When in doubt, put it in a whiskey barrel. That seems to be the general practice with spirits of all shades and flavors these days, from beer to gin to premixed cocktails. Why? Because whiskey is everything, all bow down to whiskey. Truthfully, I’m a member of the brown liquid worshipping class, so I fully support this trend. There’s a little magic and a whole lot of science that takes place when you finish aging a spirit in a wooden barrel, whether it’s new white oak, a used bourbon barrel, or a softly soaked sherry cask. Since aged tequila often spends some time in bourbon barrels anyway (unless it’s an un-aged blanco tequila), why not use the best you can find?
For the second time in the past few years, Corazon Tequila (part of the Sazerac Company), working with the Mexican distillery Casa San Matias, is releasing a few bourbon barrel-aged tequila expressions. These aren’t just any barrels, though; these are some of Buffalo Trace’s finest, including the extremely sought after youngest member of the Pappy Van Winkle family, Old Rip Van Winkle bourbon. This time around, Corazon has released two expressions. First up is the Buffalo Trace Reposado, aged for 10.5 months in Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrels, giving it a nice, subtle vanilla undercurrent. Then there’s the aforementioned Old Rip Van Winkle Anejo, aged for almost two years in the coveted barrels, marking the tequila with nice hints of wood and giving it a pale brown hue.
I asked Corazon marketing manager Mary Ellen Hogan about how the company goes about choosing the barrels, and she told me that it started off as an experiment. They would test the tequila every 30 days to figure out when it was ready to bottle. “We strive to make the world’s best tequila, and in doing so, challenge ourselves to explore the uncharted,” she said. “Having access to bourbon barrels from the Buffalo Trace Distillery, the world’s most acclaimed distillery, provided us with a unique opportunity. We worked with our partners to develop a truly remarkable blanco, harvested from two different agave fields. The aging of the expresiones is what makes these truly remarkable. Each barrel imparts unique characteristics, different from every other tequila out there.”
I wondered if touting the pedigree of the bourbon barrels they are aging their tequila in is necessary for Corazon to keep up with today’s supernova-hot whiskey market, but Hogan demurred. “It was never about keeping up with whiskey, or getting whiskey drinkers to convert to tequila,” she said. “It was about challenging ourselves to produce the world’s best tasting tequila, using our expertise in innovative ways.”
Still, it got this non-tequila drinker’s attention, and I’m sure that phenomenon will be repeated. Hornitos Black Barrel, Espolon Anejo (aged in Wild Turkey barrels), and Tequila Herradura (finished in Scotch casks) have all realized the potential of talking up their whiskey connection, and for good reason. The sweet and complex vanilla, oak, caramel, and smoke flavors that a whiskey barrel will impart upon tequila, which already has an intricate flavor profile, complement the spirit extremely well. These are not shooter tequilas like Cuervo, to throw back alongside a Corona and lime; these are sipping tequilas that can also be used to make some pretty fine cocktails. So yes, keep putting everything you can think of in a whiskey barrel, and in my best attempt at Spanish, viva el barril de whisky.