The legal requirements for tequila mean that when the spirit is aged, it is always aged in oak. Sometimes this involves using new oak barrels, but you can also find tequila aged in whiskey barrels instead. In particular, we’re focusing on tequila that’s been aged in used whiskey barrels – not new ones.
This practice is more than simply a way to reuse whiskey barrels. Relying on used whiskey barrels also means that some of the flavors from the whiskey make their way into the tequila, giving you a richer and more exciting product.
The whiskey that was previously in the barrel, the quality of the barrel, and the length of aging will all influence the taste of the tequila as well. Some companies have perfected the process, creating tequila that is accented by smokey and earthy flavors. Others haven’t quite got it right yet and the flavor of the can overpower the tequila.
The brands in this list are all fantastic options. Many of them specialize in using whiskey barrels and consistently create amazing products. Some also have multiple expressions, with different aging durations and styles.
There are also differences in approach. Some companies age their tequila exclusively in used whiskey barrels, while others use new barrels for much of the aging process, then finish the tequila in a used whiskey barrel. The type of barrel, aging time, and even the whiskey brand also impact the taste of the finished tequila.
Tequila Aged In Whiskey Barrels (With Links!)
Tequila Corazón de Agave Expresiones
Corazón Tequila has more than 130 years of history in creating tequila. Their tequila is distilled in Jalisco, Mexico, using only carefully grown and harvested blue Weber agave. The company also has a strong on the environment and regularly looks for ways to make their traditional approaches more environmentally friendly.
Every step of the tequila production process is carefully designed and refined to ensure high quality and consistent products. This includes waiting between 7 and 10 years for the agave to reach perfect maturation, careful harvesting of the agave plants, well-designed extraction processes, and 72 hours of fermentation.
The tequila is then aged in Buffalo Trace Distillery barrels, giving them a distinct flavor profile. Their Buffalo Trace Old 22 Añejo is an excellent example of the style. This relies on barrels that held whiskey for at least 22 years. The tequila itself is aged for 22 months or longer. Another example is the George T. Stagg Añejo, which is aged in George T. Stagg Bourbon barrels for 22 months.
The use of different types of barrels for different expressions helps to create some truly unique tequila flavor profiles. There’s also more variation with this company than with many others.
Espolon Añejo Tequila
Espolon Tequila is another company that’s well worth your time. The labels alone make the tequila stand out, even when your bar is crowded with other bottles. These labels are designed to highlight Mexican stories and they do so exceptionally well.
Their tequila is always aged in American oak barrels. But, their añejo tequila is particularly interesting. This spends at least 12 months aging. Most of that time is spent in regular American oak barrels, while at least one month is spent in ex-Wild Turkey Bourbon barrels instead.
This is quite different than the 22 months that some of the Corazón Tequila products spend in ex-whiskey barrels. Still, this difference isn’t entirely a bad thing. Keeping tequila in the ex-whiskey barrel for a month is enough to provide fantastic flavor tones, without drowning out other aspects of the tequila.
Tequila Ocho is an unusual company in many ways. It was established in 2008 by master distiller Carlos Camarena and bar owner Tomas Estes. The company has a strong focus on land and craft, including the importance of authenticity and history.
One of the most unique features is the idea of terroir. This term is usually a reference to the natural environment where wine is produced, highlighting the way that climate, soil, and landscape can impact the flavor of the wine. It’s incredibly unusual to see the same term applied to tequila.
Tequila Ocho uses terroir by producing tequila batches from single fields, rather than combining agave harvests from multiple locations. The tequila labels even include the name of the field and the year, creating distinct vintages with variations in their flavor profiles.
All of the aging occurs in 200 liter American oak barrels, which were previously used for whiskey. These barrels have since been used for multiple batches of tequila, so they only impart a subtle whiskey flavor.
This time, there are three products we’re interested in. The reposado tequila is aged in the barrels for 8 weeks and 8 days, giving it a subtle amber color and sweet agave notes. The añejo tequila is aged for a year instead, giving it a more complex flavor profile and a light amber color.
Finally, there’s the extra añejo tequila. This is darker than the previous versions, as it was aged for 3 years in whiskey barrels. This expression also has the most complex flavor profile.
NULU Reposado Tequila
NULU Reposado Tequila comes from a company called Prohibition Craft Spirits. Unlike the other entries on this list, Prohibition Craft Spirits doesn’t focus on tequila specifically. Instead, they have a selection of different spirits, including Baxters Rum, Phoenix Hill Vodka, and NULU Bourbon.
Their NULU Tequila starts its life in Jalisco, Mexico and is then shipped to Louisville. Here, it rests in NULU Bourbon barrels for four to six months, which give it a distinct character. Prohibition Craft Spirits is one of the only companies that ages tequila using its own ex-whiskey barrels. Most other companies turn to barrels from other companies.
The only downside is that there’s just this single tequila expression to focus on. Prohibition Craft Spirits doesn’t offer any others, so you don’t get to see how different aging times impact the flavor of the tequila.
The fact that NULU Reposado Tequila isn’t produced exclusively in Mexico makes it a fascinating expression to try. You may find some flavor nuances and characteristics that aren’t present in other types of tequila.
Volans Tequila is an incredible brand, as they focus on small batch tequila that is always produced without additives. Even their water is impressive, as the company relies on a combination of deep well water, spring water, and rain water.
All of the processes have been carefully developed and refined to ensure the best tequila every time. Volans Tequila also has an impressive history, as it is run by the great-great-grandson of one of the initial agave farmers in Mexico. The company now features third and fourth generation distillers – ensuring that processes and techniques remain consistent.
