If the top of your drink shelf features nothing more than a few dusty bottles of old whiskey that you’re too scared to actually drink the I have a message for you: stop sleeping on the wonderfully complex world of tequila añejo. Aged for one to three years in the same oak barrels that finish your favorite bourbons and Scotches, añejo is tequila in its most sumptuous and luxurious form. A great añejo has a distinct mellowness that recalls fine whiskey but still contains some of those bright vegetal qualities that give tequila its characteristic green pepper bite.
Añejo takes you through a journey of flavors — a savory balance of sweet and earthy notes tiptoe and pirouette across your palate, making it an ideal spirit to appreciate neat and sip slow. But tequila añejo is also a rapidly expanding category with a lot of names on the shelf. To help you sort the better brands from the lesser expressions, we’re running a blind taste test of eight well-known (and relatively affordable) añejos.
Part 1: The Taste
For this blind tasting, I grabbed eight great bottles of tequila añejo that fall within the $30-$70 range. We think that’s a fair and affordable entry point. In an effort to prevent it sweeping this competition, I excluded El Tesoro — I know this tequila too well and have no doubt that it would be my number one pick, so I’m going to have to exclude it due to my own bias.
Here is our class this go around:
- 818 Añejo
- 1800 Añejo
- Corazon de Agave Single Estate Añejo
- Dano’s Dangerous Añejo
- Herradura Añejo
- Partida Añejo
- Prospero Añejo
- Villa One Añejo
On the nose I’m getting heavy vegetal notes, the agave really cuts through here. On the palate, enveloping notes of roasted nuts, agave, and oak greet you with open arms, with a slightly fruity and floral lift at the finish.
This one disappears quickly, without a lingering burn. Very smooth.
The color is an alluring deep amber. A blend of vanilla and chocolate on the nose, this one hits you heavy with blunt oak notes. Lots of deep wood flavor here, thankfully that settles into comforting notes of burnt sugar and maple with a spicy finish. A sustained burn buzzes on the tongue between sips.
Toffee on the nose, this one burns a lot more than our first two tastes. Across the palate, I’m getting floral notes peppered between a flavor that morphs from vanilla to marshmallow and settles into something herbal. Strangely, those sweeter flavors stick around like candy while the herbal notes disappear from the palate on the finish.
If I took all the sweeter flavors from the last three tastes and combined them into one tequila, it still wouldn’t be as sweet as this one. On the nose, there is a sort of Christmas quality to this tequila, like a tin of caramel popcorn. Across the palate, I’m getting intense notes of sweetness, more caramel, butterscotch, and a slight hint of coconut. It’s very drinkable, but a little too sweet for my liking.
Wow, when doing these blind taste tests it’s really easy to distinguish the great tequila from the more middling bottles. This is fantastic, smooth, and mouth-watering at the finish, the flavors greet you with light and bouncy notes of vanilla and juicy cherry with a floral jasmine lift. At moments, it’s like dessert but the flavors never stick around long enough for that to be off-putting, thanks to a lingering oak and cinnamon finish.
Another one on the sweeter end (the plague of longer-aged añejos). This one has a very pleasing chocolate scent to it on the nose, it really pulls you in. Once on the palate, I’m getting flavors that bounce between hazelnut, vanilla, maple, and honey. Coconut dominates the finish for a very sweet close. There are a lot of similarities here with Taste 4, it feels like these brands were going for the same thing — sweet drinkability.
This one nails it way better.
Incredibly harsh and chemical on the nose. I’m getting kerosene and something metal, it’s almost stomach-turning. Surprisingly this completely transformed as soon as it hit my tongue. This one retains a lot of the brighter more vegetal qualities of unaged tequila, I’m getting notes of lemongrass and tart green apple skin bathed in caramel, a distinct charred oak flavor, and a tropical finish of coconut and pineapple.
Nose was rough but palate was so great I asked for more!
A nice and pleasing close for our blind taste test. Vanilla on the nose, this one starts spicy, with a sweet dried fruit quality that somehow settles into a caramel finish. It’s a little all over the place, but that’s what makes it interesting to sip. Really unlike every other bottle on this list.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. Tequila 1800 — Añejo (Taste 2)
Average Price: $39.99
1800’s Anejo tequila is made using 100% Weber blue agave harvested at peak maturity and aged in French Oak barrels for 14 months or longer. 1800 is produced at the Casa Cuervo distillery in Tequila. This is easily the darkest spirit of the lot — in the glass, it almost looks like whiskey, it’s incredibly attractive.
Unfortunately, every ranking has to have a bottom and while we enjoyed this bottle, we didn’t like it as much as the other options.
The Bottom Line
If you’re already a fan of the 1800 brand, you’re going to dig on this as well. But if you’re going in completely blind with no experience with any of these brands, you have a whole host of better options out there.
7. VIlla One — Añejo (Taste 4)
Average Price: $65.99
Villa One is made using 100% blue Weber agave harvested from the highlands and lowlands of Jalisco and produced in the very crowded Fabrica de Tequilas Finos distillery. When I checked the brand’s website I was surprised to find that Villa One is Nick Jonas’ brand, to which I actually said out loud, “Nick Jonas has a tequila brand?!”
