This month, Espolòn Tequila is releasing their first añejo tequila in the United States. We’ve covered añejos before, but what makes this one special is that the tequila is aged in Wild Turkey Bourbon barrels—another company whose distiller we respect immensely.
To get the inside story on the new release, we spoke to the people at Espolòn and were treated with our own bottle of Espolòn Añejo, which we have been sipping incessantly for the past week.
How long have you been refining your añejo recipe?
Master Distiller Cirilo Oropeza was the first in Mexico to begin using his unique technique of finishing aged tequilas in barrels previously used to age other spirits. While Espolòn Añejo is hitting the United States market for the first time this month, Cirilo has been using this process far longer. The first commercially available of these products, El Colorado, was launched in Mexico in 2011, featuring Espolòn Reposado aged in new White American Oak Barrels for six months and finished in bourbon barrels. Espolòn Añejo, now available in the US, takes this process one step further with additional time in white oak before being transferred to Wild Turkey bourbon barrels.
Can you briefly explain your distillation process?
When you talk about distillation, you can’t start without talking about the agave. Espolòn uses only 100% blue Weber Agave from the highland of Jalisco, which is the main driver in creating the sweet, complex taste profile of Espolòn Tequila. Once the agave is ready for distillation, the fermentation process takes about 72 hours and uses masquow yeast, unique to Espolòn, which plays a major role in the distinct body, flavor and aroma of the tequilas. The fermented liquid is then distilled twice with the “heart” of the tequila being separated from the head and tails between each distillation. The process of removing only the heart creates a sharper, more interesting and compelling flavor profile. The traditional pot still method of distillation takes five and a half hours per batch, longer than the industry standard (which is three and a half hours), allowing for more flavors to be extracted.
Why did you decide on using the Wild Turkey Bourbon barrels for aging?
Wild Turkey uses #4 alligator char barrels, meaning they have the heaviest deep-layer alligator char. As a result, the bourbon barrels impart great vanilla and chocolate notes that complement the smoothness of Espolòn, providing a truly unexpected and complex finish with roasted agave and wood with hints of dried fruit and butterscotch.
What is it about the white oak bourbon casks that appeal to tequila distillers?
Cirilo Oropeza uses only new American White Oak barrels for the beginning of his aging process on all Espolòn marques. In fact, when creating Espolòn, he was adamant to only use new white oak barrels, meaning that they have not been used to age any other spirit. This white oak is used by Cirilo and others because it imparts a distinct vanilla note to the spirits as they age. The usage of bourbon barrels for finishing is a perfect complement to tequila as the two spirits are able to take advantage of their rich flavor profiles and mingle into a balance of caramel, dried fruits and chocolate.
When you are distilling or experimenting with a new batch of añejo, what kind of flavors are you looking for? What kind of finish?
Cirilo Oropeza always likes to stir things up! He has been experimenting with many different finishes – much more than just bourbon. Each different type of finishing barrel has a different goal and flavor profile. The resulting spirit should have flavors of the beautiful, smooth Espolòn Tequila that goes into the barrel with the balance and nuances of the partnering barrel. The barrel should enhance and bring out unique and surprising new flavors in the liquid, creating a whole new experience for the drinker.
Cirilo has always been adamant that the agave flavors are prominent in all Espolòn tequila. The sweet, bright profile of fresh agave should always be the strongest flavor in the liquid. This is why Cirilo does not age Espolòn Tequila in bourbon barrels from the beginning of the aging process, only at the finish. This allows the Añejo to have a lovely bourbon finish, but keep the agave flavor that is so unique to tequila.
What kind of meal(s) would you pair the Añejo with?
Espolòn Añejo is very versatile with or without food. It is delicious in cocktails, but because of its smooth finish, it can also be sipped neat or on the rocks like bourbon or whiskey. In addition, it works as a unique substitution for bourbon in classic cocktails like an Old Fashioned or Manhattan. An authentic Mexican meat-based dish like Carne Asada is the perfect food pairing.