Tequila Aged in Scotch Barrels Is Surprisingly Wonderful; Definitely Not Mezcal

When El Tesoro and Laphroaig team up, the spirits world wins.
Last Updated
Nov 23, 2021

“It’s fitting we’re doing this tasting at the Flatiron Room,” says Laphroaig brand ambassador Simon Brooking, as we nose a quartet of tequila glasses. Motioning to the trio responsible for the jazz music filling our small space, the scotch rep adds, “what we’ve done—what’s in your glass; that’s jazz, too.”  

“You say jazz, so can I play the drums?” El Tesoro tequila master distiller Carlos Camarena chuckles. “Sure, I’ll play the bagpipes,” Brooking retorts, smiling. If the enjoyable banter between the representatives from class-leading scotch and tequila companies is any indication, the melding of their products will be equally delightful. And lo, El Tesoro Mundial Collection: The Laphroaig Edition may be a mouthful of a name, but it’s indeed heaven in your mouth. 

The basic gist: take tequila from El Tesoro, age it for nine months in ex-bourbon barrels, then finish the aging within ex-Laphroaig 10-year barrels for another three months. The result is a single-barrel anjeo with a complex scotch finish. 

Camarena, and his sister Jenny Camarena, from La Alteña Distillery, share that they make tequila the same way their grandfather, Don Filpe Camarena, did back when he started the operation in 1937. “We use a stone to squeeze the agave,” Camarena says. “The stone loses particles and you get minerality from that. The only material we can control is the agave, which is the most important ingredient. Since it takes seven years for the agave plant to mature, and we’re four years into an agave shortage, we can’t risk buying agave on the open market; it’s tougher to control the quality. We are now growing our own agave.” 

The obsessive details shine through in the final products we taste through. The blanco (unaged), reposado (rested in ex-bourbon oak barrels for nine to eleven months), and angejo (aged for two or three years in ex-bourbon barrels) are all full of flavor, ranging from citrus and floral, to sweet and spicy. “Don’t shoot good tequila,” Camarena laughs. “You don’t get the flavors; you just get drunk.”

Brooking sets the mood for the final glass, the Mundial collection, by lighting some peat on fire. Inviting smoke fills the space as he explains how Laphroaig lovingly hands over its ex-scotch barrels to El Tesoro. (Those Laphroaig barrels themselves previously held bourbon, in this case Jim Beam or Wild Turkey.) As the scotch ages, it yanks out some of the residual bourbon left in the American oak, but it also leaves some magic from the isle of Islay, Scotland, behind. 

All of these remnants infuse with the tequila in the Mundial. It’s equal parts sweet, due to sugar from the agave, and smoke from the Laphroaig barrels. The smoke isn’t on the nose, but it’s in the Glencairn glass—so chosen to honor Scotland. But it’s soft and approachable. The smoke works harmoniously with the tequila, not against it. The dry down and finish is soft, fading into some notes familiar to scotch or bourbon drinkers; caramel and vanilla. 

Camarena says determining the right amount of aging time in the Laphroaig barrels was like walking a tightrope. There was constant checking on the barrels to see how the flavors were melding and progressing. “Two months wasn’t enough time,” he shares, “but four months was overpowering. We got it just right.” 

We couldn’t agree more.

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