Trophy tequilas: six to seek out

Denis Broci mixing a cocktail at Claridge's
Denis Broci, Claridge’s

There’s no denying it. Tequila is absolutely on fire right now. In fact, the spirit, which probably gave a great deal of us all our first proper hangover (it certainly caused mine), has well and truly become the super-premium drink of choice. That’s if the numbers coming out of the US – where at least 75% of all tequila sales occur – are to be believed.

The NABCA (National Alcohol Beverage Control Association) provides a detailed analysis of the spirits market in the US – and is seen as the bellwether for the rest of the global industry. It reported a hugely positive set of results for the whole tequila category last year, which grew 10.5% in volume. Furthermore, sales by value were up 15.5%, demonstrating an even better state of affairs for the ‘super-premium’ sector.

Scroll down to see six top-flight tequilas to try

This sector generally comprises longer-aged (extra an?ejo), limited edition and small batch releases, or one-off cask experiments. But what makes a great super-premium tequila? It’s a question I put to some of the sharpest minds in the spirits business recently.

‘There has always been a super-premium category, led by Don Julio/Patro?n and Jose Cuervo,’ points out Dawn Davies MW, buying director for online spirits supremos Speciality Drinks. ‘However, this sector has massively opened up and now includes many more brands.’

‘When I’m looking for a super-premium tequila, I’m focusing on three main points,’ explains Maria Modafferi, former bartender and now a tequila educator and ambassador for Proximo Spirits, owner of Jose Cuervo and 1800.

‘The history of the brand is crucial. Tradition influences the production process, and a brand with long history has the experience to provide great tequilas, from entry level to the super-premium variants. Next, consider the raw materials used: a super-premium tequila must be made from the juiciest and sweetest agave plants. This has a big impact on production in terms of quantity, but will increase the quality.

‘Finally, the refinement process. A double-ageing in different casks adds complexity to the liquid and a spectacular combination of flavour.’

A matter of age

The ultra-exclusive Clase Azul Ultra Extra Añejo

In tequila, there tends to be more emphasis on raw materials – namely Weber blue agave. Its provenance, heritage and also growing time (it usually takes about seven to 10 years for a plant to become fully mature) are seen as the indicators of quality. That’s to say, rather than the length of time the spirit has spent in the cask, which, in the case of an extra an?ejo, is usually three to five years. Is this lack of maturity an obstacle for fans of other dark spirits?

‘In terms of flavour profile, balance and complexity, provenance and production are paramount in tequila,’ says Davies, ‘especially when it comes to ageing. The quality of the oak, the understanding of the cask and its interaction with the liquid are key to producing a balanced product. Too often a distilled spirit is seen as “better when it is older”.’

The wonder of wood

On the subject of ageing, a recent area of innovation has been to integrate experimental or unusual cask finishes into super-premium tequila expressions. When, in single malt whisky or rum, an oak cask contributes as much as 70% of the flavour of the finished spirit, it’s no surprise that tequila producers are exploring some fascinating crossovers in this department. Especially given that Mexico’s hotter climate means maturation time is significantly shorter than, say, Scotland.

In 2021, El Tesoro tequila released an an?ejo expression (by law, an?ejo tequilas must be aged at least one year, but are often aged for up to three years), finished in ex-Laphroaig Islay malt whisky casks, its rich smokiness bringing an additional layer of complexity. Hot on its heels were Tequila Partida – ‘matured in ex-single malt Sherry oak casks’ – and Casa…

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Trophy tequilas: six to seek out  
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