What Is Tequila?

tequilaFirst, there are two ways to make tequila. If you know the difference, it is easy to spot. But if you don’t, it won’t be obvious.

All tequila is made from Tequilana Weber Azul Agave (Blue Agave), and all from the same region – the Mexican state of Jalisco near the city appropriately named Tequila. The Mexican government sets strict regulations on what can and can’t be done to call something tequila.

If ‘100%’ and ‘Agave’ and/or ‘Tequila’ show up on the label or bottle, then it is 100% blue agave – all harvested from Jalisco, distilled according to the highest standards, aged (or not for silver) in specific barrels, and bottled all in Jalisco.

So what if a bottle doesn’t say 100%? Well, this is where things get tricky. For starters, it is only required to contain 51% blue agave distillate in Jalisco to be labeled as tequila. The other 49% of the finished distilled product can be from any other agave source, or as the Mexican Government states it, ‘other sugars,’ which is rather vague. It does not need to be all distilled in Jalisco either. This type of tequila can be aged, though rarely is, but must still be bottled in Jalisco. So basically, it’s mostly blue agave and bottled in Jalisco. In this type of tequila, coloring and flavoring may be added.

There are five different types of tequila.

  • Blanco or plata means silver tequila and is clear and un-aged.
  • Joven or oro means gold tequila and is colored tequila.
  • Reposado must be aged for at least two months in oak barrels.
  • Anejo must be aged for at least one year in oak barrels.
  • Extra-Anejo must be aged for at least three years in oak barrels and is hard to find outside of Mexico.

Since all these ages are listed as minimums, two-year-old tequila can still be labeled as reposado, I will say it is uncommon, but nothing says it cannot be done.

As with all aged spirits, just because it’s aged longer does not mean it is better. The clean mineral, white pepper, and light citrus notes found in unaged tequilas will start to be overpowered quickly when put into oak barrels for aging. The older it is, the more oak you will taste and the less light delicate flavors of the blue agave you will be able to pick up.

So here I recommend you try to find the right balance for you, regardless of what the age is. Tequila is for more than shots. Well-crafted tequila sips like a well-crafted whiskey, with many layers of finer nuances.

Two final notes. Iif a distillery in Jalisco is licensed to make 100% tequila, they are not allowed to make anything other than tequila, and one distillery may be shared by multiple distillers all making their own labels.

Lastly, no tequila will ever have a worm in it. As soon as the worm is added, it is immediately reclassified as mezcal. Tequila is actually a type of mezcal. Mezcals are made from Maguey (Agave Americana), a type of agave, and it can be made most anywhere in Mexico. Flavorwise mexcal is very similar to tequila, but without many of the guidelines to be labeled tequila. So they will come in many styles, with and without worms. If you like tequila, you might want to give mezcal a shot as well. Mezcals are not substandard, in fact, some can be crafted with more care than their tequila counterparts.

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