Unusually, Volans produces just three types of tequila – blanco, reposado, and extra añejo. We’re interested in the reposado and añejo expressions today, as these have been aged.
Both expressions are aged in used American white oak bourbon barrels. Because these barrels were once used for bourbon, they provide a touch of extra sweetness and complexity to the tequila.
The reposado version is the least complex, as it has been aged in the barrels for less than a year. In contrast, the extra añejo goes through more than three and a half years of aging, which gives it a much more impressive flavor profile. That said, the oak doesn’t come through as much as you might expect, as the barrels used are more than 20 years old.
Siete Leugas is another artisanal company that relies on ex-bourbon barrels for their tequila. They follow a traditional tequila production process, which includes cutting away agave leaves to reveal the agave heart (or piña). Siete Leugas also saves some of the green leaves, which are then used as an ingredient to improve the flavor profile of the spirit.
There are six products to choose from with Siete Leguas, each with their own distinctive characteristics. Their reposado tequila is aged for 8 months, while their regular añejo is aged for an impressive 24 months.
Then there’s extra añejo. There are two versions here, one aged for 5 years and the other aged for between 8 and 12 years. The length of aging should provide some truly complex flavors, especially as Siete Leguas also retains a focus on quality.
There is also the unaged Siete Leguas Blanco and a limited edition 70th anniversary version of the blanco that promises even more amazing flavors and textures.
El Tesoro is an award winning tequila brand that has recently celebrated its 85th anniversary. The company’s long history provides no shortage of experience for creating truly amazing tequila expressions, ones that have plenty of nuances and still highlight the flavor of agave.
Their reposado tequila is a particularly good expression. It achieved 94 points in the Ultimate Spirits Challenge of 2021 and won a double gold medal in the San Francisco Spirits competition of the same year. The tequila is aged in an ex-bourbon barrel for between 9 and 11 months, giving it a straw color and a sweet-smoky flavor.
Their añejo uses the same barrels, but is aged for 2 to 3 years instead. The extra aging increases the oak notes in the tequila without overpowering the agave. This expression also won a double gold medal in 2021 and scored 94 points in the Ultimate Spirits Challenge.
Finally, there’s the extra añejo tequila. This time the aging time is increased to between 4 and 5 years, creating a seriously impressive flavor profile. The agave is much less noticeable in this expression, although this hasn’t stopped the tequila from winning awards.
El Tesoro does also offer Paradiso tequila. This follows a different pattern, as it is aged for 5 years in ex-cognac barrels. The use of cognac rather than whiskey creates a different flavor profile and makes this a very unusual tequila expression.
Suerte Tequila focuses on purity. Not only is the tequila production process carefully refined, but they also rely on water from the natural spring in Atotonilco El Alto. This water is naturally filtered and is even said to have healing properties. Who knows whether such properties improve the tequila, but it all makes for a nice story either way.
As for aging, the reposado expression receives 7 months of aging, the añejo is aged for 24 months, and the extra añejo is aged for more than 7 years. Not surprisingly, the extra añejo expression has the richest flavor and darkest color.
Suerte gives few details about the oak barrels they use – just saying that they’re American white oak barrels. However, many online reports of the tequila suggest that Jack Daniel’s barrels are used, which is particularly exciting.
Finally, we have Tequila Foraleza. This company intentionally takes things slowly, making sure every step of their process is optimized and produces the best possible outcomes.
This approach can be seen in their aging step too. The company relies on used American oak barrels, which are all re-chipped and re-charred before being used. Those processes should increase the richness of the tequila making it an even more enjoyable product.
This time there are two aged expressions. The first is reposado tequila, which is aged for 7 months. Then there is the añejo expression. This one is aged for 2 years instead – a similar duration to many of the other añejo tequilas on this list.
There are two factors here – the total amount of time the tequila is aged for and how long it spends in used whiskey barrels. For example, Espolon Añejo Tequila spends at least 12 months aging, but is only aged in used whiskey barrels for roughly a month.
Not surprisingly, longer aging times lead to more complex tequila flavors. The flavor of agave is still distinct, but it is now complemented by other flavors, including woody and caramel notes.
The time spent in used whiskey barrels also adds some nuances of whiskey to the tequila. These are strongest when the tequila is aged for many months in the used whiskey barrel, rather than just for a month or two.
It’s surprisingly difficult to determine when companies rely on used whiskey barrels and when they’re sourcing new barrels instead. Some companies even mention they use ‘new American oak whiskey barrels’, which seems like a contradiction in terms.
If you’re specifically looking for whiskey flavors, a new barrel isn’t going to cut it. So, keep an eye out for companies that specifically say they focused on used whiskey barrels or ex-whiskey barrels.
Even better are the companies that tell you where their whiskey barrels came from, such as how Buffalo Trace Old 22 Añejo from Tequila Corazón is aged in ex-Buffalo Trace barrels. Knowing where the barrels came from gives you a sense of the expected flavor profile, while also making the brand more reliable.
Don’t forget to check out tasting notes and reviews for any bottle of tequila you’re considering. After all, quality varies dramatically. Price, aging time, and brand alone aren’t solid indicators of whether you’ll enjoy a particular tequila expression.
Reviews and flavor notes don’t guarantee enjoyment either, but at least they give you a sense of what to expect.
Finally, think about what you’re planning to do with the tequila. If you’re focusing on tequila cocktails, then you probably don’t want a very expensive bottle of tequila that’s been aged for more than five years. The same is true if you’re having tequila shots.