What makes the American white-oak whiskey barrel so special to the tequila industry? Some say it’s “heavy” wood char imparts a stronger, more distinctive
flavor and color to the tequila, while ex-bourbon barrels will also add subtle vanilla tones and other sweeter flavors.
It’s common to see a wide range of barrels from different North American whiskey distilleries in any given tequila factory. Some will traditionally prefer to use only a particular brand of whiskey/bourbon barrel, however, this is becoming increasingly difficult to guarantee. With Brown Forman and Jim Beam Global now owning Herradura and Sauza respectively, these giants have some of their barrel needs covered, but with the decade long boom in the popularity of anejo tequila, will there ever be enough previously utilized barrels for the massive anejo tequila manufacturer. Will smaller tequila producers, already with wafer thin profit margins be able to pay up for the most desirable barrels as prices skyrocket. And what does this mean to you? Which way does the anejo tequila lover go?
The cost of an imported, single-use whiskey/bourbon white-oak barrel can be anywhere between $120-185usd, depending on demand – which of late is sky high. It’s a lot of money to invest when you’re a medium-sized distillery buying up to 800 barrels per time. And even more when you’re a small batch true craft anejo tequila like Voodoo Tiki Tequila, producing a dozen barrels or less at a time.
Does this explain the growing use of brand new barrels? With a shortage of good quality Kentucky barrels, could the new trend be aging in new ones with the help of essences and other flavors and color additives to mimic the inside of a Kentucky bourbon or Tennessee whiskey barrel?
Wait! What!?! Do you say additives? Yes. Some tequila manufacturers are adding, “Essences” to their high priced tequila. A pretty word for additive.
Some examples of essences/additives that may be used to enhance a tequila: Citrus, Cocoa, Spices, Herbs, white oak essence, caramel. The additives most commonly used are caramel and white oak essence, giving a darker tone to a 100% agave tequila and a more wooden ‘barrel-aged’ taste.
Say it isn’t so! Why not just keep using the same barrels? because the run out of flavor to impart. Some producers going for heavy smoke, char and burnt wood flavors re-char their barrels. However, aside form the fact that these are not the most desired tequila flavors (fine enough, but not the most desired), there’s also a limit to the number of times you can age a spirit without having to clean out the barrel and re-char to make sure you’re getting maximum flavor and color from the wood contact. But there comes a point where after 3-5 re-charrings it becomes less evident and this is where additives can also be introduced to compensate for the loss in flavor and color.
The longer a tequila is left to rest inside a white oak barrel, the more alcohol is lost through evaporation over time through the barrel staves. Of all the woods, white oak seems to be the most effective at allowing liquids breathe, but this tends to accelerate each time a barrel is re-charred by reducing the thickness of the stave by millimeters – and leads to more alcohol evaporation through the stave (leading to less tequila in the barrel after say 6 months). So, this is why tequila producers have to stop re-charring their barrels and replace them after a certain number of cycles.
Where this leaves the tequila drinker depends upon personal taste. The barrel shortages are leading to some interesting attempts at alternatives. New barrels are only one direction. Recently a few companies tried aging and marketing Bordeaux wine barrels. The result is a rose tequila. Success or failure? That’s up to the consumer.
For Voodoo Tiki Tequila, ingredients cost will never be an issue. We’ll lose money before we lower our standards, and continue our pursuit of the best ingredients, equipment and technology that money can buy in the quest for the most distinctive tequila in the market place.
Open up a bottle and you’ll find . . .There’s Magic Inside.