Sip, don’t shoot! The new batch of tequilas grows up.
It’s no secret that spirits aficionados have long reached for premium whiskeys and Cognacs, but high-end labels are responding to rising demand for sip-worthy tequilas with tipples of astonishing depth and flavor.
From artisanal new-crop distilleries to established, world-famous brands, master tequila distillers have begun barrel-aging the blue agave–based spirit for years, allowing the wood to layer rich notes of vanilla and caramel atop agave’s natural spice. But what exactly makes for a sipping tequila? “First and foremost it cannot be fiery,” explains Tad Carducci, bar consultant and author of A Lime and a Shaker: Discovering Mexican-Inspired Cocktails. “But the tequila has to have an intensity of flavor, and it should offer a long, lingering finish.”
Consider, for example, luxe new Casa Noble Alta Belleza Extra Añejo ($1,200 for 750ml), an ultra-limited release of 560 bottles, each finished in Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve barrels. Then there’s, Herradura Selección Suprema Extra Añejo ($350), which offers soft, Cognac-like flavors of stone fruit and hazelnut. And Gran Patrón Piedra ($400), the luxury brand’s first-ever extra-añejo, is a silky, rounded sipper with plenty of caramel and spice.
Interest in premium tequilas is on the rise, says Chantal Martineau, tequila expert and author of How the Gringos Stole Tequila: The Modern Age of Mexico’s Most Traditional Spirit. Thanks in part to celeb-backed brands, “people are associating tequila with sophistication and style.” Furthering that association, she says, is the evolution of Mexican cuisine from street fare into more sophisticated dining.
While these selections are delicious on their own, is it okay to mix a high-end tequila into a cocktail? “Of course!” Martineau affirms. However, for pricier bottles, skip the prickly pear margaritas, she suggests, and “make a stirred, spirit-forward cocktail that really lets the tequila shine.”