Tequila can only be produced in the Jalisco region and a few small surrounding areas in Mexico. There are two classification of tequila: 100% agave and Mixto. Tequila started as a Mezcal, and until the early 1900s it was made with various types of agave. However, it became clear that blue agave contributed to a more premium flavour, which encouraged distillers to make more tequilas from 100% (Weber) blue agave, without any additional sugars before fermentation.
As blue agave takes five to eight years to grow (even up to twelve years in some areas), the distillers also created Mixto (mixed). This is a cheaper style of tequila where only a minimum of 51% has to be agave and the rest can come from other sugars. It goes without saying that 100% blue agave is of higher quality.
Mixto tequilas aren’t clearly labelled so unless you’re purposely planning on buying a bottle of Mixto, you should make sure the bottle is labelled as 100% agave.
Within these two tequila categories you have five types of tequila: Blanco, Reposado, Añejo, Extra Añejo and Joven. These five categories are determined based on ageing and the exact time spent in casks. The most common casks used for ageing tequila are made from American or French oak. The casks can have been previously used for anything from bourbon to wine.
Blanco is clear in colour and mainly unaged. The spirit is often left to rest in stainless-steel tanks for a few weeks before bottling to allow oxidation. There are some exceptions where the spirit is aged in oak for up to two months.
These tequilas are citrusy, herbal, grassy and peppery. They are the best way to truly taste the essence of tequila, agave. Blanco tequilas are also known as Silver or Plata.
Try these: Cazadores (savoury, peppery, oily), Pancho Datos Plata (savoury, vanilla, peppery), Pasote Blanco (fragrant, crisp, vanilla), Don Julio (fresh agave, citrusy), Ocho Blanco (single-estate, great way to explore terroir in tequila), Calle 23 Blanco (green apple, pear), Olmeca Altos Plata (lime, grassy, great for mixing)
Reposado (rested) tequilas can also be labelled as aged. Tequila Reposado matures in oak casks or vats (pipones) from two months to just under a year. Each distillery can use its preferred types of casks and the sizes are not regulated either.
Reposado’s flavour profile ranges from close to Blanco with a short ageing period to similar to Añejo with heavier cask influence due to longer maturation. You can expect some oak with vanilla, tropical fruit or more floral flavour profiles.
Try these: Pancho Datos Reposado (caramel, grassy, oaky), ArtenNOM Selección de 1414 (fruity, salty, well balanced), Herencia de Plata Reposado (smooth, tropical, spiced), Clase Azul Reposado (tropical fruit, honey, earthy), Espolon Reposado (fudge, nutmeg, tropical fruit, great for mixing)
Learn how to drink tequila like a proper Mexican.
Añejo has a more vibrant golden colour compared to Reposado. These tequilas can be labelled as extra aged. Maturation takes place in oak casks with a maximum capacity of 600 litres for between one and three years. The longer ageing time contributes to a more complex and smoother mouthfeel, especially if smaller casks have been used. The danger with large casks is that the ageing does not allow enough time for the spirit to be influenced by the wood. In these cases, some caramel colouring and other additives may have been used to adjust both the colour and flavour of the final spirit.
Añejos are often full of sweet syrupy notes of caramel and toffee with a hint of peppery agave still coming through. The finish is longer and silky.
Try these: Herencia de Plata Añejo (smoky, dark chocolate, cinnamon deliciousness), ArteNOM Selección 1414 Añejo (toffee, custard, chocolate orange), Corazón Añejo (spicy, buttery, nutty), Vivir Añejo (oaky, cooked banana, modern design)
Extra Añejo, also known as ultra aged, is left to mature for a minimum of three years in oak with a maximum capacity of 600 litres. The labelling does not have to specify how many years the maturation has actually taken place. Due to the longer ageing, you may not be able to detect as much of the agave flavour as you would with Reposado or Añejo.
Try these: Tapatío Excelencia Gran Reserva (Christmas cake, earthy), Ocho Extra Añejo 2014 (butterscotch, floral, peppery), Sierra Milenario Extra Añejo (oaky, ripe tropical fruits)
This category is often forgotten when talking about tequila.
Joven, also known as Gold or Oro, is a young tequila, which is a blend of unaged and aged tequilas. Like with many spirits, there are always distillers that cut corners, and when it comes to Joven, some are simply adding caramel colouring into Blanco tequila to create the illusion of an aged product. These types of Joven tequilas are often Mixtos with only a minimum of 51% agave. Jose Cuervo Gold and Sauza Gold are probably the most well-known Joven tequilas, and these are both Mixtos. (And these are the ones everyone slams with salt and lime to mask the taste. It is likely that the additives are the cause of your headache the next day…)
When buying a bottle, make sure to check the added aged tequila to avoid overpaying for a bottle of artificially coloured spirit.
Try these: Casa Dragones Joven – made with Blanco and five-year-old Extra Añejo tequilas, expensive but of great quality
Which one of the tequila categories is your favourite? What is your go-to tequila brand?
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