Growing old Gracefully – The Artwork of the Añejo

Barrels aren’t new to the tequila {industry}, however rigorously getting old merchandise in barrels could also be. Again within the early 1800s tequila was transported round Guadalajara in small picket barrels, in response to author and tequila historian Ted Genoways. Later in that century mules carried related tequila-filled barrels over the border to share the wealth with neighbors to the north. However the first marketed añejo didn’t arrive till 1917 with Jose Cuervo’s “Supremo Tequila Añejo” known as Cuatro Letras, promoted in its time as “a effective substitute for the higher Cognacs,” in response to Genoways. Regardless of this historical past, producers are simply beginning to play with a bigger vary of kinds.

“We get a really wealthy product out of the nonetheless, so this has not compelled us to search for larger complexity or subtlety of maturation strategies,” says Sergio Mendoza, proprietor of Tequila Don Fulano, made on the distillery Tequileña (NOM 1146), which has one of the vital intensive barrel collections within the {industry}. As a result of tequila producers have been spoiled by the complexity of their uncooked materials —agave— they didn’t begin taking getting old severely till the final 50 to 60 years, he notes.

Right now, tequileros have a variety of choices in terms of getting old strategies, from the selection of barrels, to how they’re handled, how lengthy they’re used, and whether or not they’re blended, or left as single barrels. All of those are necessary choices that have an effect on the ultimate product. In truth, Mendoza estimates that 70% to 80% of an aged tequila’s qualities come from the getting old.

Whereas the subtleties are seemingly limitless, we thought we may no less than take you for a sneak peek to see how just a few manufacturers method their añejos.

We’ll begin our journey at tequila El Tequileño, for the reason that model has lengthy had a blanco and reposado, however no everlasting añejo in its lineup. (They did produce an excellent añejo for the model’s fiftieth anniversary in 2009, aptly named “Especial 50th Aniversario“.)

Now that El Tequileño is below new possession (it was purchased by Wayne Henuset/Paradise Spirits in 2017) they determined to broaden their choices, bringing each añejos and additional añejos (XAs) into the combination, in addition to additional aged reposados.

We joined them one morning final November within the city of Tequila as their tasting workforce took samples from many various barrels, and completely different “tons,” or distillation runs.

“Every barrel provides a unique nuance to the lot,” says Randy Ullom, Winemaster at Household Jackson Wines, and a brand new stakeholder within the El Tequileño model.

Randy Ullom takes stock of the barrel samples that shall be blended collectively to create the brand new El Tequileño Añejo tequila launch.

They pulled 12 additional añejo samples and round 35 añejo samples from older, charred American Oak barrels, in addition to newer American Oak and French Oak barrels. The samples ranged from simply 1 month in age, to 7 years.

“You’re on the lookout for these minute attributes each within the aromatics, and naturally within the palate… you need it to be fulfilling and have a pleasant end,” Ullom says.

When the tasters went to work some samples had been eradicated on the outset (in the event that they tasted like they wanted additional time within the barrel, for instance), whereas others had been recognized as standouts.

An inventory of the barrels used throughout the mixing session for the brand new El Tequileño Añejo tequila.

As an illustration, they put aside a pattern that carried the model’s signature orange peel aroma, in response to Tony Salles, Grasp Distiller at El Tequileño. He represents the third technology of tequileros on the distillery and is working with the brand new homeowners to maintain the model’s traditions alive.

As soon as all of the samples had been evaluated, Ullom started mixing. As a substitute of getting an finish product in thoughts, the mixing takes benefit of what the getting old is giving them, he says.

After all, the method of making new profiles is way completely different than in case you have a longtime product, and wish to produce some stage of consistency batch to batch.

Over at Casa Noble they attempt for consistency by means of barrel mixing, and tasting to ensure the aged tequila meets their profile, corresponding to balanced agave, vanilla, spices and dried fruits, says Casa Noble International Model Ambassador Dave Yan.

They age all of their common reposado and añejo in French Oak barrels, however of various sizes and completely different toast ranges. This offers them a larger number of aromas and flavors from the identical wooden. When the tequila in them reaches maturity, it’s sampled by their getting old grasp, Juan Jose.

They lean closely on his palate to make sure that the mixing of barrels is profitable. He first tastes the tequila popping out of every barrel and decides whether or not it can go into the mix he’s producing, or put aside for a single-barrel product whether it is significantly distinctive.

“It’s a matter of integrating what you’ve got in the fitting portion with out dropping your identification,” says Yan. “That’s a part of the craft.”

So, mixing a share of various barrels and having a workforce test new batches to gauge consistency is one widespread manner that añejos are produced. However there’s one tequila producer who takes a really completely different method, by “vatting.”

This can be a course of extra sometimes utilized by producers of Scotch, Cognac, and Whisky in Europe, however was adopted by Enrique Fonseca at Distileria La Tequileña round 30 years in the past. It’s a “post-aging course of” through which they put a number of barrels into a big picket or stainless-steel vat, after which let it “marry”, so the completely different flavors mix and mellow, says Don Fulano’s Mendoza, who can be Enrique’s nephew.

That is finished as a result of every particular person barrel has its personal profile and contributes completely different elements to the product, which may divert from the specified profile, he says. Marrying additionally has the benefit of bringing the mix of batches into stability, he says.

“It’s superb how when you begin mixing barrels the product is actually resisting one another on a molecular stage,” Mendoza says. However with time, it comes collectively

At La Tequileña they’ve round 36 picket vats of between 12,000 and 16,000 liters, plus one other two dozen stainless-steel ones. They empty a unique mixture of barrels into every vat, relying on the product they’re producing, and allow them to marry for no less than 60 days to convey the completely different barrels in stability.

