Review: Patron Extra Anejo Tequila

Patron has added its first new addition to the core tequila lineup in 25 years: at long last, an extra anejo bottling.

This isn’t Patron’s first dance with extra anejo. Patron Extra Anejo 7 Anos hit as a limited edition in 2015, and the infamous Guillermo del Toro Extra Anejo dropped earlier this year. The catch: Both of those were very limited editions. This is a permanent extension to the lineup.

Some details:

Aged for more than three years, Patrón Extra Añejo is the first new addition to Patrón’s core range of tequilas in 25 years, expanding an iconic line that includes Patrón Silver, Patrón Reposado (aged at least two months), and Patrón Añejo (aged for more than 12 months).  Extra añejo tequila, a classification that the Consejo Regulador de Tequila (Mexico’s governing body for tequila) created in 2006, represents the fastest-growing category in aged tequila today.

Patrón Extra Añejo tequila is crafted from the highest-quality 100 percent Weber Blue Agave and distilled using the ancient tahona process and the more modern roller mill method. It is then aged for more than three years in a combination of new and used American, French and Hungarian oak barrels…. Patrón Extra Añejo is packaged in the same iconic bottle as Patrón’s other core tequilas, hand-numbered and hand-labeled.

Say what you will about the recent, wacky Guillermo del Toro bottling, this is a classic extra anejo tequila, with a nose of deep vanilla and caramel, backed by a very gentle herbal character driven by the agave. The creamy palate gives the immediate impression of vanilla ice cream, drizzled perhaps with a bit of chocolate syrup and plenty of caramel sauce. The sweeter components find foils in the form of cinnamon and nutmeg notes and, over time, the emergence of some hints of black cherry, rhubarb, and lemon peel. Amazing from start to finish, it’s a balanced tequila that doesn’t reinvent the extra anejo formula, but which guides it oh so subtly with a careful hand to someplace excelente.

80 proof.

A / $90 /

Review: Tequila Corralejo 1821 Extra Anejo

Tequila Corralejo‘s latest release, an extra anejo, has arrived.

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, Tequila Corralejo has released 1,000 cases of 1821 Extra Añejo (1821) in the U.S. The limited-edition expression, imported by Infinium Spirits, is the latest offering from the award-winning line of premium tequila expressions.

1821 represents Mexico’s rich history and hard-fought sovereignty led by Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a noble priest born at Hacienda Corralejo. He’s renowned for launching the Mexican War of Independence in 1810 in revolt against the injustices of a tyrannical Spanish government against Mexico’s poor. Although Spanish rule was officially abolished on August 24, 1821, Hidalgo is memorialized as the Father of his Country and Mexican independence.

As with all of the brand’s expressions (silver, reposado, añejo),1821 was produced with only the finest 100% Blue Weber Agave tequila at Hacienda Corralejo in Guanajuato, Mexico. Corralejo employs the 400-year-old Charentais method of distillation, the same method perfected by the French in distilling cognac, which is what sets Corralejo apart from other tequilas. The agave is slow cooked in stone clay ovens for 27 hours, then rested for 12 hours before going to the mill to be double distilled in copper pot stills. A fine selection of small American oak barrels provides roasted hints that add to the tequila’s excellent flavor. 1821 was aged for 36 months to yield a tequila with impeccably smooth flavor.

The TL;DR of that is that this is aged for three years, and the results are impressive, if somewhat unexpected. For starters, the nose is much more agave-forward than the typical extra anejo, delicately herbal with secondary notes of white flowers, creme brulee, and lemon peel. On the palate, the tequila is similarly herbal and citrusy — not at all dominated by barrel-driven vanilla and caramel notes the way most extra anejos are. Instead, the experience is quiet and restrained, a study in the interplay between agave and fruit, primarily lemon, culminating in a finish that is at once engaging, summery, and unique.

80 proof.

A- / $130 /

Understanding the Different Styles of Tequila

Like rum, tequila is a versatile spirit: it can be consumed straight or mixed into a wide variety of cocktails, it can make sweet drinks or savory, it’s appropriate for a night on the town or curled up by the fire at home. But there are so many different styles of tequila, it can get overwhelming. Which style is best for making a sweet mixed drink? Which is best for slow sipping? And what do words like “Reposado” or “Extra Añejo” mean, anyway? Follow along while we break down the categories of tequila and see what you can learn about Mexico’s famed spirit.

To start: What, exactly, is tequila? It’s not a distillate of grains — like whisky — or molasses — like rum. Instead, tequila is made from the juice of the agave plant, a Mexican succulent closely related to the yucca. Liquor called mezcal made from distilled agave is produced in many areas of Mexico, but as Cognac is to brandy, to be called tequila, mezcal must be produced in and around the town of Tequila in Mexico’s Jalisco province. During production, tequila is aged for different amounts of time, and that is what will get us the most basic styles of the spirit.

