The Best Tequila of 2021 Takes Its Cues from Scotch
A closer look at El Tequileño's collaboration with The Sassenach Spirits, as well as six other tequilas we loved this year
When we visited El Tequileño’s distillery (and on-property tequila hotel Casa Salles) in early November, we were already familiar with the brand’s various and expansive portfolio, which runs the gamut from a mixto all the way through to a unique Reposado Rare which is matured in a large American Oak barrel called a pipón (featuring a whopping 25,000 liter capacity) for six years.
All the expressions — particularly the Rare — are excellent. But our favorite is both brand new (as of this month) and a rather surprise team-up: The Sassenach Select, a limited-batch tequila collaboration by El Tequileño and The Sassenach Spirits. The latter of those a is blended Scotch created by Sam Heughan, a Scottish actor, producer, author and entrepreneur best known for his starring role as Jamie Fraser in the historical drama series Outlander.
(Side note: I couldn’t tell you if this counts as a celebrity release; I’m sadly unfamiliar with Heughan’s work outside of Bloodshot, a comic book adaptation so forgettable that I’m going to pretend I didn’t half-watch it on a plane. That said, Heughan’s name did elicit quite a positive reaction from some women at a media tasting, so he apparently has fans.)
Anyway, their new collaboration isn’t simply a matter of aging tequila in ex-Scotch barrels (for that, you’ll want to try El Tesoro’s excellent new release; see below). Instead, this is El Tequileño’s tequila, aged in American oak barrels for two years and then, as a nod to Sassenach’s maturation process, aged an additional four months in French oak.
“I know Sam. He visited our distillery and asked us if we could make him a tequila — and we said no,” explains Steffin Oghene, the Vice President of Global Marketing & Business Development for Tequila El Tequileño. “We don’t do that, never have in our 62 years. So late last year, he came back and asked about a collaboration instead.”
Overall, this collaboration is slightly sweet, with notes of toasted oak, vanilla, spice and a wonderful, lingering, even luscious finish. Of course, the agave is still unmistakably present.
Now, good luck finding a bottle: there are only about 55,000 available (for $100). If you can’t, we have a few more recommendations from the year, including …
Not only did Corazón win World’s Best Tequila at this year’s World Tequila Awards, it hails from a female-owned distillery headed up by a female distiller. Does the Reposado match the hype? It features nice flavors of cooked agave, cinnamon and vanilla, falling a bit more toward an añejo. Rich and pleasant.
Finally, the tequila world has figured out that secondary barrel maturation can bring out a lot of new flavors. Here, Patrón is taking their añejo and aging it a step further, adding two years time in Oloroso Sherry casks. The result features dry fruit on the palate, along with notes of pear and pecans; it works exceptionally well in cocktails that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with tequila (we tried it in a mule variation that we love).
A collaboration between Alex Lacroix (very interesting backstory), his childhood friend Chris Matte and his life partner Monica Sanita. Their standout is the reposado, aged in new barrels for 2-6 months, and closer to what I usually find in an añejo. The caramel, vanilla and wood notes are strong, but thankfully the agave isn’t lost in the aging.
Maestro Dobel is a leader in the cristalino category (we have some thoughts on this trend), and their new-ish 50 release — which blends aged tequilas from both Eastern European and American oak barrels — is an extra añejo that’s super flavorful, almost like butterscotch and dates.
The blanco and añejo here generally excel in their respective categories — the blanco is bright and grassy, the añejo is a worthy replacement for your bourbons and darker spirits. They’re good on their own, but I see these as elevated spirits for mixing (I tried the blanco infused with Hibiscus tea, then shaken with agave nectar and lime juice, and it was divine … h/t Liquor Lab for the recipe).
One of our favorite tequilas teamed up with Islay-based Scotch to create a flavorful tequila that has just the right hint of smoke … but a smoke that’s far different than a mezcal. It’s part of what will be an annual series of interesting maturations for El Tesoro.
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