Of all the commonly available spirits in the western world, and especially here in the States, none has been as thoroughly maligned as tequila. Associated with (at best) fruity, overpriced tourist drinks, or (at worst) criminals, racial stereotypes, and the king of all hangovers. But today, July 24th, is National Tequila Day in the US and the perfect opportunity to shed some light on this spirit that, admittedly even we here at IPTB, have neglected.
So first off, what is tequila? Tequila is a variety of a spirit called mezcal. Essentially, tequila is to mezcal as cognac is to brandy. Developed by Spanish conquistadors who brought distilling techniques to the New World, mezcal is distilled from the core of the blue agave plant, which takes twelve years to mature before it can be harvested.
To legally be labeled “tequila,” the spirit has to be produced, from growing the agave through the distillation process, in the Mexican state of Jalisco. Additionally, tequila is produced from a specific variety of blue agave called “Weber Tequilana Azul” whereas other mezcals can be produced from any variety of blue agave plants.
Tequila is also subdivided by a number of different traits. The first is purity. If the bottle doesn’t say 100% pure agave, you’ve probably got a “mixto” tequila (pronounced MEES-to). Mixto is only required by law to contain 51% agave spirits; the rest is distilled from sugar cane.
Another distinction between tequila varieties is age. Like wine, brandy, or whiskey, some tequilas are barrel aged to give them color, smooth some of the alcohol’s harshness, and give the tequila a more complex flavor. Certain terms are generally used to indicate age, though there are no hard-and-fast rules.
Blanco: (aka white or silver) This is un-aged tequila, straight from the still to the bottle.
Gold: (aka joven abocabo) This is bottled as a mixture of blanco and tequila that has been aged at least two months. There’s no guarantee of the ratio between the two though, and gold tequilas usually contain a small percentage of aged spirit.
Reposado: Literally translated to “rested,” reposado tequilas are aged at least two months. Though they may not be 100% agave, they’re at least not mixed with un-aged spirits.
Añejo: These tequilas are aged for at least one year. Those that have been aged longer than a year may be called “Extra Añejo” or something similar and the age will generally be advertised on the bottle. Generally speaking, the longer a spirit is aged, the smoother and more complex the flavor will be.
Because reposado and añejo tequilas are considered to be higher quality, and accordingly more expensive, these are the varieties that you’ll want to reserve for sipping and savoring neat. If you’re going to mix cocktails, you’re generally better off using either blanco or gold varieties.
Speaking of which, we’ll be posting recipes to some classic tequila cocktails throughout the day. Check back as we post recipes for a Margarita, Tequila Sunrise, Matador, and the whimsically named Tequila Mockingbird.