There is a huge range of flavours and styles available in this cross-section of the tequila category, so finding exactly what you like may take a little time and effort. Your best bet is to head for a good cocktail bar or even better, if you are lucky enough to have one near you, a cocktail bar that specialises in tequila (such as El Camion in soho) and ask the bartender to help you get started. I’ll look at a few that I particularly like in a minute but for now here are a few thoughts on repo and anejo tequila. If you are interested in learning a bit more about how tequila is made and where it comes form be sure to check out the link at the end of this blog to the Olmeca Altos short films by Henry Besant and Dre Masso, they offer a great insight into the whole category.
THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY
When choosing tequila colour is no indication of age, this is because a sub category of ‘joven’ or ‘oro’ tequilas exists, to which caramel or artificial colour has been added to darken the liquid, thus giving the impression that the liquid has been aged. Generally speaking these are the products most responsible for creating a bad reputation for tequila. Most are harsh, cheaply made spirits that are often served as a shot with a wedge of lime and some salt. They should be avoided at all costs.
Next on the list of things to avoid when looking for a reposado or anejo tequila is ‘the worm’. Tequila doesn’t have a worm in the bottle, in fact it never did. Some Mezcals, (tequila’s cousin) have the larva of a moth that lives in the agave plant placed in the bottle, a tradition that started in the 1940’s as a marketing gimmick. Premium tequila will never come ‘con gusano’ and, as far as I have been able to find out, no good tequila producer would ever consider having their product associated with a larva that implies an infested plant was used in the making of their spirit. So in summary, even a reference to the worm on a label should be enough to warn you not to drink what’s in the bottle!
When looking for a good quality aged tequila you should be searching for reposado or anejo tequila that proudly states ‘100% agave’ on the bottle. This is at least a good starting point, although, as with any type of spirit there are both good and bad examples to be found.
The term Reposado refers to tequilas that have been allowed to ‘rest’ in wooden barrels to gain more character and complexity than blanco tequila. These are generally a light golden colour from their brief time spent in the wood, which also has an effect on the flavour too; the vegetal agave is still dominant but will have been softened with an undertone of sweet maple and vanilla notes, as well as a hint of smokiness and dry wood flavours.
Reposados must be barrel aged for a minimum of 2 months but no longer than 12, hence the light colouring. Having tasted a wide variety if tequilas, it seems to me that this is a spirit that is difficult to age without destroying the essence of the agave from which it has been made. A well-made reposado that’s had a small amount of time in the barrel achieves the delicate balance of preserving the unique agave flavours, whilst softening the spirit and adding a deeper complexity.
A few of my favourite reposado and anejo tequilas are summarised below; accompanied by a selection of cocktails kindly provided by industry stars (and friends of b&t) from the UK and the US.
HERRADURA REPOSADO – 40%abv
This is the tequila that created the reposado category and is still a great example of how to create a well-balanced tequila full of character. On the nose it has a clean sweetness that is complimented by a hint of white pepper and a slightly metallic tang. The flavours are surprisingly dry and earthy to begin with, but then the vegetal and sweet notes start coming through, before finishing with a hint of vanilla. Dave Belo, who has made a recent return to the SOHO bar formerly known as LAB, shook us this liquid treat earlier this week, using this classic repo tequila.
40ml Herradura Reposado
25ml fresh limejuice
10 ml agave syrup
10 ml Chambord
3 dashes dark cacao
1 egg white
2 sage leaves
In a boston glass muddle the blackberries and bruise the sage leaves before adding the remaining ingredients and plenty of cubed ice. Shake hard before fine straining into a cocktail glass or coupe and garnishing with a couple of sage leaves.
LOS ALTOS REPOSADO – 38%abv
This lovely tequila is very soft on the nose with an almost caramel sweetness balanced against delicate citrus notes and of course the classic aroma of agave. The taste reflects the aroma, resulting in a light, delicate tequila, with a rich oily mouth feel and gentle sweetness. The wood notes from its time in the barrel come through cleanly with a hint of dried wood set against the caramel and burnt sugar notes. This is a great repo for someone just starting to explore tequila as a category. Victor Nordelof from London’s Callooh Callay was quick to put it to use for us… unfortunately we don’t have the recipe for Callooh’s ‘star anise infused nettle cordial’ so if you want to taste this stunning drink you’ll have to head to East London and ask Victor to stir you one!
