Tequila is rising in popularity everywhere with sales doubling in the US over the last decade. However a lot of bartenders and cocktail geeks alike don’t know much about this classic Mexican spirit.
First off what makes a spirit Tequila is that it is made from the blue agave plant and produced in the Mexican highlands in or near the state of Jalisco. The other major spirit distilled from agave, Mescal, can be produced from any of the 28 varieties of agave plant and originates from the Oaxaca region of mexico. Still there are two main types of Tequila; 100% Agave which may only contain the distillate of blue agave, and Tequila Mixto which may use no less than 51% agave sugars. Mixtos often contain artificial coloring, oak flavorings, and sugar syrups. These are the tequilas that dominated the american marketplace for a long time and unfortunately they are what many people think of when they think tequila. When you are shopping for a bottle a 100% Agave Tequila should say something like “Tequila 100% puro de agave” while a Mixto will simply say “Tequila”.
There are four categories that describe the age of a tequila:
- Blanco – A clear and un-oaked tequila. It may be allowed to settle in stainless steel barrels for several weeks but is not aged. Though blanco tequilas are often sharp in flavor they pair well with acidic citrus juices.
- Reposado – Aged in oak barrels for up to a year. These are smoother and softer tequilas that do incredibly well in mixed drinks.
- Anejo – Aged in oak barrels for 1 to 3 years. These tequilas are smooth enough to be sipped on their own and often have great vanilla and floral notes.
- Extra Anejo – Aged for over 3 years in oak barrels. These are tequilas for tequila geeks and much closer to a 18+ year old scotch than they are to what we usually think of as tequila.
There are also joven tequilas, which simply means they are blended. Though most jovens are mixtos there are some that are simply blends of blanco tequila and more aged tequilas and therefore may retain their 100% Agave distinction.
If you want more information on tequila I highly reccomend the book “Tequila: A Natural History and Cultural History” by Anna Valenzuela-Zapata and Gary Nabhan.
So next time you are picking up a bottle of tequila make sure you read the bottle and know what it is you are buying. A quality tequila can make all the difference in your drink!