When it comes to choosing the right tequila, people tend to have strong opinions. Whether you’re a tequila expert or a novice learning the spirit’s different classifications, it’s important to understand tequila varieties. To be considered true tequila, the liquor must come from Mexico, specifically the Jalisco state or select municipalities in Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit and Tamaulipas.
Tequila is a type of mezcal, though it lacks the same deep smoky flavor. The main difference between tequila and mezcal, aside from flavor, is that mezcal can be made from any type of agave plant while tequila must be made specifically from blue agave and include at least 51% of the plant’s bulb or piña.
Tequila classifications depend on how long the spirit has been aged. Here’s a breakdown of tequila’s five types:
Also known as silver tequila, Blanco is an unaged tequila that is bottled right after distillation. Without the aging process, Blanco tequila has a strong agave flavor and lacks the oakiness of longer-aged tequilas, such as Resposado. Tequila Blanco is best used in margaritas and other light, citrusy cocktails. Even a simple tequila and club soda with a lime works well with this variety.
Though similar in taste to Blanco, Joven is a type of tequila that has either been aged for a short period of time or has been mixed with a small amount of aged tequila. Typically, Joven is a combination of Blanco and Reposado. Though there is much debate in the world of spirits around which tequila type is best, Joven tends to be a less favorable option because of the mixing process, but it still works well in margaritas and fruit-heavy cocktails.
A Reposado is tequila that has been aged between two months and one year. This type of tequila is often placed in American or European oak barrels that previously held whiskey, which gives Resposados notes of oak, vanilla and caramel. As tequila ages for longer periods of time, it begins to take on a darker, brown color. However, this doesn’t mean that Respoado, or any other aged tequila, is considered a “gold” tequila. Gold tequila refers to Mixtos, the most inexpensive type of tequila that is mixed with other types of sugar and usually gets its golden color from added caramel or coloring.
The Resposado variety is widely accepted in the bar community as a preferred type of tequila. The aging process creates a complex but still light flavor, making it perfect for casual sipping over ice or as a unique addition to a cocktail.
Also aged in American or European oak casks, Añejo tequila sits for at least one year but can be kept in barrels for up to three years, producing a stronger flavor than lesser aged tequilas. For this reason, tequila Añejo is recommended as a spirit to sip neat or use in cocktails that require a darker liquor, such as whiskey, because it tends to retain some of those same deeper, oaky notes.
Aged for at least three years, Extra Añejo is more rarely used in cocktails because it possesses a much heavier flavor. This variety of tequila is usually aged in American or French oak barrels. Tequila aficionados prefer to drink Extra Añejo on the rocks because mixing it with other ingredients can dampen the complex flavor.
Sources: Information for this story came from MasterClass, VinePair.com and Food & Wine.