First up is blanco, also sometimes called silver or plata. Blanco tequila is unaged, bottled soon after distillation to prevent changing, and is the most typical tequila used for drinking as a shot and for mixing. Without the barrel influence, blanco tequila represents the pure taste of the agave plant, and the imbiber will get notes of citrus, pepper, light vegetal sweetness, and some heat, which allows the spirit to hold its own in any cocktails you might use it with. Some tequila producers, notably Don Julio, will store their blanco in stainless steel tanks for a month or two, which will cut down on the burn while still keeping the spirit unaged; if a shot of typical blanco is too harsh, you might find a shot of Julio to be a bit more mellow, with a strong grapefruit taste.

Feeling a bit burned out on fiery blanco shots? The next step in the tequila aging process might be just what you’re looking for. With reposado, or “rested,” tequila, the spirit is aged oak barrels (almost always used bourbon barrels) for at least two months and at most a year. This specific aging timetable gives the reposado time to mellow out and pick up some aromas and flavors from the barrel, while still retaining just enough of blanco’s youthful kick. This means you’ll get caramel and honey notes from the barrel, and the citrus and pepper qualities of the tequila will round out and allow flavors of cinnamon and vanilla to mingle in the glass. Reposado tequila is still burly enough for cocktails, but can also be sipped over ice if that’s more what you’re looking for. As such, reposado often has something to offer everyone, and if you’re only used to fiery blanco, it’s a great new place to explore.

If a distiller keeps its tequila in the barrel for longer than a year and up to three years, it’s classified as añejo, or “aged.” These are the tequilas for the whisky drinker looking for something new, as all that time in the barrel makes for a sumptuous spirit, with almost none of the youthful exuberance found in a bottle of blanco. Instead, añejo tequila provides a deep complexity of aroma and flavor, often showing notes of coffee, dark chocolate, and honey. While one certainly can take a shot of añejo, or make a mixed drink with it, you’ll miss some of the nuances of taste, and considering that a bottle of añejo is typically far more expensive than a bottle of blanco, it would seem like a waste of money for something that you won’t fully appreciate. Instead, añejo tequila is best sipped slowly, usually neat, like a glass of fine whisky. In fact, you can get out all your nice whisky glassware to improve the taste even further.

What happens if a batch of tequila is kept in the barrel for more than three years? That’s when you start seeing phrases on the bottle like extra añejo, or occasionally “ultra-aged.” Extra añejo has only been a classification since 2006, so it’s not as widespread as the other styles, but a bottle of extra añejo can be a rare treat when you come across one. As you might guess, everything that makes a Tequila añejo is even more pronounced in extra añejo: the caramel, coffee, and honey notes are all still present, with an even stronger vanilla influence from the barrels. Extra añejo tequilas unsurprisingly fetch top-dollar prices, but if you’re looking for that perfect gift for someone who prefers a well-aged single malt Scotch, extra añejo can be a unique way to go.

The last major category of Tequila is mixto, though it is often classified as “gold,” “oro,” or “joven.” Unlike the previous four styles, mixto tequila does not have a specific requirement for aging, and it usually is not aged at all. Any color in a mixto is often artificial: Cuervo Gold being the most favous of the bunch. Mixto tequila is made with a base of at least 51% blanco tequila, to which other spirits, flavorings, sugar, and color can be added. Most drinkers consider mixto tequila to be little more than rotgut, and not worth drinking at all. That said, in a frozen margarita, those same drinkers often don’t notice what they’re downing.

So those are the five primary categories of tequila; what else is out there? Plenty! There are dozens of tequila liqueurs, like Patron’s XO Cafe blending of tequila and coffee, or Agavero’s blend of tequila with damiana, a flower indigenous to the Jalisco province. Don Julio and Herradura, among others, make clear añejo Tequilas, produced by filtering their añejo Tequila more than a half-dozen times to scrub out all the color added by barrel aging. These clear añejos are more of a talking point than anything else, tasting like (and priced as) a rich extra añejo while having the appearance of an unaged blanco. Flavors abound, too: La Pinta makes a pomegranate tequila, and Tanteo makes a jalapeño tequila, which both go great in cocktails.

How do you prefer your tequila? Let us know in the comments!

Review: Patrón x Guillermo del Toro Extra Anejo Tequila

The man who scared the bejeezus out of you in movies like Cronos and Pan’s Labyrinth has now turned his attention to something even more menacing: Tequila.

What’s it all about? It’s an extra anejo, aged over five years in new and used oak barrels, that comes with a 100ml miniature of aged orange liqueur on top, “a skull exquisitely carved into the crystal.” This liqueur is “a first-of-its-kind aged Patrón orange liqueur produced from aged Patrón tequila,” and presumably you can use it along with the tequila to make the most expensive margarita you’ve ever had.

This partnership marks one of the first collaborations in which del Toro has engaged outside of the entertainment industry, and among a handful of partnerships carefully selected by Patrón over its long history. The drawings on the packaging were inspired by jimadores, the skilled laborers in Mexico who for generations have hand-harvested and trimmed the Weber Blue Agave. Only a very limited number of sets were produced, and are currently available at fine spirits and liquor retailers across the country.