I had no idea. But like most celebrity tequila brands out there right now, this one is pretty solid.
The Bottom Line
If you’re looking for a smooth and sweet añejo that won’t turn off the people in your life who can’t stomach tequila, this is a great brand to try out. If you’re in love with those distinct flavors of agave, you probably won’t love this one though.
6. Prospero — Añejo (Taste 3)
Average Price: $43.99
One of Wine Enthusiast’s top 100 spirits in 2019, Prospero comes from the Tequilera Don Roberto Distillery in Jalisco and is crafted by master distiller Stella Anguiano. The brand ages their tequila for a minimum of 12 months in oak barrels, resulting in a beautiful amber-colored spirit. I like this one and for the price, it’s a great bottle to start with, it just didn’t offer some of the complexity of the higher-ranked brands on this list.
The Bottom Line
Dominated by sweet floral notes and a toffee and vanilla character, Prospero will hit you with a burn, but it settles into something you’ll find hard to stop sipping.
5. Corazon — Single Estate Añejo (Taste 1)
Average Price: $31.99
A 2018 and 2019 Gold Medal award winner at the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition, and awarded the Best Añejo tequila at the 2016 Drink Awards, Corazon de Agave’s Single Estate series is the brand’s lowest tier of spirits, but that’s nothing to scoff at — Corazon’s budget line is easily better than a lot of tequilas twice the price.
Hailing from the Tequila San Matias de Jalisco distillery, Corazon’s 100% blue Weber agave is grown on the Casa San Matias estate and features an intimate production process all the way from the harvesting process to the bottling.
The Bottom Line
Hands down, this is the best añejo you can buy for $30. If that’s your budget, this is an obvious pick-up if you’re interested in learning more about the world of aged tequila.
4. 818 — Añejo (Taste 6)
Average Price: $64.99
With more and more of my friends getting vaccinated, my tequila blind taste tests have gone from just me and my girlfriend or a roommate into a mini party with a handful of friends. This most recent one led to a lot of debate about Kendall Jenner’s tequila brand, 818 — something I’m now extremely tired of talking about. While I can’t seem to convince people that Kendall Jenner’s tequila is actually good, once the party tasted it and it was revealed to them, all debate ended.
People are embarrassed to like this brand. Get over that, because it’s good.
The Bottom Line
Sweet and comforting with wonderful notes of chocolate and hazelnut without being overly candied to the point that it no longer tastes like tequila.
3. Partida — Añejo (Taste 8)
Average Price: $63.99
Partida’s beautiful bronze-toned tequila añejo is made using blue agave grown in the Tequila Valley in red volcanic soil and harvested between 7-10 years. It is then slow-cooked in a stainless steel autoclave and distilled in traditional pot stills at the Autentica Tequilera distillery in Jalisco. To get to that añejo state, the tequila is aged for 18 months in ex-bourbon American white oak barrels.
The Bottom Line
I’ve now tried each of Partida’s La Familia line of expressions and the flavors presented are always really unique and memorable. This is really a tequila brand for people who love tequila and the flavor of agave, I think it’s a difficult bottle to start with but it tastes great and if you can appreciate this, it’s safe to say you love tequila añejo.
2. Herradura — Añejo (Taste 5)
Average Price: $59.99
Across each of its expressions, Herradura produces some fantastic tequila. Made from blue Weber agave harvested by skilled jimadores in the volcanic lowlands of the Amatitlán region, Herradura cooks their agave in traditional ovens and utilizes roller mill extraction. The tequila is then aged for 25 months in American White Oak barrels, resulting in a tequila that is as stunning to look at as it is in its full-bodied flavor.
The Bottom Line
Sometimes people make their tequila purchasing decisions superficially. A cool bottle shape and a great label are sometimes all it takes to cause you to choose one brand over another. That can sometimes end in wasted money, but if you’re attracted to the shape and look of Herradura, go ahead and give in because this tequila delivers on all fronts — it’s smooth, complex, and endlessly interesting.
Every sip presents something new.
1. Dano’s Dangerous — Añejo (Taste 7)
Average Price: $54.99
The ridiculously named Dano’s Dangerous provided the biggest surprise of this blind taste test. It’s not that I have anything against the brand, but the smell was so offensive on the nose that I thought a cheaper bottle snuck into the lineup by mistake. Dano’s is made using eight-year-old blue Weber agave harvested and hand trimmed by skilled jimadores at peak ripeness. The agave is cooked in stone brick ovens, utilizes roller mill extraction, and distilled in copper pot stills at the Casa Reyes Barajas distillery in Jalisco.
To get to its Añejo state, Dano’s is rested in French Oak barrels.
The Bottom Line
As I said in the last entry, looks can be deceiving. Dano’s Dangerous has a weak name, and the bottle shape and label leave a lot to be desired. Once you taste it though, you’ll realize why bottle shape and label design don’t really matter. This tequila takes you on a journey of flavors, it’s deep and complex, but still bright and vegetal. In our proposed price line, this is a great pick-up that offers a lot.
You won’t be disappointed in this bottle, whether you’re a seasoned tequila drinker or someone who is merely interested in getting started.
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