Don Julio 1942 is a complex, aromatic añejo tequila, aged longer than most añejos. Floral, candy and fruit notes accompany the expected grassy agave, oak and brown sugar flavors.
Classification: añejo tequila
Distillery: Tequila Tres Magueyes S.A. de C.V.
Cask: ex-bourbon American oak
Still type: small stainless steel pot still #6
Released: 2002, ongoing
Proof: 80 (40% ABV)
Aged: 32-35 months
Awards: Gold medal, 2020 San Francisco World Spirits Competition
- Higher-end product from one of the most respected and popular producers in Mexico
- Features bright, clean agave and tropical fruit notes with a lingering wood-menthol-pineapple finish
- Great for sipping neat and also works well in umami-influenced cocktails
- Elegant and unique bottle
- May be too “light and sweet” for some añejo fans
- Fruit and floral notes may not appeal to fans of aged brown spirits
- May be considered overpriced for what you get
Color: Deep straw gold, which is comparable to many añejos, though lighter than some. Because they spend their rest in a warmer environment than most whiskeys do (in, say, Kentucky or Scotland), aged tequilas generally sit for just one to three years, often in second-, third- and fourth-use bourbon barrels, resulting in a lighter, clearer color than most whiskeys or rums.
Nose: Aged tequila can be a funny beast. Often the grassy agave notes are accentuated, sometimes they’re lost to the wood. In this case, the initial aromatics are floral and sweet fruit, almost like a cognac. Rose, pear, vanilla and brown sugar hit up front, with agave and a rich wet oak note following.
Palate: On the palate, there's a sweetness, though here the agave grassiness is more pronounced. Up front on the lips and gums are tannic spices and vanilla from the oak; mid-palate, it sits with a medium weight and slight chewiness with hints of apricot, agave, vanilla and clove.
Finish: The very long finish is one that some might not find to their liking, but others certainly will. There's a menthol brightness tempered with unctuous grapefruit, agave, wood and white pepper.
There really was a Don Julio Gonzáles, who began his tequila making journey in 1942. He and his family produced a popular label in Mexico called Tres Magueyes before releasing the "good stuff": his family’s reserve under the Don Julio label. The family (along with then-head-distiller Enrique de Colsa) released Don Julio 1942 in 2002, commemorating Gonzáles’ 60 years in the industry. In 2015, the label was fully acquired by Diageo.
Interestingly, Don Julio also has a “regular” añejo in its core line. At about $50 to $60, it’s significantly cheaper than the 1942. The primary difference is in the aging (the core añejo is aged between 18 and 24 months) and the distillation: 1942 is exclusively distilled in the brand’s smallest still, Pot Still 6, which produces three barrels per cycle. Side by side, the colors of the 1942 and the core añejo are nearly identical, but the aromatics of the 1942 are more complex. The core añejo smells more like a traditional añejo, with faint agave notes beneath a wood overtone. Likewise, the palate of the core is less complex, with an emphasis on spice and grass notes, with a hint of tropical fruit and a slightly lighter body than the 1942. In some respects, the fruit-pepper-menthol finish of the 1942 is reminiscent of an actual cigar’s finish rather than the leather-pepper “cigar finish” often used to describe brown spirits. In many ways, Don Julio 1942 comes closer to the profile of many extra-añejos.
At $140 a bottle (and with such an elegant bottle), this tequila is best enjoyed neat, in a Glencairn or horn glass. Its complex, unctuous fruit notes also lend it to creativity in cocktails, if you’re willing to mix with such an expensive bottle. If so, you’ll want to riff off the basic Margarita recipe, possibly incorporating umami-driven ingredients such as pineapple, grapefruit, allspice dram and blood orange.
1942 is something of a polarizer in the realm of aged tequilas. Its high price point was fairly standard for extra-aged tequilas that were just appearing around the same time (the category became official in 2006) but now seems a bit of an outlier. De Colsa says it’s one of the brand’s most popular expressions in the U.S., but some view it as a vanity product for people looking to flex on their home bar. Its floral and sweet notes leave some drinkers wondering what was done to emphasize them, but Don Julio says only a little caramel coloring is added to the aged products to standardize color and imparts no flavor. When this reviewer let a little 1942 evaporate, the remaining aromas were heavy on brown sugar, vanilla and a hint of wood, all perfectly appropriate for a well-aged tequila that sat in an ex-bourbon barrel.
The bottle itself is striking. It arrives in an elegant chocolate-and-gold foil box. Tall, tapered and narrow, with a wood-and-cork stopper, it certainly adds visual cachet to any home bar.
Enrique De Colsa, the brand’s former head distiller, says that the eponymous label started because Don Julio would store his family’s reserve tequila (the good stuff) in barrels in his office, “at a time when no one was storing tequila in barrels.” The brand was one of the earliest to adopt the añejo category.
The bottom line: Don Julio 1942 Añejo is a pleasant, sippable tequila. It strays a bit from the norm but is a welcome addition to the añejo category. It’s also an easy (if expensive) entry point for newcomers to the aged tequila category. Instead of appealing to scotch or bourbon drinkers, as many añejos and extra añejos aim to do, this one might instead attract cognac or aged-rum fans.