Last time I wrote, I was at the Pastry War, trying a special batch of Saint Arnold 20th Anniversary Ale that had been aged in a Siembra Azul tequila barrel.
I'm more familiar with whiskey than tequila, so I wanted to get an idea of the flavors the tequila would impart to the beer-- and what better way than to sample the Siembra Azul añejo, the same tequila that had been in the barrel? Having recently begun learning more about how aging affects varieties of tequila, after the Herradura pairing I attended, I decided to try all three varieties on the menu-- and thanks to the bartender, got a sip of the extra añejo as well. (It wasn't on the menu, and I didn't see the bottle, so I didn't know which one it was.) Being that tequila requires such a shorter aging process than most whiskeys, and that good tequila is, in fact, quite drinkable un-aged, I thought taking a cross-section of Siembra Azul tequilas would give me a much better idea of how the wood affects the spirit over time.
As I mentioned last time, Siembra Azul is a small-batch distillery that uses traditional cooking methods and ages their tequila in new barrels (as opposed to used whiskey barrels). I don't know what it is specifically in that list that most affects the flavor (or if it's all of those things), but what I noticed universally was how clean the Siembra Azul tequilas tasted compared to others I've sampled. That cleanliness made the spirit tasty and refreshing in all forms; while I'm not an expert on the subject, I would describe the resulting agave spirit as juicy and sweet.
Of course, each variety carried its own unique flavors. All four of them were good drinks; here's a brief rundown of the differences I noticed.
The blanco was peppery and grassy on the nose, the only one of the four that could be described that way. However, the body still carried that juicy mouthfeel I described, with a sweet and honeyed flavor and a smooth finish.
The reposado carried the same sweet, honeyed flavor, but now the oak had started to impart hints of vanilla, and brought out a number of bright, citrus notes on the nose that balanced the honey flavors of the body well. I thought the reposado did the best job of having the nose complement the body, and the spirit's finish is still smooth and light.
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An increase in woodiness corresponds with an increase in richness. The añejo is where the wood starts to overtake the agave; the spirit now feels rich and buttery, more than light and refreshing. Darker, smokier flavors like dark chocolate and dried berries are hinted at on the nose and in the body, and the vanilla flavor is even more pronounced. The añejo is still a well-rounded tequila, and it may be even smoother than the two previous varieties.
The extra añejo gets its flavors almost entirely from the wood. The nose is very strong with vanilla and toasted marshmallow, and those carry through the rest of the spirit. The agave is still detectable underneath, and of course the spirit on the whole is still smooth and tasty, but the is extra añejo dominated by the oak.
My favorite for sipping was the Reposado: I felt like it was the best balance of flavors between the natural agave spirit and the wood. While I like oaky and well-aged drams, the reposado did the best job of highlighting the natural flavors of the tequila while incorporating flavors from the wood aging without letting them overwhelm the spirit. I found it to be a better combination of flavors than the blanco, and brighter and more refreshing than the añejo varieties. All four were tasty and worthwhile, though-- my drinking partner preferred the blanco-- and I think it really just depends which flavor profile you prefer.
When I went out to buy a bottle of the reposado, I was stunned to discover it cost less than $40. Worse tequilas made in bigger batches can go for significantly more than that. I'm giving Siembra Azul a regular space in my liquor cabinet; it's a great-tasting line of tequilas at a very reasonable price. And in 2015, I resolve to learn more about agave spirits.