Vatting process at the Tequileña distillery

Giant pipones are used within the vatting course of on the La Tequileña distillery situated in Tequila, Jalisco.

When a person vat dips under 50% full they are going to add extra barrels into it, so they’re holding consistency by this pure “back-blending” course of.

“The true benefit of that is having the ability to fine-tune the product to precisely what you need to obtain, Mendoza says.

In any other case, tequila has so many variables it’s tough to manage, he notes. However with their course of they’re guaranteeing that if a shopper likes one in all their aged merchandise, they are going to have the ability to get one thing very related sooner or later.

Tequila Patrón reaches consistency in an analogous vein, with their “solera” system. This can be a methodology of holding a certain quantity of stock readily available to fulfill demand by making many small batches, mixing them to a desired profile, after which letting them marry in holding tanks.

As a result of they’ve a steady move of quantity going to holding after which to bottling, the stock within the solera hardly strikes, creating consistency, says Patrón Manufacturing Director Antonio Rodriguez.

By the point the tequila is bottled it has been tasted twice by their getting old workforce—as soon as when it’s faraway from the barrel and blended, earlier than it goes into the solera system, and once more earlier than bottling.

In every case, these “vatting”-type processes are finished with exact measurements of the aged merchandise being added in. Figuring out the kind of barrel, the flavors it’s producing, and the way lengthy the tequila has been resting, is essential. However these methods additionally require getting old quantity—a large number of barrels to rotate product out and in of.

That’s not the case at Fortaleza, which is devoted to small batch manufacturing. The model ages each its reposado and añejo in used American Oak whisky barrels. When the tequila reaches its desired age (round 6 months for the repo and 18 months for the añejo), the barrels are emptied right into a holding tank, after which bottled pretty rapidly to maintain up with demand. There isn’t a adjusting to match earlier batches.

“We don’t attempt to get consistency — that’s what small batch means,” says Tequila Fortaleza Proprietor Guillermo Erickson Sauza. “There shall be some tiny variations which are not possible to manage.”

Fortaleza has lengthy embraced the changeable nature of tequila, showcasing variations in agave, manufacturing runs, barrels, and seasons. Like wine, tequila has terroir and is affected by many tiny adjustments within the setting and within the course of. By placing a “Lot” quantity on every bottle, Fortaleza acknowledges that every batch is exclusive.

The barrel room at Tequila Fortaleza is a part of their small batch course of. Every lot finally ends up having its personal distinctive traits and “consistency” is just not the principle goal.

As an illustration, a Lot 47 reposado and Lot 48 reposado may need completely different colours or style barely completely different, Sauza says. “There’s many issues that may drive that, however what comes out of the barrels is what comes out. One factor I can say for positive is that we don’t use components (for consistency).”

He makes an necessary level. Letting batches communicate for themselves, or rigorously mixing barrels and utilizing vatting-like processes to attempt to discover consistency is just not finished industry-wide. In truth, many producers depend on components corresponding to caramel coloring and oak extracts to create consistency.

That is allowed below {industry} laws, however is just not—in our view—essentially the most swish strategy to age. Some {industry} insiders, who select to not be quoted, acknowledge that one of many largest errors within the tequila {industry} was organising the expectation that aged tequilas needs to be constant, with the identical coloration and taste irrespective of after they had been made, or which barrels had been used. Till shoppers understand that in an effort to obtain batch-to-batch parity some producers will depend on components, we shall be caught with this consistency dilemma.

Again at Tequileño the mixing continued. Ullom determined so as to add a little bit bit of additional añejo to their new everlasting añejo product.

El Tequileño Añejo Blending Session

Randy Ullom takes notes of all of the samples earlier than combining them collectively within the mixing session for the brand new El Tequileño Añejo tequila.

Grasp Distiller Salles appeared proud of the end result. “I believe we outdid ourselves (in contrast with fiftieth Aniversario). It has a extremely good taste and aroma of candy vanilla and honey.” And importantly, it retains with the home fashion. “You could possibly simply say that is Tequileño,” Salles says.

To maintain consistency for future tons, they are going to maintain onto a few of the new añejo to “again mix” with future batches.

After hours of tasting and mixing, the workforce landed on a brand new añejo, now dubbed Añejo Gran Reserva, which is a mix of 2-year añejo with 6-year additional añejo. (It needs to be debuting available in the market as quickly as this month.) In addition they selected an XA mix, however determined to go away it within the barrel a little bit longer.

In case you select to go to the Casa Salles Resort that sits on the distillery property, you may also pattern a brand new French Oak single barrel that shall be unique there.

They’ve extra aged merchandise deliberate, together with a single barrel program, and they’re even releasing a cristalino quickly.

El Tequileño Tequila Blending Team

The mixing course of is a workforce effort at El Tequileño.

Again in November we tasted blends for each the brand new añejo and upcoming XA, in addition to some single barrel picks. All had been nicely made, and carried the distinctive and actual attributes of the wooden. Our favourite was the XA mix (barely excessive proof once we tried it). The complexity and wealthy dried fruit aromas made it a knockout, despite the fact that we usually most popular much less aged tequilas.

“That’s the artwork of the mixing,” Ullom says. You are taking what the barrel offers you, and spotlight the strengths, primarily based on cautious tasting and care.

Table of Contents

A Video View

We shot this video throughout our go to to the El Tequileño Añejo mixing session, which included a tasting session on the finish to gather suggestions from trusted tasters.

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