In Kentucky there are more bourbon barrels than people.
Mexican tequila aged in bourbon barrels (or ‘Bourbon Tequila’ as I call it) is prized by tequila enthusiasts looking for a high-quality bourbon finish in their agave sips.
Tequila aged in bourbon barrels has a smoother, more flavorful profile.
What is tequila aged in bourbon barrels?
Tequila is a Mexican alcoholic spirit made from the blue agave plant. Distilled tequila is aged in used American bourbon barrels to add bourbon notes and a complex finish.
Why is tequila aged in bourbon barrels?
By law, bourbon must be aged in a new barrel, and can only be used once.
On reason tequila is aged in bourbon barrels is that they can be purchased by tequila producers for a fraction of the cost of new oak barrels.
The use of bourbon barrels also adds an interesting twist to traditional tequila, attracting new customers to the market.
Best Tequilas Aged in Bourbon Barrels
What’s the best ‘bourbon tequila’?
It’s your call, but here my top 3 favorite options for tequilas aged in bourbon barrels.
1. Don Julio 1942 Añejo
Don Julio 1942 Añejo tequila ages for more than two years in Kentucky bourbon barrels, an artisanal process that creates a truly luxurious tasting experience.
I enjoy it on the rocks with lime. It can also be served neat.
2. Espolon Añejo Tequila
This ‘bourbon tequila’ begins the aging process in American white oak barrels, imparting warm, earthy vanilla and butterscotch notes.
It then spends a couple of months in Wild Turkey bourbon barrels.
Bourbon fans will like its floral, fruity notes complemented by spice.
Related: Best Wild Turkey Drinks (Top 10!)
3. Corazon Añejo Single Barrel (Blanton)
Corazon’s Single Barrel Añejo Tequila is a premium tequila is aged in 1792 bourbon barrels
With notes of vanilla, caramel, and oak to the tequila, Corazon creates a smooth, rich taste and a warming finish.
The aroma is a mix of agave and bourbon, with hints of oak and spice.
Related: What is a Single Barrel Bourbon?
Corazón’s Single Barrel Reposado is aged barrels from Buffalo Trace Bourbon.
Bourbon Tequila Cocktail
In addition to sipping bourbon tequila neat, there are also a number of delicious bourbon tequila cocktails to try.
Here is one I like:
A Mexican & A Cowboy Walk Into A Bar
This spin on the Old Fashioned is excellent. Use your favorite bourbon tequila in this classic cocktail, for a unique and delicious twist.
Related: 15 Best Christmas Bourbon Cocktails
Tequila Bourbon FAQs
Is tequila the new bourbon?
In 2021, tequila became the third largest spirit category in America, overtaking bourbon and rum. The most popular spirit in the U.S. is whiskey, with vodka a close second.
How are bourbon whiskey oak barrels charred?
Bourbon barrels are made from American white oak, which has a natural sweetness and vanilla flavor that is infused into the tequila during the aging process.
Bourbon barrels are often charred on the inside, which caramelizes the natural sugars in the oak and gives the tequila a distinct smoky flavor.
Charred bourbon barrels are exposed to an intense open flame that burns the interior wood at a temperature of 500 to 600 degrees Fahrenheit.
This is done with a blow torch or placing the barrel over an open flame.
First, the oak barrel is soaked in hot water for several hours to soften the wood. After soaking, the charring process begins.
What are bourbon barrel char levels?
There are 4 char levels that most oak barrels ascribe to.
The duration of the char varies depending on the level of char desired.
- Level 1: 15-second char is the lightest and akes the bourbon slightly sweeter.
- Level 2: 30-second char produces vanilla, coffee, and spicy notes.
- Level 3: 35-second char, gives a hint of caramelization vanilla and a spicy notes.
- Level 4: 55 seconds, an intense char that produces deep flavor highlighted with sweet notes.
Related: 8 Spicy Bourbon Cocktails That Turn Up the Heat
Why do you char an oak barrel for bourbon?
Charring makes it easier for bourbon to extract flavors from the wood. Vanilla, toffee, and caramel notes break down into wood sugars in the presence of heat.
Aging bourbon absorbs these sugars from the barrel caramelized interior. This produces delicious results the longer a barrel is charred.
What is the effect of oak barrel charring on taste?
Heating wood causes the separation of hemicellulose and cellulose into sugars that provide flavors such as caramel, toffee, maple, and nut. Lignin fibers in oak also separate, contributing unique flavor profiles.
Oak may contain particles like vanillin and eugenol, which provide vanilla and clove tastes, respectively. More charring leads to a spicier flavor contribution from lignin.
Oak lactones provide a coconut flavor, which is more pronounced in lightly charred barrels. Deeper charring damages lactones, nullifying their effect.
Tannins in wood are released during charring, and drying the barrel removes unwanted tannins. The remaining tannins are desirable and help to mellow the interaction between the spirit and tannin during maturation.
The unique makeup of wood depends on the oak variety and place of origin, with each type having a distinct profile of lignin, lipid, cellulose, and hemicellulose.