Holiday Gift Guide
La Bella Dona

Welcome back to Happy Hour, which for the month of May has been transformed into a tabernacle of tequila, where each week I have been featuring cocktails made with different types of tequilas (previous posts can be found here, here, and here). As the title indicates, the focus of this week is añejo tequila.

Añejo is a type of tequila that has been aged in oak barrels for a period ranging anywhere from one to three years. It is in this longer aging process that the tequila attains a darker brown color and richer, more complex flavor, which are both imparted from the oak barrels it sits in. A few tequila companies use oak barrels that were previously used to age scotch, bourbon, or even wine, all in an attempt to create a more uniquely complex añejo.

You thought I wouldn't dare, but of course, I would. Yes, I created a couple of cocktails using high quality añejo tequila, and will be sharing them with you today. It's actually not the taboo that you would imagine it to be, or perhaps that it once was, to mix a high quality aged spirit like añejo tequila in a cocktail. To the chagrin of purists, some of the top cocktail innovators in the country are featuring aged spirits such as bourbons, rums, tequilas, and even single-malt scotches in cocktails on their menus.

The key to successfully incorporating these high-end spirits in cocktails is to be mindful of the differences between a spirit in its more complex aged form and that same spirit when it is young, crisp, and clear. For example, I am much more inclined to use juices, syrups, and other non-alcoholic mixers in a drink having a blanco or reposado tequila as its base than I am when añejo tequila is the base. This is because the crisp flavor of a younger tequila complements these mixers quite well, and the mixers make more palatable the harsher alcohol taste of the unaged spirit.

Following that same logic, when mixing with an añejo I will often opt out of the juices and syrups and such, and instead seek ingredients that provide both flavor and aromatics that are complementary to the tequila's more complex flavor profile. So for example, we know that tequila and citrus form a great marriage, but rather than reaching for a juice that could overpower, I can instead use aromatic orange or grapefruit bitters along with an orange twist that will release more aromatic citrus oil into the drink. This way I get a citrus note with each sip without losing the aged tequila's mellow yet complex flavor.

Naturally then, when mixing with añejos, the cocktails tend to lean more on the strong-flavored boozy side, and are more likely to be the type of drink ordered as a digestif or nightcap rather than as your pre-meal aperitif, since the other ingredients in it tend to be alcoholic as well. I prefer it this way because an añejo can be too overbearing to sip before a meal even when enjoying by itself, and is much better suited post-feast anyway.

Today I have two añejo-based beauties for you. The first I call La Bella Dona, and the second is called La Vieja. Both bare closer resemblance to classic boozy cocktails (both in preparation and ingredients) such as the Sazerac or Manhattan than to more popular modern-day drinks that feature more sweetness and fruit flavors. In other words, these are drinkers' drinks, and will almost assuredly not suit the tastes of those who believe the purpose of a cocktail is to mask the underlying flavor of the liquor. But if you're one of those who enjoys sipping a well-aged brown spirit--or perhaps even consider yourself a purist--this would be for you.

La Bella Dona (pictured above)
1 1/2 oz añejo tequila
1/2 oz dry vermouth (preferably Dolin if available)
1/4 oz absinthe (Lucid is nice here)
1/4 oz Amaro Ramazzotti
2 dashes Fee Brothers Grapefruit Bitters
Grapefruit twist for garnish

Tools: bar spoon, mixing glass, strainer, knife or peeler

Glass: chilled coupe (pictured) or cocktail glass

Fill mixing glass (essentially a pint glass) with ice plus all liquid ingredients. Stir for about 20 seconds (make sure not to aerate the drink while stirring) and strain into chilled glass. With the knife or peeler, cut a section of grapefruit rind, avoiding as much of the bitter white pith as possible. With your fingers, pinch or twist the rind over the drink to lightly spritz it with the citrus oil, then rub it around the rim of the glass and drop it in the drink.

