Tequila 101: Understanding the Types of Tequila (And How to Choose The One You’ll Like)
Editor's Note: This is part one of a beginner series on Tequila Basics. Click here for part two on the difference between mixto and 100% agave tequila.
It's time to graduate from hastily thrown-back college-style tequila shooters with salt and lime, and give the Mexican agave liquor its proper attention and due consideration!
Truly high-quality tequila can make for damn fine spirits - to be savoured on its own or to provide added character to that craft cocktail. Tequila is sweeter than gin, but punchier than vodka. When aged, it displays a unique spiciness that can win over even hardened whisky lovers.
If you're still consuming tequila this way, you may be missing out on what tequila truly has to offer!
Yet navigating the bottle shop and picking a bottle you might enjoy can be quite confusing for tequila-curious drinkers. This is because there can be enormous diversity in the types of tequila offered across a range of distillers, and each can vary in terms of their appearance and flavour profile.
So today, let’s go back to basics. We breakdown the main types of tequila you should know, and what you can expect from such bottles.
What is Tequila?
(Image source: Insightguides.com)
First things first, tequila is a distilled liquor made from weber blue agave plant in Mexico, also known as Agave Azul. Legally, tequila can only be produced in the state of Jalisco and limited municipalities in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit and Tamaulipas.
The fermentation and distillation of the blue agave is what gives tequila its uniquely earthy and punchy flavor profile. Blue agave is shaped somewhat like an aloe vera plant with spikes on its tips that protrude out from bulb called a pina. The pina is the part of the plant that gets harvested and baked in order to be transformed into sugars. What results from this is a fermented agave juice that is distilled to form tequila.
(Image source: Long Island Lou Tequila)
Once distilled, some tequilas undergo varying degrees of aging, and this process is what creates variances in the types of tequila out there…
Types of Tequila
Blanco Tequila: No Aging
Blanco tequila refers to tequila that has been bottled soon after distillation. Though most blancos are unlikely to have come into contact with oak barrels, there are some that may be lightly rested in wood for up to 60 days (but 60 days only!).
Due to the lack of oak aging, blanco tequilas tend to be clear in colour. Hence, why it’s also known as silver tequila. Flavour wise, blanco tequilas tend to be the most agave-forward of the lot, taking on earthy, citrusy and peppery notes.
Try this if: You’d like to get a sense of tequila in its purest form! Tequila purists often agree that blanco tequilas offer the truest expression of the artistry and craftsmanship of their distiller behind the bottle.
Reposado Tequila: Lightly Rested
(Image Source: La Mexicana Singapore)
Reposado tequilas, also known as rested tequila, refers to tequila that have been aged in European or American oak barrels for any longer than two months or up to one year.
Colour and flavour wise, you’d start to see more of the oak’s influence come into play with Reposado tequilas! Hence, reposado tequilas may feature more vanilla and caramel notes imparted from the barrels. Yet, not so much that it eradicates that bright notes of the agave.
Try this if: You’d like to enjoy the herbality and freshness of the agave, balanced with the softer touch and sweetness of the barrel. It’s also great in cocktails!
Añejo Tequila: Well Aged
(Image source: Casamigos Tequila)
Añejo tequila is tequila that has been aged in wood barrels for at least one and up to three years post-distillation. It’s common for añejo tequilas to be aged in casks that used to store whisky, resulting in oakier, darker tequilas with added notes of honey, vanilla and spices.
Try this if: You’re looking for substitutes to darker spirits like whisky or brandy. Great for sipping!
Extra Añejo Tequila: Really Well Aged
(Image source: Tequila Stop)
Extra Añejo tequila is basically a much older sibling of the añejo tequila. As the name implies, it undergoes an even longer aging process than añejo tequila and must aged in barrels for minimally three years. Extra añejo tequilas longer contact with the wood results in these types of tequila being darker with more complexity.
Extra añejo tequilas have a tendency of displaying deeper notes of caramel, espresso and cacao, and can sometimes taste similar to other aged spirits like whisky and cognac. Of course, due to the longer time it takes to mature and be bottled, extra añejo also tend to be the most expensive of the lot.
Try this if: You’re looking to sip and savour a richer, oakier tequila with a heavy touch of the barrel.
Generally speaking, the less time a tequila is aged, the more of the agave flavour profile it retains. The longer the time it spends in a cask, the more it takes on the flavours and natural colourings of the oak. Blanco tequilas tend to have a bright citrusy, peppery profile and as you move down the spectrum towards more aged tequilas like your añejo and extra añejo, they start to take on deeper notes of oak, espresso and cinnamon spices.
So what now?
Now the fun part begins!
We’d recommend heading to your local bar and trying a range of tequilas across each type to get a sense of what flavour profiles you tend to enjoy the most.
Do note, however, that regardless of the type of tequila you choose, it's best to stick to bottles made from a 100% agave only (it should be clearly labelled as such on the bottle). This will ensure you avoid those pesky additives that may cause hangovers.
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