Tequila is a specific type of agave spirit made in specific parts of Mexico. The geographic indicator is important, because tequila made outside these areas is not real tequila, and it can’t be labeled as such. Much like champagne, cognac, or armanac, the name of the product tells you definitively where it was made.
Agave takes between 8 and 12 years to mature. When it’s ready, it is harvested, and the spines are removed to reveal the pineapple-like piña. The Piña is cooked, mashed, fermented and distilled to produce tequila. You can watch this video to see it all for yourself:
Legally, tequila only has to be 51% made of agave. The rest can be literally whatever. To me, that means it’s only 51% tequila. Be sure your new purchases state they are made of 100% agave.
Añejo tequila is mellowed in oak barrels (often barrels previously used for other spirits) for between 1 and 3 years. This mellowing process removes most of the distinctive vegetal flavor from the spirit and makes it far more like whiskey than like a new tequila. Don’t try to make a margarita out of this, or you will be disappointed. I like to use it in cocktails that usually call for whiskey or other dark spirits.
Extra Añejo tequilas are aged 4 years or longer. They’re usually sold at a luxury price point.
Recipe: añejo old fashioned
dissolve a lump of sugar in a bit of water at the bottom of a whiskey glass
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters.
2 oz. Anejo tequila
1 ice ball or large ice cube
lime or orange swath
Stir with a teaspoon, and leave spoon in the glass.
Reposado tequilas are only aged between 3 and 11 months. This mellows the vegetal flavor, but keeps it distinctively present. Reposados are ideal for sipping, and are perfectly good in just about any tequila cocktail.
Rim a highball or rocks glass with brown sugar and fill with ice.
1 1/2 oz Reposado Tequila (blanco also works)
Squeeze of lime
Fill with grapefruit soda, or alternately a mixture of graprefruit juice and club soda.
Stir with a straw to incorporate. Or not.
Blanco (also called silver, white, or plata) tequila is unaged. There is no barrel mellowing. This gives the fullest and most direct vegetal agave flavor, and that flavor comes through reliably when mixed.
Rim a glass with kosher salt
1 1/4 oz. Blanco Tequila (reposado also works)
3/4 oz. Cointreau or other triple sec
1 1/4 oz. Fresh lime juice
3/4 oz. Simple syrup
Shake with ice, strain into the rimmed glass over fresh ice. Garnish with a lime wheel.
Luxury– Don Julio (I’ve never tried this, but I keep hearing about how amazing it is)
Smooth– Patrón (for vodka drinkers)
Spicy/vegetal– 1800, Olmeca Altos, or Jose Cuervo Tradicional
Value– El Jimador
There are four types of tequila to choose from:
Blanco: For when a recipe calls for a vegetal tequila flavor.
Reposado: Good for sipping, can be subbed for blanco without sacrificing much flavor.
Anejo: Good for sipping, not good for blanco recipes. Works well to spice up whiskey recipes.