As I’ve covered on other parts of this website, there is a city in Mexico by the name of Tequila located in the highlands of the state of Jalisco. All around the city grows the blue agave plant, the primary ingredient in tequila. 300 million blue agave plants are harvested in this region each year. Depending upon where the agave is grown will have subtle variations in flavor. Tequila was first made in the 16th century near what is today the city of Tequila. Earlier, however, a fermented drink was made from the agave plant by the Aztecs. Few people know the history of tequila, the intricate and subtle complexity of a fine sipping tequila or even that it can be used to create diamonds! The most subtle of all knowledge regarding this unique spirit involves the way and length of time for which it is aged. The best tequilas with the most sophisticated undertones are aged in wood barrels, such as oak. Often the barrels will have been used previously to age some other variety of alcohol … whiskey, scotch, even wine. Tequila that has been aged for at least three years is called Extra Anejo Tequila.
How Extra Anejo Tequila is Made
The farming of the blue agave plant, it’s planting, tending and harvest remain today largely as a hand-me-down from earlier generations that did all plant cultivation by hand. The secrets to producing great agave plants are passed down in an oral tradition from father to son. The plant is trimmed to prevent flowering in order for its energy to go into the production of its characteristic blue-green leaves. The workers are able to test the plants to tell when they’re ready to harvest by peeling back the leaves from the plant’s core with a special circular blade affixed to a long pole. The plant’s core, or piña, must be harvested at exactly the right time to have the necessary carbohydrates for fermentation. A piña is likely to weigh as much as 150 pounds.
Once they are harvested, the piñas are baked in slow ovens to turn their starches into sugar. Then large stone wheels are used to break down the piñas, shredding and mashing them. The pulp is left behind and used for other purposes, such as animal feed or compost. The extracted juice is placed into a vat to ferment. The results from this first cycle of fermenting is called mosto or wort. The second time the juice is fermented, the resulting product is called silver tequila, because it is clear. This silver tequila is either bottled or alternately, pumped into wooden barrels to age into either resposado or extra anejo tequila. Extra anejo tequila has a far mellower and more complex flavor than tequila that was bottled immediately, and will be golden amber in color.
Not only is it possible for the discriminating palette to note the complexities provided by the wooden cask, but it also possible for him to note the differences in tequila made from both highland and lowland agave plants. Agave grown in higher altitudes tends to be sweeter whereas that grown in the lower altitudes is earthier. Blanco tequila is a white spirit that which was either aged for less than two months, if at all. It frequently is bottled immediately after distillation. Joven is blanco that was flavored and colored with caramel. Tequila that is aged for at least two months, but less than a year is called resposado. Most of today’s Extra Anejo Tequila came from 100% pure agave plants that took 10-12 years to mature the plant’s sugars and which was then aged for a bare minimum of three years or longer, after which it is re-distilled and usually diluted with distilled water to achieve the desired concentration. Today there are over a hundred distilleries in Mexico that together make more than 900 brands of tequila. In 2006, the Tequila Trade Agreement proposed that all tequila be bottled in Mexico before being permitted to leave the country.
What Makes Extra Anejo Tequila Unique?
Extra anejo tequila, often referred to as “ultra-aged,” is a favorite of tequila connoisseurs everywhere. The category officially came into existence in the summertime of 2006, when a brand new Norma Oficial Mexicana was issued that created an all new category for tequila that was aged for a minimum of three years. In order to qualify as extra anejo, the tequila must be aged for a minimum of three years in either wooden barrels or other containers that have a maximum capacity of 600 liters. Different manufacturers jealously hoard their own unique secrets as to exactly how and in what they age their extra anejo tequila. For example, some will age the tequila in barrels that previously held very strong tequila. Others will use barrels that once held various, sherry, bourbon, scotch and even Bordeaux wine. The resulting extra anejo tequilas have a depth and complexity that cannot be duplicated in any other way. For people who appreciate the intricacies of a sophisticated taste, extra anejo tequila offers no peer. Each Extra Anejo Tequila is recognized for its uniquely complex flavor complete with the woody notes that come from the barrels in which it aged. Extra Anejo frequently boasts a long finish and buttery agave flavor.
The Ways People Drink Extra Anejo Tequila
Yes, there will always be the “salt, sip, suck” crowd, that is a given, almost a rite of passage. Then there are the mixed drinks, most notably the much loved Margarita. But perhaps the best way of all to appreciate a really fine, aged tequila such as Revolucion Extra Añejo, Alquimia Reserva de Don Adolfo Extra-Añejo or Cabo Wabo Uno Extra-Añejo Reserva Tequila is simply to sip it, and savor it, slowly. As you’re sipping, note the sweetness, the high and low notes, the peppery, wooden accents. Ahhh. Life is good.