You always knew you'd age out of knocking back tequila shots in bars with sticky floors. Little did you know tequila could mature right along with you. Añejo tequila is your typical tequila, just aged between one and three years. No judgments if you didn't evolve quite as rapidly. The aging process darkens the tequila, resulting in an amber color that can easily be confused with whiskey. The flavor of añejo tequila is often smoother, richer and more complex than blanco varieties.
Let's Talk Tequila:
We all know that tequila is made from blue agave cactus and that 100 percent pure agave is known as silver tequila (if you didn't know this, take a shot as punishment). While the purity of silver tequila is not to be denied, if you desire a more complex flavor, try añejo.
In English, the word "añejo" translates to "old" — so if you suspect it has something to do with aging, you're right on target (and should take a shot to celebrate). Añejo tequila must be aged in a sealed oak barrel for at least a year. As it sits, the glycerin in the wood enters the body of the tequila to create a richer body, darker hue and a more complex flavor. Some añejos are aged in barrels that once held cognac or whiskey, crafting even more sophisticated pinky-protruding-as-you-sip flavors.
What's New Is Old Again:
In 2006, the Tequila Regulatory Council introduced a new category — extra-añejo. While añejo tequila is aged between one and three years, extra-añejo goes a step further and is aged for three or more. You'll experience more noticeable hints of caramel, smoke and chocolate flavors along with the woody tinge.
Small Batches, Big Flavor:
The small-batch philosophy behind añejo tequila lends itself to "no compromises" quality control. It's also a requirement by law. To receive either the añejo or extra-añejo classification, the aging barrels must be no larger than 600 liters in capacity. The larger amount of tequila exposed to the surface area ensures that the flavor of the wood has the highest possible influence.
What's Up With the Worm?
Contrary to popular belief, there is no worm in your bottle of tequila. There has never been a worm in your tequila — unless some jokester (or marketing genius) put it there. There's a worm-like moth larva that has been known to inhabit bottles of mezcal, but that's a story for another day.
How Should You Enjoy Añejo Tequila?
In Mexico, tequila (especially fine añejo) is served straight up in a shot glass. The introduction of lime and salt comes mostly from outside the country. Top-shelf tequilas should be enjoyed by themselves, but the deep, complex flavor of añejo also vastly improves the taste of mixed drinks. Examples are the tequila sunrise, mojito, Bloody Mary and any number of margaritas.