50ml Los Altos Reposado
10ml star anise infused nettle cordial
5ml crème de violet
2 dashes Bitter Truth Creole bitters
Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass with plenty of cracked or cubed ice and stir well before straining into a cocktail glass and finishing off with a lemon twist.
SIETE LEGUAS – 38%abv
On the nose, this repo is sweeter than most, but is beautifully balanced with metallic and mineral aromas, a hint of spice and an almost root vegetable, starchy aroma underneath the more obvious tequila aromas. To taste, it is surprisingly dry yet smooth, with toasted nut, a delicate bitterness and sweet caramel flavours coming through. There are mineral notes here too and just the faintest hint of dried lemon, but the dry woodiness is what grabs the attention. Chris ‘The Santa Fe Barman’ Milligan sent us this fantastic recipe, which shows off one of our favourite repos perfectly.
60ml 7 Leguas Repo
15ml agave nectar
15ml fresh limejuice
1 half-inch ring New Mexico or Aneheim green chilli
5 black grapes
Muddle the grapes and chilli in a boston glass before adding the remaining ingredients and plenty of cubed ice. Shake well before fine straining into a chilled cocktail glass and garnishing with a speared grape and a slice of chilli.
SOMETHING A LITTLE OLDER
Next in line are anejo tequilas, which are aged in barrels for between one and three years. The barrels may be no larger than 600 litres, which means that the tequila should have plenty of interaction with the wood. To my mind this is one of the toughest styles of tequila to come to terms with, but there are producers who seem to have managed to produce great anejo tequilas that don’t become overly woody.
The key for me, and this is a matter of personal preference, is that it should still taste like tequila. I enjoy the vegetal, mineral and earthy notes that come from distilled agave and like to see the vanilla and wood flavours a support to this as opposed to overpowering the spirit. That being said there are some fantastic brands that manage to create a great balance. Two that stand out for completely different reasons are Cazadores and Ocho.
CAZADORES ANEJO – 40% abv
On the nose you get classic bourbon aromas and you could be forgiven for thinking that all the flavour here has come from the new American White Oak barrels used during aging, but if you give it a chance to open up, you’ll discover pear and citrus notes underneath, as well as the vanilla and wood notes. The flavour is surprisingly light to begin with before the typical spicy, vegetal notes come through; there is a hint of bitterness and smoke before the classic bourbon flavours of vanilla fudge at the finish. This tequila manages to showcase both the barrel and the spirit and is a great way to introduce dark spirit fans to tequila. One of my favourite drinks with this is below.
EL MACHO BLANCO
60ml Cazadores Anejo
15ml Lillet Blanc
10 ml Cacao blanc
5ml apricot brandy
3 dashes of Bitter Truth Orange bitters
Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass and stir until well chilled and diluted, be sure to take your time as this one needs plenty of dillution. Strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with an orange twist.
OCHO ANEJO – 40%abv
When it comes to Ocho tequilas, Tomas Estes believes that the agave should be the hero of the show, so his philosophy with the anejo was to age it the minimum amount of time (12 months) so as to let the spirit shine through. What he’s achieved is a perfect balance of drawing character and structure into the tequila from the barrel, without overpowering this beautiful spirit and the crisp clean agave flavours. Ocho is sweet on the nose with dry spice, a hint of cherry and dry hot earth and grasses. The taste starts off dry with a pronounced spice that reveals a rich smoky agave flavour. There are hints of cracked black pepper and a metallic tang, but all of these flavours are secondary to the clean vegetal agave flavour. This is a tequila drinkers’ tequila! We adapted a recipe sent to us by Philip Ward of Mayahuel in New York that originally called for Pueblo Viejo tequila. We think it works great with Ocho Anejo!
45ml Ocho Anejo
45ml Bombay Chai infused Antica Formula vermouth
10ml Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
1 dash Angostura bitters
Stir all the ingredients with plenty of cubed or cracked ice in a mixing glass and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Leave this one ungarnished. To make the infused vermouth add 4 bar spoons of good Bombay Chai tea to a bottle of Antica Formula vermouth and let stand for 1 hour, before straining the tea out of the vermouth.
As far as I’m concerned aged tequilas, be they repo or anejo, are crying out to be used in cocktails and you can see from the variety of recipes we’ve featured here that they are incredibly versatile. These tequilas have a deep complexity to them combined with a delicate heart that should be complimented not overpowered. Of course the good ones are also great to enjoy straight, sipped slowly so as to appreciate this fantastic yet often misunderstood spirit.