Barrel aging is a pretty safe bet for taking something good and making it great. Start with something delicious, shove it into a barrel, and conveniently forget about it for a few years — that’s the formula for success. It’s been a well-known and widely-embraced concept for whiskey for centuries, but with tequila it’s a much more recent development. For the oldest registered tequila distillery in Mexico, it might just be that the tequila we’re trying today is the result of an old dog learning some new tricks.
Don Cenobio Sauza was born in 1842 in Jalisco, Mexico. The third child of a farming family, in 1858 he decided to strike out on his own and found a job working at the Jose Cuervo distillery. Here, he learned the art and the science of tequila distillation and production.
Don Cenobio would eventually use what he had learned to open his own business exporting wine and spirits, including the tequila of his former employer. Not long after going into business, he decided to expand into production as well, leasing a distillery in 1873 to make his own brand of spirits before purchasing La Antigua Cruz distillery (founded in 1805, the oldest registered distillery) in 1873 and renaming it to La Perseverancia. That same year, he became the first business to export tequila to the United States. It was reportedly Don Cenobio who made the decision that blue agave was the superior variety of plant for making tequila.
The Sauza tequila distilling business would pass through the family from father to son over the next two generations, expanding their operations and becoming one of the biggest tequila distillers in the world. That third generation, Don Francisco Javier Sauza, led the campaign in the 1970’s to have tequila recognized and protected as a regional appellation just like French Champagne or Tennessee Whiskey.
Don Francisco would also create a number of sub-brands of his tequila, one of which was founded in the 1950’s and called Hornitos. Translated as “little ovens,” the name is an allusion to the small brick ovens where the blue agave plants are roasted as the first part of the distillation process.
With the booming popularity of tequila and other clear spirits in the 1970’s, the Sauza family partnered with another Mexican company to expand production and distribution of their spirits. That partnership would eventually lead to a complete purchase of the family business in 1988 and, through a series of changes in ownership, the products eventually were purchased by Beam Suntory in 2011.
The spirits produced by the Sauza family of brands are still distilled at the La Perseverancia distillery to this day.
- Learn More: What Is Tequila?
The Hornitos brand of tequila is produced pretty much identically to the way Sauza makes their house brand original version.
The tequila starts with a crop of 100% blue agave plants, the same variety of plants that founder Don Cenobio decided were the superior source for tequila all those years ago. The plants are mechanically shredded and then a diffuser separates the water and agave sugars from the plant material. This is much different from the typical process, where the plants are first roasted (usually whole) and then crushed to extract the juice.
Once the juice is extracted, it is cooked for about 6 hours to convert the complex sugars into simpler and more readily fermentable compounds. Once the sugars are broken down, the mixture is added to closed stainless steel tanks where a proprietary brand of yeast consumes the sugars and releases alcohol. The tanks are cleaned using an automated process after every fermentation.
After fermentation, the liquid is distilled twice to achieve the correct alcohol concentration. That newly made spirit is then chill filtered through carbon filters to remove fatty compounds and impurities.
This anejo version of this tequila is aged for at least 12 months in American white oak barrels before being bottled.
I actually really like this bottle design.
The typical tequila bottle I’m used to seeing is a relatively long and slender affair, something designed to stand out on the shelves or be seen on the back of a bar. Short, plump, square bottles aren’t really all that common, but that’s what we have here. I like when a brand’s style matches its price point — I don’t need a $10 whiskey that looks like a finely aged scotch. And this is where Hornitos design fits perfectly: an unassuming bottle that suits the low-key, affordable brand.
One thing I particularly like about this specific design is that, besides the neck, I don’t think there’s a straight line to be seen here. The bottle looks like a melted block of ice, smooth and round on the corners with some warps and imperfections. It’s a cool effect.
As for the labels, I appreciate that the design is shaped like an agave leaf (actually tying the branding and design with the product is always a win), and I appreciate even more that it is centered on the bottle. That way we can see the contents of the bottle all the way around the label, really showing off the spirit within.
The bottle is topped with a nice cork and wood stopper.
This is a great color for their spirit. It’s a beautiful dark amber, almost downright brown color that you don’t often see in tequila.
For the aroma here, this is much more citrus-forward compared to their plata expression. There’s some of the herbal agave notes mixed in, but that citrus and a bit of vanilla are primarily what I see coming through. The trouble here is that they just seem a little flat — a little muted, not quite as bright and vibrant as I’d like.
The flavor starts out nice and smooth, with some good caramel and vanilla notes thanks to the barrel aging process. But pretty quickly that black pepper spice that we saw in the unaged edition kicks in and makes an entrance. The intensity peaks somewhere in the vicinity of being a touch bitter but mellows out as time goes on, lasting and lingering long into the aftertaste.
What we saw in the blanco version was that the supporting flavors pretty much dropped out of the running once some ice enters the mix, leaving behind the pepper spice as the sole survivor. That’s pretty much what’s happening here as well, unfortunately.
The only real difference with the anejo version is that there’s just a hint of caramel that comes through as well. It isn’t very powerful, but it does add something unique that we didn’t see in the unaged version.
Unfortunately, that same problem of the flavors disappearing with added ice led to a pretty bitter cocktail in the blanco version, which was unfortunate.
What we have here, though, is something marginally better. The herbal notes still are missing in action, but there’s just enough sweetness in the caramel tones from the aging process to make all the difference. It adds a bit of balance to the cocktail that was sorely needed, and which I truly appreciate.
It still isn’t the greatest margarita in the world, but it’s pretty good.
This is decent for a cheap anejo tequila. There are some cool flavors in here, and it makes for some pretty interesting cocktails. It probably isn’t among my favorites I’ve ever had, especially with the barrel aging aspects being a little lighter than expected, but for the price point it does the job fairly well.
|Hornitos Anejo Tequila|
Proof: 75.5% ABV
Price: $25.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
More citrus forward than the original and with a bit of vanilla added, it’s an upgrade worth the price.