For a tequila to be classified as an añejo, it must by law have been aged in oak barrels—typically charred American oak barrels—for a minimum of a year up to a day less than three. During their stay in wood, the oak imbues the tequila with color, aromatics and wood-induced flavors, such as vanilla, caramel, spice and light smoky notes.
Creating a truly excellent añejo is a considerable achievement as aging tequila is far from an exact science. There are a number of factors that profoundly impact the finished product. Ever-changing aging conditions—such as ambient temperature, humidity and the type of barrel— necessitates the master distiller—tequilero—regularly sample the tequila as it ages. There is a brief window during which the tequila is at its prime, after that it will slowly degrade. The key is balance. A great añejo will exhibit the herbaceous qualities of the agave and yet proudly display its barrel-aging. Too much wood and the spirit will become listless and begin to more resemble a brandy than a tequila. That loss of identity is the death knell of a brand.
Somewhere in the field of new añejo tequilas is the next El Tesoro, Patrón, Casa Noble or Siete Leguas. Who are the most likely lottery picks? Here’s our take on the 12 hottest new añejo tequilas. All are extraordinary and well worth their asking price.
123 Organic — This artisanal brand deserves kudos for its character as well as being ecologically friendly. It’s made in the Lowlands of Jalisco at Tequila Las Americas [NOM 1480] in Amatitán from certified organic blue agaves and is barrel aged for up to 18 months. The hand-numbered añejo has an oaky, tannic nose and a broad palate of chocolate, caramel and vanilla flavors. The finish is long and thoroughly satisfying.
Arrogante — The tequila is handcrafted at Impulsora Rombo [NOM 1467], which is located in Amatitán in the highlands of Jalisco. Ultra-premium Arrogante Añejo is matured in charred, American white oak barrels for a minimum of 18 months. The amber/gold hued tequila has a gentle entry that immediately bathes the palate with the flavors of vanilla, caramel, citrus and baking spice. The long creamy finish is laced with notes of toasted oak.
Dos Armadillos — Made at Premium de Jalisco [NOM 1558] in the village of Mazamitla, Dos Armadillos Añejo is aged in medium charred, virgin oak barrels for 18 months. After several minutes aerating in a glass, the dark amber tequila begins to release its aromatics that include herbs, pepper, vanilla and honey with enticing notes of toasted oak. The finish is saturated with a mix of long lasting spicy and herbaceous flavors.
El Mayor — El Mayor Añejo is crafted at Destiladora Gonzalez Gonzalez [NOM 1143] in the Highlands of Jalisco. Barrel-aged a minimum of 18 months in American oak, the tequila possesses a deep golden hue, a curvaceous body and an array of aromas as irresistible as those in your neighborhood bakery. Its palate is a flavor extravaganza of toffee, cocoa, coffee, vanilla, caramel, tropical fruit and baking spices. It is best appreciated served neat in an unhurried moment.
Expresiones de Corazón — The ultra-premium Expresiones de Corazón range features three wood finished añejo tequilas from Casa San Matias [NOM 1103] located in the Highlands of Los Altos. After distillation, much of the tequila is placed in barrels used previously to age Sazerac Rye, George T. Stagg Bourbon and Van Winkle Bourbon—all famed whiskeys produced by Buffalo Trace. The Expresiones de Corazon añejos are matured between 22 and 24 months. The limited release series is distributed by Sazerac.
Gran Dovejo —Gran Dovejo is traditionally crafted from single-estate agaves at the Feliciano Vivanco Distillery [NOM 1414] in Jalisco. After harvesting, the agaves are slowly roasted in clay ovens and fermented with Champagne yeast. The fermenting mash is serenaded with classical music, which is believed to optimize sugar conversion. The Gran Dovejo Añejo is matured for up to three years in charred oak barrels. It’s an artisanal spirit brimming with character and universal appeal.
Mexican Moonshine — This newcomer is crafted at Fabrica de Tequilas Finos [NOM 1472] in the town of Tequila. The agaves used to make the tequila are cultivated in the semiarid Lowlands of Jalisco. Mexican Moonshine Añejo is a sophisticated spirit barrel-aged for 18 months or more. It has a rich golden hue, a velvety textured body and a generous bouquet of oak, dried herbs, honey and spice. The longer it is allowed to breathe, the more delightfully aromatic it becomes. Its layered palate is imbued with dry, long-lasting flavor.
Montalvo — Fourth-generation tequila producers Carlos and Sergio Gonzalez make Montalvo at Grupo Tequilero Weber [NOM 1578] in Jalisco. The small batch spirit is triple-distilled and aged in American and French oak barrels for a minimum of 14 months. The tequila has a golden/amber hue, a generous nose and the long-lasting flavors of vanilla, butterscotch, caramel and cocoa with light smoky notes.
Suerte — Handcrafted in Jalisco by Pedro Hernandez Barba [NOM 1530], Suerte is made in small batches using single estate agaves and pure spring water from the Highlands. The añejo is matured for 24 months in American white oak barrels. It’s a classy tequila with a round, full body and the alluring aromas of cinnamon, pepper, blackberries and toffee. Suerte Anñejo has a long and flavorful finish best appreciated when sipped neat in a snifter.
Tapatio — Although a newcomer to the United States, Tequila Tapatio has been a “must have” brand in Mexico for decades. It was created by one of the legendary tequila makers, Don Felipe Camarena of El Tesoro de Don Felipe fame. Today the tequila is made at Tequila Tapatio [NOM 1139] by Camarena's grandson, Carlos. The Tapatio Añejo is aged for 18 months in used Jim Beam Bourbon barrels. It has a tempting pepper and fresh fruit nose and a palate saturated with the flavors of citrus zest, toffee, black pepper and toasted oak.
t1 Tequila Uno Estelar — Produced at La Tequileña  in the Lowlands of Jalisco, Tequila Uno is the creation of master distiller Germán González Gorrochotegui. The golden hued añejo is made with Highland agaves and matured close to 24 months in Scotch whisky casks. It has a velvety textured body and a bouquet saturated with the aromas of chocolate, vanilla and zesty citrus. It bathes the palate with a balanced offering of oak-induced flavors and herbaceous, spicy notes.
Tequila Viva Los Sanchos — This ultra-premium añejo is crafted at Tequila Selecto de Amatitán [NOM 1459] in Jalisco from Highland agaves and high mountain aquifer water. After distillation, the tequila is aged 30 months or more in charred white oak barrels. During its stay in wood the tequila develops amber/golden hue and wafting floral, spice, honey and herbaceous nose. The long finish features the additional flavors of cloves, mocha, vanilla, cinnamon and anise.
Robert Plotkin is a judge at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and author of 16 books on bartending and beverage management including Secrets Revealed of America’s Greatest Cocktails. He can be reached at www.AmericanCocktails.com or by e-mail at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.