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"A?ejo translates to aged or matured tequila, and [said] aging is done in oak barrels for a minimum of 12 months, which imparts a lot of flavors to the spirit,” says Suyash Pande, head bartender at New York’s Baar Baar. Pande finds that a?ejo tequilas tend to be smoother than their counterparts, thanks to their one to three years of barrel aging.
Steve Reynolds, co-founder of Penta Tequila, agrees. “An a?ejo, for me, needs to have spice, mouthfeel and layers of character [that] you can only get with time and age in a barrel," he says. "There is a balance to the wood and toast for me that makes all things sing.” Craving something to sip? Here are some of the best a?ejo tequilas available today.
Best Overall: Herradura A?ejo
What’s not to love about Herradura? This golden-hued tequila was first produced by Casa Herradura in 1962 and has since skyrocketed to industry fame. The spirit ages for 25 months—which is 13 months more than the regulated standard—in American white oak barrels, which leads to a medium to full-bodied sipper loaded with warm flavors of citrus, cedar spice, vanilla, dried fruits and wood.
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Best Under $30: Milagro A?ejo
Great tequila doesn’t have to be expensive. For a delicious spirit on a budget, look no further than Milagro A?ejo. This triple-distilled tequila is produced from 100% estate-grown and brick oven-roasted Highlands agave, then ages for 14 to 24 months in American oak barrels. Smooth and savory flavors of plums, caramel and sweet spice ooze from the spirit's versatile palate. Excellent for sipping neat or mixing into cocktail creations at home.
Best Under $50: 1800 A?ejo
At under $50 a bottle,1800 A?ejo seriously overdelivers for the price. This rich and round tequila ages in American oak for 12 months, with a portion additionally aged for two years. Its lifted aromatics lead to a textured palate loaded with flavors of caramel, citrus rind, yellow fruits and sweet spice. Sip, mix or do both.
Good to Know:
“An a?ejo, after resting in the barrels for over one year, should have a story to tell and not just be a vanilla tequila,” says Robin Clough, CEO and founder of Tequila Enemigo. “It should open up in the glass, evolve, showcase multiple notes including a beautiful agave note coming through throughout.”
Read Next: The Best Tequila Under $50
Best Extra A?ejo: Grand Mayan Ultra Aged A?ejo
The extra a?ejo tequila category is relatively new to the spirits scene, as it was only established in 2006. This category designates tequilas that are aged for three years or more, though many distilleries will surpass that. Grand Mayan's Ultra Aged A?ejo ages for five years in oak and is packaged in traditional hand-painted bottles from the region. Sweet and smooth flavors of dried fruits, roasted nuts and caramel dominate the spirit's velvety smooth palate. This bottle is certain to impress the tequila lover in your life.
Best for Sipping: Patrón A?ejo
Known by most and beloved by many, this tequila is perfect for pleasing the masses. Patrón A?ejo is oak aged for over 12 months, allowing the sweet woody flavors to integrate over time. Notes of baked agave, smoke, burnt caramel and dried fruits dominate this spirit’s unctuous palate. Sip solo after dinner for a delicious digestif.
Best Top-Shelf: Penta A?ejo
This premium a?ejo tequila is a real treat. It's produced with double and triple-distilled agave, as well as a combination of Champagne and tequila yeasts. The spirit then ages for 14 months in a mix of new and used American, Hungarian and French oak barrels. Harmonious flavors of warm wood, earth, tobacco and baking spice ooze from the tequila’s palate. For a textured and versatile bottle that wows, this is it.
“An a?ejo of Penta's quality can be the foundation for a fantastic cocktail, but the nuanced layers of spice and fresh cooked agave that come out from more than a year in barrel are best enjoyed sipping neat,” says Reynolds.
Best Organic: 123 Tequila A?ejo (Tres)
This new-to-market certified organic tequila comes from the lowlands of Jalisco, Mexico, and is produced from hand-harvested agave plants. Eighteen months of aging in white oak barrels add length and complexity to the spirit, which bursts with warming flavors of chocolate, baking spice and maple. 123 Tequila even uses recycled materials and natural soy ink to create its labels. This is sustainable sipping in one of its finest forms.
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Best for Cocktails: Hornitos A?ejo
For crafting cocktails at home, Hornitos offers a great bottle that won't break the bank. This 100% agave tequila ages for one year in American white oak barrels and is loaded with delicate flavors of sweet oak, smoke, vanilla and black pepper. Perfect for mixing in Margaritas, Palomas, Tequila Sours and beyond.
“For a drink like an Old Fashioned—I do prefer the spicier, wood-driven character [of a?ejo tequila] to add depth,” says Reynolds.
Best for Gifting: Don Julio 1942
This luxurious tequila was originally created to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Don Julio’s first distillery. The spirit ages for two years in oak barrels and is packaged in its signature elongated bottle, which is inspired by the shape of the agave leaf. Textured notes of vanilla, toasted almonds, milk chocolate and cinnamon spice dominate the tequila’s rich, round and utterly delicious palate. This bottle is nothing short of special.
Most Innovative: Enemigo 89 A?ejo Cristalino
Looking for something unique? This a?ejo cristalino tequila is just the ticket. The spirit ages for over a year in new American oak but is then filtered through Enemigo’s three-phase Carbon-Cellulose system, which removes pigment from the spirit. The resulting beverage is smooth, silky and extremely easy to drink. The tequila gets its name from the 89 attempts it took to craft this innovative expression of agave. We recommend sipping this one solo.