Don’t worry, folks, The End is Near!
With three flights down, it was time to get serious…..and for our fourth and final official flight, Chris and Pete brought out the big guns – the Extra Añejos!
Extra Añejos are tequilas that are aged in casks for over three years. As we experienced with the Añejos, the cask maturation imparts some exciting flavors, brings out greater body and adds a degree of complexity. Certainly cask aging of tequilas is typically far shorter than for whisky, but that is due to the climate in central Mexico, which is hot and humid, unlike the Scottish climate with its cool, wet temps. Like the whiskies make by KaVaLan and Amrut, which are produced in Taiwan and India, the warmer, more humid climates result in significant evaporative losses during maturation. In fact, in their attempts to manage evaporative losses, some tequila producers put sprinklers in the warehouses so they can soak the exterior of the casks with water as they age!
A Brief History of Tequila
Much of the history of Tequila comes from Aztec mythology, and like many myths, it is full of good and evil, love and heartbreak. The story begins with Tzinzimiti, the Goddess of darkness. She was hated and feared because she devoured all of the sunshine and light from the villages of the native Mexican tribes. In order to keep her at bay, the native Mexicans made human sacrifices to her.
Quetzalcoatl was an Aztec feathered serpent who ascended to the sky to destroy the evil goddess. Along his journey, he encountered Mayahuel, Tzinzimiti’s granddaughter. The two fell in love, as serpents and granddaughters of goddesses are prone to do. They then returned to earth to hide as trees so they couldn’t be found. However, their plan was flawed and the evil Grandmother, after a long battle, killed Mayahuel who died in the arms of her true love. Quetzalcoatl buried her and a beautiful Agave grew on top of her burial site. The pointy leaves are to protect her from falling objects.
After burying his beloved, Quetzalcoatl returns to the sky to kill Tzinzimiti and return the sunlight to the earth. In order to alleviate Quetzalcoatl’s pain, the other gods gave the Agave a liquid that, when drunk, would comfort and erase painful memories. And those who drink from the Agave will live happily ever after.
In the 16th century, Spaniards were taking over the region and using the Agave for building roofs, making needles, pins, and nails. Dried leaves were used for fuel while its ashes were used for soap, which helped to heal wounds. The Spanish liked their Spanish wines and liquors so they banned the production of native spirits. Despite the ban, clandestine production continued.
During the 17th century, native spirits were seen as a revenue opportunity so spirits from the Agave were allowed but heavily taxed. Tequila became the first export of Jalisco and tax revenue funded civil projects including aqueducts and government buildings. The revenue from Tequila made many Tequila producers politically influential. During the middle of the 19th century, many Tequila producers supported the liberals during Mexico’s civil war. Good choice – the liberals won. Tequila suffered a blow when the railroads came to Mexico in the late 1800’s. The railroads made European wines readily available to the masses and Tequila was relegated to the “drink of the lower classes.” Tequila enjoyed resurgence during the Mexican Revolution when all things Mexican represented patriotism. In the 1930’s, it was found that Tequila was the “best medicine” against the Spanish flu epidemic that battered Northern Mexico. And, the rest, as they say, is history.
The Tequilas: Part IV – Extra Añejos
The Extra Añejos we tasted during our fourth flight were the Casa Sauza XA Extra Añejo Edicion Limitada and the Herencia Mexicana Extra Añejo 2013 Release. Both of these bottles run approximately $120, if you can even find them – these are not always available on the retail shelves.
As you recall from Part II of our Tequila tasting series, Extra Añejo, or Reserva, is Blanco Tequila aged in white oak casks for at least three years. This is the “oldest” and rarest of the aging styles and, generally, the most expensive. The extra aging imparts more color, and the cask influence develops broader flavors. Sounds like fun….let’s get to it!
Casa Sauza XA Extra Añejo Edicion Limitada, Bottle No. 04304 of 12,000 (Left)
This bottling is the premium release from Tequila Sauza. The tequila is put into a mix of second-fill and new fill oak casks and is aged for 3 years. From the deeper color in the glass, you can clearly tell that this has rested much longer than the previous tequilas we’d tasted to this point.
Color: Dark golden-amber with soft yellow tints
Nose: The cask influence is really making its mark now. The glass is full of big notes of vanilla and quite a lot of beautiful oak spice notes – hints of cinnamon, some cardamom, nutmeg – subtle and well-integrated. Behind the vanilla and spice, there is the earthy, herbal agave with its damp earthy and semi-sweet aromas, which grow with time.
Palate: A very delicate, slightly thin body in the arrival. Spiced vanilla, a touch of pepper heat, cinnamon, toffee or caramel. Quite a bit of fresh agave juice – semi-sweet, earthy, and slightly fruity. There is also a soft smokiness – probably some of the barrel char coming through.
Finish: Sweet vanilla, soft tannins, a touch of fresh fruits, damp earthy, slightly vegetal agave and just the faintest hint of smoke.
Herencia Mexicana Extra Añejo 2013 Release, 40% abv (Right)
The Extra Añejo from Herencia Mexicana is an annual, limited release. The 2013 release, which we sampled, consisted of only 624 bottles. Aged 3 years 8 months in used oak barrels, the maturation adds depth and a smoothness to the palate.
Color: Soft yellow-gold
Nose: The earthy, slightly herbal and vegetal agave is most prominent on the nose. This is baked agave as opposed to fresh agave – full of herbal, slightly dry spice notes. The cask influence becomes more noticeable with some sweeter notes of burnt sugar, caramel, vanilla, cinnamon, and some citrus. There is a soft nuttiness, as well.
Palate: Softly oily on the tongue. Surprisingly, given their prominence on the nose, the agave notes are secondary now. The palate is much sweeter with a creamy vanilla, delicate citrus notes, cinnamon and baking spices. The agave notes are softly earthy and herbal.
Finish: Vanilla and caramel with just a hint of the baked agave. The finish is quite sweet and delicately spiced.
These are both ultra-premium, quality tequilas that take the tequila-tasting experience to the next level. The cask maturation has really expanded the nose and palate of both of these tequilas and they offer very interesting and different profiles to one another. The Casa Sauza XA, despite the slightly thin body, has a very nice, balanced palate with more depth of flavor from the cask maturation. The Herencia Mexicana has a wonderful sweet-spice vanilla profile that enhances the herbal baked agave notes. I did wonder if Tequila Purists start to balk at these “aged” tequilas – that the cask influence diminishes the agave-centric taste profile that we saw in our first flight with the Blancos. For me, coming to tequilas from a whisky-fan perspective and with little “quality” tequila experience, the aging benefits the flavors.
In comparing these two, I am really torn – both were quite enjoyable. Looking at these head-to-head, the Casa Sauza has a broader, more complex profile, but the thinnish palate was a bit disappointing. The Herencia, on the other hand, had a better viscosity on the tongue, but lacked some of the balance and finesse that the Casa Sauza offered. If I must pick a winner, I will go with the Casa Sauza for the superior balance. There’s my vote….cast in stone…..decisively……without hesitation…..unless…..No, I will stick to my guns! The Casa Sauza it is!! 😀