Tequila

Overview

Over the last two decades tequila’s reputation has evolved from body shots and a harbinger of wicked hangovers into highly respected premium spirit.  We now have access to better tequila than ever before, and thus, much better margaritas. However, it should be noted that while tequila's quality has improved in many cases, those positive gains have come at a cost, and not just a higher price tag, which encourage you to read more about that here.

 

Here's a recap on the basics of tequila as covered on the Agave main page:

  • Tequila is made from the agave plant which looks like a cactus but is actually a relative of asparagus.  There are hundreds of species of agave, but only the blue weber agave (agave tequiliana), may be used to make tequila.

  • Tequila can only be produced in 5 Mexican states.  Most is made in Jalisco, the others are Guanajuato, Michoacán and Nayarit and Tamaulipas. See the a map.

  • The best tequila will be labeled 100% agave. If it doesn't say so, it's a mixto, meaning it's cut with an non-agave distillate.

 

A quality tequila should taste primarily of green or caramelized agave with a clean, and perhaps peppery, finish.  Stylistically they can range from fruity to herbaceous to vegetal to earthy.  Some are will be slightly sweet, others more dry.  When tequilas are aged, details on which are across the page, the brighter flavors are softened and they take on more vanilla and other typical barrel flavors.  

 

 Age Classifications - Tequila can be aged in any type of barrel.  Ex-bourbon is commonly used.  There are technically 5 categories, but 3 major ones.   

 

 

 Major: 

  • Blanco (White) -  Clear, will no barrel influence, though these are often be rested in stainless steel tanks or neutral barrels for up to 2 months to mellow.

  • Reposado (Rested) - Straw colored. Aged in oak for 2 months to a year.  

  • Añejo (Aged) - Orange to amber colored. Aged in oak for 1-3 years.

 

Additional:

  • Joven (Young) aka Gold:  Yellow colored.  These are usually lower quality mixtos with caramel coloring.

  • Extra Añejo (Ultra -Aged) Aged for 3 years or more.  A much smaller, premium category.

Joven, Gold or Oro: 

Chances are, your first shot of tequila was a joven or gold. These what set many people off tequila for life.  They are mostly lower quality mixtos and while they look gold, it’s usually from caramel coloring, not aging.  Technically a gold tequila can also be blend of an aged and unaged tequila, but there are very few examples available.  So, despite being very cheap, I generally recommend avoding these at all costs.

Blanco

Blanco (aka plata, platinum, silver or white) tequila  is the most common tequila used cocktails, including the margarita, the most popular cocktail in the U.S. While aged tequilas are often seen as the sipping tequilas, blanco has also gained popularity as a top shelf sipping spirit in the last couple decades.  Because there are no added barrel flavors blancos really showcase the agave, so in many ways these are a truer expressions of agave spirits. In blancos, the difference between the highlands and lowands agaves is most apparent.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recommended Brands:

 

Best Deals

  • Pueblo Viejo (highland) - My go to choice for mixing.

  • Cimarron (highland)

  • Milagro (highland) - A bit milder, but a great price and wide distribution makes this one of your best bets.

  • Tapatito (highland)

 

Mid-Range

  • Siembra Azul (highland)

  • Siembra Azul "Valles" (lowland)

  • Siete Leguas (highland) - Very aromatic and herbaceous.

  • Cabeza (highland) - A wonderfully complex blanco, that's acidic with lots of green fruit flavors.  

  • Forteleza (lowland) - Another excellent lowland, with more vegetal agave notes.

  • Partida (lowland) - A true lowland, earthy and rustic.

  • 123 Tequila "Luchador" (lowland) - An overproof tequila, 55% ABV, and a densely packed agave bomb.  I can't get enough.

 

High End

  • Ocho (highland) - One of my favorites. Beautiful and delicate

  • El Testoro (highland) - Another favorite.

Reposado

Reposdo, or rested, tequila has a spent up toe year in a barrel and typically has a light straw color.  These will have some oak and vanilla flavors from the barrel along but will retain from some peppery vegetal notes from the agave. They are generally mellower than blancos which makes sipping straight even more applicable.  Though mixing with them should certainly not be ruled out, especially in stirred, spirit forward cocktails like a tequila Old Fashioned.  They're also a great way to add a little depth to your margarita.

 

Lowland tequilas in particular tend to do very well in a barrel because their more assertive agave flavors give them a backbone to stand up to the barrel notes. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recommended Brands:

 

Best Deals:

  • Pueblo Viejo

  • Cimarron Reposado

  • Milagro

  • Tapatio

 

Mid Range:

  • Siembra Azul

  • Siete Leguas

  • El Testoro

 

Higher End:

  • Ocho

  • Forteleza

  • Partida

Añejo

Aged 1-3 years and in smaller barrels, these tequilas offer much fuller flavors of caramel, vanilla and toffee. In a way, they're like a tequila bourbon, very smooth and easy drinking. But the best añejos don't over do it with the oak.  They should still taste like an agave, not just wood.  Like with reposados, while the most obvious application is to sip them straight, añejos these work wonderfully in spirit forward cocktails.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recommended Brands: Naturally, these carry higher price tags.

 

Best Deals:

  • Pueblo Viejo

  • Milagro

  • Tapatito

 

Higher End:

  • Ocho

  • El Testoro

  • Partida

 

Super Premium:

  • Don Julio 1942 - Based on the bottle alone. If you're looking to impress.

 

Extra-Añejo

This cateogry was introduced in starting in 2006 and is still fairly small.  These are aged longer than 3 years to take the oak flavors even further.  Some might say too far, to the point where the agave is no longer present.  But like all spirits, quality comes from the producer, not the guidelines of the category. The best one I've tried is 123 Tequila's Extra-Añejo.  Very full and rich, but the agave is still unmistakable.

Highland vs Lowland Tequila

Agaves grown in the mountainous Highlands ("los altos") near Guadalajara - the capitol of Jalisco - produce tequilas that are generally cleaner tasting, with delicate, green fruit flavors.  While agaves grown in the lowlands or “tequila valley” near the town of the Tequila, create tequilas that are earthier, with more robust and herbaceous qualities.    More information on this here.

 

Since many of brands in sections below release bottlings in multiple age categories you'll see a lot of overlap. That's why I've given more information up front in the blanco setcion only.  For more about how tequila (and mezcal) are made, visit the Tequila & Mezcal main page.  For Mezcal specifics, check out the Mezcal page.  

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tom@socialhourcocktails.com Brooklyn, NY

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