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Beginner's guide: reposado

Reposado tequila is coveted for its smooth flavor with caramel and vanilla tones, but how is it different from añejo and blanco tequilas?

Reposado tequila is coveted for its smooth flavor with caramel and vanilla tones, but how is it different from añejo and blanco tequilas?

For those aficionados of the fine distilled spirits, a world of experience opens up for discerning palates. Venerable traditions can stretch back decades or even centuries around the world with nations claiming their pieces of liquor history. Whisky (or whiskey) enjoys dueling claims between the Irish and the Scots, going as far back as the 13th century. Poland and Russia similarly squabble over who was the first to establish a recipe for vodka, going almost as far back in time.

But there is no question as to the original home of tequila. Mexico is unquestionably the birthplace of this sipping and mixing favorite. The international superstar of hard alcohol has been made from specially cultivated blue agave – a succulent plant native to the Jalisco region of Mexico. Loaded with special sugars, the spiny leaves are broken off and baked in an oven to yield the main ingredient, aguamiel – literally, “honey water” in Spanish. From this, all tequilas are distilled. And among all of the tequila types, one of the most coveted is certainly reposado tequila.

What is reposado tequila?

Reposado is sought after by amateur mixologists and professional bartenders alike for its tantalizing tones of vanilla and caramel, which come out just as the harshness of the alcohol recedes. Getting its name from the Spanish word for “resting,” the moniker comes from the fact that this particular type of tequila is mostly aged in American oak barrels (the same way bourbon is). Unlike the silver or Blanco tequilas which are unaged and go straight from distillation to bottle, reposado has a smoother, more mellow, complex, and rounded flavor.

The aging lasts between two months and one year. If it goes on any longer, then it becomes añejo, which mellows it even more, and would then be meant almost exclusively for sipping. While white oak barrels are typically used, artisan distillers experiment with small batches employing alternate receptacles. Some will use French oak Cognac casks to create even more complex unique flavors, for example. The key is to age it, but not for too long. In this way, you could say reposado is the “Goldilocks” of tequilas, inhabiting the “just right” zone between too aged and not aged enough.

How to drink

To be sure, other types of tequila are just as worthy of tasting in their own right just as much as reposado. Añejo may be best enjoyed drinking slowly either neat or with a single ice cube to cool the heat down. Blancos can be enjoyed in highball combos like Tequila Tonics. But Reposado can be fantastic both for sipping straight or on the rocks and as the base of a perfect premium cocktail – such as the famous “Cadillac Margarita.” Reposado is probably the best tequila for any high-quality mixed drink: Blancos aren’t smooth enough and Añejo would just get lost in the recipe. Sure you can use either, but remember, reposado is “just right!”

At the end of the day, it’s all a matter of taste, of course. You may find that you prefer to sip a reposado over an Añejo or prefer the kick of a Blanco in your cocktail over the subtlety of a reposado. It’s your palate, after all! But if we may offer some final food pairing suggestions should you give this particular tequila type a spin? Darker meats like steak or pork are a fine choice as the sweeter tones complement the savory flavors of the dishes. If you like to go spicy with a jalapeño-heavy plate, that same sweetness can counter the spiciness without eliminating it. Reposado goes great with dessert or in a coffee digestif as those caramel and vanilla tones will help your sugary treats pop all the more.

By its very nature, a reposado must undergo a delicate process to earn its name. You really can’t go wrong in terms of how you enjoy it, nor in exactly what bottle you pick up. Of course, there will always be competing distilleries trying to outmatch each other in flavor and smoothness. But just as is the case with a V.S.O.P Cognac, the stamp of approval is there to ensure you will be drinking a very sublime elixir indeed.