The Potable Pioneer: Extra Anejo - The Crown Jewel of Tequila
A step that goes above and beyond even anejo - what makes these aged agave spirits 'extra'?
Seasonality: Year Round
Producer: Kah, Herradura, AsomBroso, El Tesoro, and others
Classification: Spirit (Tequila)
ABV: 40%, but can vary
Country of Origin: Mexico
Trivia: The classification of 'extra anejo' was only recognized by the Mexico National Committee on Standardization in 2006
Availability Info/Look for This: certain online stores or liquor stores will sell it, but you can buy it by the shot at Verde Mexican Kitchen & Cantina at 5491 Penn Avenue, in Pittsburgh
You can find it online by the bottle - here is Kah extra anejo:
Here is El Tesoro Paradiso extra anejo:
Among the most famous and recognized of all spirits, whether it's introducing itself through a shot glass at a beer pong-themed frat house party, or sitting elegantly on a tabletop amidst the hustle and bustle of a bar or restaurant, is the agave spirit tequila. Put into several categories based on the amount of time it is aged (or not aged), this famous beverage must still adhere to several strict requirements for it to be given the important title of tequila. As connoisseurs, appreciators, or novices may know, tequila is grouped into 3 different, distinct classifications that each show us a different face in the evolution process of this spirit. These categories are blanco, reposado, and anejo. However, a 4th elusive designation has found its way to the top of the heap, and this elite category is known as the extra anejo.
This awe-inspiring, amber-colored nectar begins its storied journey to the bottle (and eventually to the snifter) in Mexico with the spikey agave plant. To make tequila, the agave plant is harvested under the sweltering sun of Central Mexico, where the core of the plant is extracted and pruned of its spiky outer fingers. It is then cooked in a stone or metal oven, and then pressed or crushed to yield a sticky and viscous agave juice (this is lovingly called agua miel, or 'honey water'). It is this precious juice that is then distilled to give us the clear and brightly-vegetal tasting distillate that is tequila. From this stage, tequila will then branch out and individuate itself based on how long it is aged (or not). The extra anejo has to wait patiently, and the longest, before it can fill its elaborate and Alladin-esque styled bottles, and then ultimately your footed snifter for a gentle swirl, sniff, and sip.
The extra anejo, like all premium tequila, is made from 100% blue agave (a member of the lily family, not a cactus). Anything made from less than 100% of this plant but at least 51% is classified as a mixto; Jose Cuervo is a good example of a mixto, wherein glucose and fructose sugars make up the remainder. Where the extra anejo gains its specific designation and its unique personality is from the time it spends aging in oak barrels. The blanco version of tequila is usually not aged, and if it is at all it's for less than two months in stainless steel or neutral oak. The next step up the ladder, the reposado (or rested in Spanish), gains its special character and almost golden color from aging in oak for at least 2 months, but no longer than 1 year. One step further down the dusty trail leads us to the anejo, where the agave spirit has been slumbering within the dark walls of the barrel for at least 365 days, gifting it with a seductive light amber and caramel color and absorbing nuances from the oak barrel; this gently pulls the agave bite to the background and coaxes forth more of the flavor similarities that you'd find in a whiskey.
At last, at this crucial mark where the anejo has been laid down in oak for over a year, we begin to approach three whole years of aging. It is at this 3 year point where the anejo will stay in the barrel longer to step over the threshold and become an extra anejo. Of course, certain tequila producers will age their anejos longer and choose not to adopt the mantle of extra anejo, but this choice is up to them. This luxury class of tequila that is the extra anejo is usually a seductively dark amber color, much like bourbon or cognac, and has smoothly picked up flavors reminiscent of butterscotch, toffee, and honey - a definite sophisticated sipper. The extra anejo unveils to us an expression of this agave spirit that broadens the spectrum of tequila, falling on the end that connects and may even overlap where a fine scotch or brandy would begin. Salud.
By Max Stein
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