Sip, don’t shoot! The new batch of tequilas grows up.
The age of añejo: As master distillers begin aging tequila longer, the rise of extra-añejos is placing Mexico’s national spirit on the top shelf amongst whiskeys and Cognacs—and in rocks glasses as straight-no-chaser sippers.
It’s no secret that spirits aficionados have long reached for premium whiskeys and Cognacs, but high-end labels are responding to rising demand for sip-worthy tequilas with tipples of astonishing depth and flavor.
From artisanal new-crop distilleries to world-famous brands, master distillers have begun barrel-aging the blue agave–based spirit for years, allowing the wood to layer rich notes of vanilla and caramel atop agave’s natural spice. But what exactly makes for a sipping tequila? “First and foremost it cannot be fiery,” explains Tad Carducci, bar consultant and author of A Lime and a Shaker: Discovering Mexican-Inspired Cocktails. “But the tequila has to have an intensity of flavor, and it should offer a long, lingering finish.”
Consider, for example, Dulce Vida Extra Añejo ($160 for 750 ml), aged for five years in former Napa Valley red wine barrels, which impart juicy, round, fruity notes. Meanwhile, Herradura Selección Suprema Extra Añejo ($350) offers soft, Cognac-like flavors of stone fruit and hazelnut. And Gran Patrón Piedra ($400), the luxury brand’s first-ever extra-añejo, is a silky, rounded sipper with plenty of caramel and spice.
Interest in premium tequilas is on the rise, says Chantal Martineau, tequila expert and author of How the Gringos Stole Tequila: The Modern Age of Mexico’s Most Traditional Spirit. Thanks in part to celeb-backed brands, “people are associating tequila with sophistication and style.” Furthering that association, she says, is the the evolution of Mexican cuisine from street fare into more sophisticated dining.
While these selections are delicious on their own, is it okay to mix a high-end tequila into a cocktail? “Of course!” Martineau affirms. Skip the prickly pear margaritas, she suggests, and “make a stirred, spirit-forward cocktail that really lets the tequila shine.”