La Vieja (pictured below)
1 1/2 oz añejo tequila
1/2 oz Green Chartreuse
1 dash Fee Brothers Rhubarb Bitters
1 dash Fee Brothers Grapefruit Bitters
1/2 tsp orange blossom water (can be found at Indian, Persian, or Arab grocery stores)
Lime twist for garnish

Tools: bar spoon, mixing glass, strainer, knife or peeler

Glass: chilled rocks glass

Add the orange blossom water to the rocks glass and swirl the glass around to coat the inside of it, then pour out the remainder. Place one or two chunks of ice in the rocks glass. Fill mixing glass with ice plus all remaining liquid ingredients. Stir for about 20 seconds and strain into rocks glass. In the same manner as with the grapefruit twist above, cut a piece of lime peel (again avoiding as much pith as possible) and squeeze it over the drink, rub it around the rim, and drop it in.

La Vieja

As you can tell from the ingredients, neither of the above cocktails are child's play (I suppose no cocktail is child's play, in the literal sense). In fact, for the añejo tequila in both cocktails I used Don Julio 1942, a limited edition tequila which is aged for at least two and a half years and has nice prominence of vanilla in the nose and a flavor lightly reminiscent of vanilla and pineapple. You could certainly use a less expensive añejo in these cocktails if you preferred.

You may have also noticed that both of these cocktails are stirred instead of shaken, and this is no accident. For cocktails that feature exclusively alcoholic ingredients, shaking is not necessary, and in fact often unwise. This is because these drinks don't require the furtive mixing, agitation, and aeration in order to thoroughly mix the components in the way that drinks featuring non-alcoholic ingredients do. When done right, the simple process of briskly stirring provides adequate chilling, mixing, and ice dilution for these types of drinks. This is certainly not a hard and fast rule and there are those who prefer to have certain cocktails shaken when the classically appropriate method is to have them stirred (e.g. James Bond). But of course Happy Hour strives to abide by the classic methods as much as possible and only deviates from them when best sense dictates.

This wraps up this month's tequila tribute and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Next month, for the entire month, Happy Hour will explore gin in all its variations, from the popular London Dry to Old Tom and others. See you next week. Cheers!

Come back every Wednesday for Paystyle's weekly Happy Hour column.

Photography by Vanessa Bahmani

Column: Happy Hour


  • Gorgeous photos!

    MyLastBite on

  • PayStyle – we should go to DutchKills Bar in LIC – the cocktails are amazing. I had 2 Penicillins and a Pisco Sour last night.
    Tomorrow, I’m buying some Reposado!

    Jud-san on

  • MyLastBite – Vanessa says thanks regarding the photos, and I say thanks for reading!

    Paystyle on

  • Congrats on another awsome post, your faithful reader.

    Vanessa Bahmani on

  • Jud-san – Yeah it just opened and I’ve been meaning to go. I’m always up for a drink, as you’ve surely gathered by now!

    Paystyle on

  • Kayoko – You certainly can use an anejo in a margarita if you wish, but you’re probably better off using a silver or reposado b/c much of what makes the anejo superb is lost among the fruit juice, sugar, etc.

    I’d say this is especially true w/the pom-blueberry margarita, which has such a strong flavor that while you’ll certainly enjoy it, you won’t know it’s an anejo in there.

    But ultimately no harm, you were just being extra opulent that’s all!

    Paystyle on

  • I made margaritas the other night (your recipe from last week) with Sauza Tres Generaciones Anejo tequila. I’m afraid to ask, but… was… that… ok…??? Or should I have drank it on the rocks? It was so smooth and didn’t have the vomit fratboy party stank of yesteryear.

    kayoko on

  • great post, Payman and gorgeous photo, V!!!

    erin on

  • Jud-san: The best source for bitters that I've found in NYC thus far is Kalustyan's, believe it or not, in "Curry Hill" on Lex & 28th. They have the entire Fee Bros line along with the relatively tough to find Angostura Orange Bitters. You can also go to Marlow & Sons in W'burg, where sometimes issue their own small batches of bitters.

    Paystyle on

  • where are you finding such exotic bitters?

    Jud-san on

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