añejo game, tequila is finally reaching its full potential.

In the last few years all the big names in Mexico’s most infamous liquor have been awakening their spirits from long slumber – as many as four years in casks. This year Patrón hit big with a 7 Años: a seven-year aged, $300 limited edition with a limited run of a few thousand bottles.

Okay, you’re not shocked. And perhaps you shouldn’t be. Seven isn’t a big number in whiskey, of course. But Mexico isn’t Scotland – or even Kentucky. And that’s important, because spirit age has a lot to do with climate.

Consider bourbon, which typically ages at least four years in barrels. In Kentucky the temperature is much cooler, meaning that less spirit is lost to evaporation – about five percent a year, a process known in the spirit’s world as Angel’s Share. Jalisco’s warmer climate means Tequila drops

more like 10-12 percent a year.

Why is this important? Never mind the fact that, on average, a tequila cask will be empty in a decade. Angel’s share loss is also an indicator of how much interaction the spirit has with the wood, and wood interaction equals flavor. So while a cask of tequila may be empty in 10 years – less than half the time

it takes to get a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle ready – it’s working harder and faster than bourbon at developing.

There aren’t any hard or fast rules for age statements. Right now several of the best games in Jalisco are too young to have stocks beyond what they’re already producing, so over the next few years we expect this to be a growing trend. But conceptually, consider a 10-year tequila the same as a 50-year scotch or a 20-year bourbon.

So when Patron released its 7 Años label a couple of weeks ago, it became the oldest current production tequila on the market (Tesoro hit that mark a few years ago in very limited quantities). 

Tequila Avión’s Reserva 44  ($150) is aged just short of four years, including a one-month circuit in “petite” finishing barrels. It picks up the oaky notes without losing sight of that earthy agave flavor and hints of ripe tropical fruit.

Cuervo is in the game too. A three-year-old tequila matured in French and American oak, Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia ($125 ) is a recurring limited production. They’ve been putting it out for over the last two decades in limited quantities, so when it hits as it is doing right now, the suggestion is to grab it. 

Limited quantities, by the way, tend to be an industry-standard problem for extra old tequilas. Casa Noble, which you may know as the distillery of Carlos Santana, produced a five-year-old tequila in extremely limited quantities a few years ago under the guise of one of its single barrel projects. Also consider Casa Azul Ultra, which was similarly aged five years and produced in limited quantities.

1800 also got in on the extra añejo game. Last year they released a second edition of the 1800 Milenio ($125). It’s a warmer, spicier spirit that really shows the properties of French oak (hear that, scotch and cognac fans?). 1800 put out another bottle recently with a hefty $2,700 price tag and an ornate bottle: Coleccion. Whether it’s $100 or $2,000 – or more – the suggestion is to drink it straight, perhaps over ice with a touch of spring water. In other words, treat it like a fine scotch or a rare bourbon.

And while, it’s a little ridiculous to consider shaking this stuff up for a cocktail, if you’re decadent, tequila at this age is much more like a sherry-cask scotch (spicy, smoky, earthy) and doesn’t belong in margaritas. A better choice would be a Manhattan (orange wedge instead of a cherry) or an old

fashioned (replacing the simple syrup with agave nectar).