We didn’t taste the orange liqueur (or get to experience the elaborate packaging) but we did get a nice sample of the tequila itself to experience. Some thoughts:

Did I say we didn’t get the orange liqueur? The nose on the tequila is so overpowering with orange notes that I originally thought we’d mistakenly been sent the liqueur instead of the tequila and actually asked for (and received) a second sample. Not so, the company swears up and down. It just so happens that the primary aroma here is citrus, particularly mandarins. A spicy agave note lingers underneath, along with some sultry caramel character, and a note of spicy, dried fig.

The palate is still quite sweet and fruity with distinct orange notes, here sweet like marmalade, but edgy with a peppery undercurrent. The sweetness endures though (and makes the bottle super-sticky as well), again giving this tequila a distinctly liqueur-like character that’s hard to shake. I like it a lot for what it is, but I just have a massive amount of trouble placing it among any tequila hierarchy. As a luxe version of Grand Marnier, that might be an easier sell.

80 proof.

B+ / $399 /

Review: Tequila Exotico – Blanco and Reposado

Tequila Exotico (part of the budding Luxco empire) is a new, 100% agave tequila made from Highlands agave. With Day of the Dead styling on its otherwise understated bottles, the tequila is available in only blanco and reposado expressions. (No anejo has been produced so far.)

We tasted both. Thoughts follow. Both are 80 proof — and available for perhaps less than any other 100% agave tequila I’ve ever encountered.

Tequila Exotico Blanco – Feels immediately rustic and rather rough. The nose is hot with more of a raw agave character, with lots of black pepper mixed in with aromas of well-cooked vegetables. On the palate, some sweetness is but little relief against an onslaught of fire, smoldering mesquite, and vegetal notes of carrot, green pepper, and dried grasses. The finish is as pungent as the body that precedes it, making this suited best for mixing rather than sipping straight. C / $14

Tequila Exotico Reposado – Rested for six months in ex-bourbon barrels. As expected, the barrel aging rounds things out quite a bit, smoothing those harsh, rustic edges with a lacy vanilla-caramel character, though the intense black pepper, cayenne, and roasted agave notes are still present and accounted for, just dialed back all around. The finish sees some hints of chocolate and nutmeg, almost coming across like a Mexican chocolate, which is the most interesting part of the spirit. All told, this is much more easygoing and enjoyable tequila than the blanco, though it still lands well into “frontier” in style. B / $14

Review: Ghost Tequila

Have we reached the era of peak ghost pepper? The unavoidable “hottest pepper on earth” is used to flavor — a term used loosely here — Ghost Tequila, which actually begins with a 100% agave base spirit. Designed for consumption as a shot (perhaps the punishment the loser of a bar bet is stricken with), the spirit was actually invented by a Boston bartender as a homegrown infusion before it went commercial.

The nose leads with agave, but also with notes of orange and lemon — masking some hints of pepper underneath. This is probably intentional; without the fruit, the aroma might be too off-putting for most to even take a sip of it.

The heat is there, of course, and it hits the palate with a lot of that citrus-driven sweetness, something like biting into a mandarin orange that’s been studded with cinnamon red hots and dosed with cayenne pepper. The pepper is fortunately manageable — hot, but not overwhelming, and not pungent and sour in the way that pepper can come across in other pepper-infused spirits. Here you definitely taste more than the pepper, a classic “sweet heat” experience that offers a finish of both sides of the coin in roughly equal measures.

Drinkers looking for a “dare” bottle to keep on the back bar may enjoy this the most, but I can also see how it would work in a spicy margarita or paloma (at least in moderation).

80 proof.

B / $26 /

Review: Tequila Corralejo Blanco and Reposado

Corralejo’s striking bottles — the reposado is blue, the anejo is red — stand out on any back bar. At the liquor store, something else is likely to stand out even more: The price, which frequently comes in at under $20 for the blanco, $25 for the reposado.

We tasted both the “white” and “blue” bottlings — the anejo was not available — to see what some bright colors and low, low prices could do for our enjoyment of the spirit.

Both are 80 proof.

Tequila Corralejo Blanco – Tons of agave up front on the nose, alongside black pepper, lemon, and a hint of roasted meat. On the palate, it’s racy, with lots of alcohol weighing heavily on the tongue, the black pepper dulling the agave the way a somewhat dusty old can of McCormick spices might mar your otherwise well-crafted dish. A little bright citrus pops back into focus toward the end of the experience, but it’s too little, too late. The overall impression here is on the muddy side, a spirit designed wholly for mixing. B- / $20

Tequila Corralejo Reposado – Rested for four months in three types of oak — French, American and Encino (a type of California-sourced oak). Wood aging usually mellows out any spirit — especially tequila — but with Corralejo, an off-putting, funky/weedy character lingers, difficult to shake despite a filter of vanilla on top of it. The palate’s not much better, a melange of old wood, pepper, weedy agave, and a finish that offers just a touch of cinnamon and vanilla syrup. There may be some charms buried deep in the bottle (and this reposado has its share of fans), but I find said charms difficult to access. C- / $25