I’ve heard of blanco, reposado, and anejo tequila, but “ultra” is a new one to me. The sparkling clear contents have me intrigued though — its not often you see an oak-barrel-aged spirit this devoid of color. Naturally, we had to grab a bottle to investigate further.
Tequila production on what would become the Herradura distillery started in the early 19th century, started by a man named Feliciano Romo. In 1870, Félix López took over the property and registered it as a legal distillery named Hacienda San José del Refugio. The distillery remained in the family even after Félix’s death in 1878, operated first by his wife and later by her brother Aurelio López.
It was Aurelio who would give the distillery its lasting name of Herradura, named after a horseshoe that he found on the property sometime around 1900. When the Cristero War broke out in Mexico in 1926, a conflict where secular factions within Mexico sought to eliminate the power of the Catholic church and impose an atheist state, Aurelio provided financial and material support to the Catholics. In response, the distillery was raided and he was forced with his family into exile while leaving his cousin Don David in charge of the facility. It was Don David who resisted following the 1920’s trend of producing inferior “mixto” tequila, demanding that Herradura always remain 100% blue agave based.
The old distillery was shut down in the 1960’s and replaced with a newer modern facility, but the old buildings were maintained as a museum. In the 1970’s, the company introduced their first aged expressions, expanding beyond blanco tequila for the first time.
The company remained family owned and increasingly successful, capturing 30% of the tequila market in the early 2000’s. In 2007, the family decided to sell the company to the American spirits giant Brown-Forman (of Jack Daniel’s fame) for over $700 million. Brown-Forman have since expanded distribution and production of the tequila, but the spirit is still produced at the same facility where it has been since the 1800’s. Brown-Forman also produces the top selling tequila in the country of Mexico, El Jimador.
While this might look like yet another boring blanco tequila, there’s a surprise here: this is actually a blend of aged anejo tequila — and one of the older versions at that.
As with all Herradura tequila, this starts as a crop of blue agave plants which are harvested and have their leaves removed. What’s left is the tough and fibrous core of the plant, which is cooked in an oven to convert those fibers into sugar. The plants are then crushed to release the fluid, and that fluid is fermented to convert the sugar into alcohol. From there, it is distilled three times to create the new blanco tequila.
For their anejo versions, that newly made tequila is placed into American white oak barrels for a period of at least 25 months — which is well beyond the one year mark that you usually see for an anejo expression. In this “ultra” edition, the finest barrels of aged tequila are blended and filtered to remove impurities and the amber color, leaving behind a pure clear spirit that is then bottled for sale.
This bottle actually bears a passing resemblance to the style used for Jack Daniels’ bottles. (Which, considering Herradura is owned by the same parent company, makes perfect sense.)
The bottle is roughly rectangular in shape, with flat sides and round but pronounced corners. There is some embellishment in the glass that mimics crown molding, which is unique and different. The bottle, just like with Jack, tapers quickly at the shoulder. From there, it sports a very short neck and is capped off by a plastic cap.
I really do like the label here. Not only is it in the shape of a horseshoe (paying homage to the namesake of the distillery), but it’s an efficient label design that simultaneously maximizes both the visibility of the branding and the visibility of the spirits. The brand name is large and in charge here, embossed on a metallic sticker, but the its shape results in plenty of negative space to see the spirits inside. The metallic is a nice touch, by the way, as it encourages people to touch the bottle (and, statistically speaking, increasing the likelihood of purchase).
Despite this coming from an anejo stock of tequila, there’s no color to the spirit whatsoever. All of the filtration has removed that color from the bottle — and to be frank, most of the aroma from the spirit as well. There aren’t really any aging notes I can detect, just a bit of herbal “fresh cut grass” and a dash of lemon citrus with some black pepper mixed in. Nothing you wouldn’t get from a blanco.
The good news here is that the spirit actually tastes smooth and delicious, unlike the some other anejo offerings that I found to be bitter and unpleasant. It’s in the flavor where those aging notes really make a showing, the vanilla and caramel aspects being present and accounted for if not a little muted. Backing them up is a bit of lemon citrus, and then a nice hit of black peppery spice on the end.
Its not often you get flavors that are missing from the aroma, but that’s exactly the rare case here.
Usually, with a little bit of ice, things start to change… and not always for the better. With the standard anejo edition of this tequila, the ice made the bitterness disappear at the expense of pretty much every other flavor in the glass. But here, the good parts seem to be persisting.
Even with the added ice I’m still getting the vanilla, the herbal elements, and the lemon citrus. They aren’t quite as “loud and proud” as they once were, but they are definitely still there as recognizable components of the flavor profile.
When you take a sip of this, it’s almost like there’s a whiskey in here instead of a tequila. A lot of the same barrel aged flavors have transferred over and are making themselves known despite the heavy and flavorful mixers (specifically the vanilla and caramel we saw previously). There’s just a hint of herbal aspects and a little bit of lemon, but overall the effect of those barrel aged flavors is to make a very mellow and smooth sipping margarita.
I’d definitely say that this specific tequila improved the cocktail.
I’m a fan. I didn’t particularly like the straight up anejo version of this tequila, but there’s a lot of improvement that comes from hand selecting the right barrels and doing a bit of filtration. Either as a sipping tequila or for mixing into drinks, this spirit adds a very pleasant flavor that’s sure to be delicious even to bourbon drinkers. Pro tip: also try it in an Old Fashioned — you might be surprised what you find.
|Herradura Ultra Tequila|
Produced By: HerraduraOwned By: Brown-Forman Corp.
Production Location: Jalisco, Mexico
Classification: Anejo Tequila
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 75.5% ABV
Price: $53.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
“Ultra” might be a stretch, but this is still pretty damn good.