I am sure most of you had a shot of Tequila at least once in your life. And some probably might have had a few more than that - including me.
That's hardly surprising, considering Tequila is one of the most popular spirits in the world.
To put the popularity of Tequila into perspective, in 2020, Mexico exported more than 270 million liters of Tequila worldwide. The majority of it went straight to its neighbor, the US.
All Tequilas are obtained only from the piñas of the blue weber agave plant. Additionally, to be allowed to carry the name Tequila, it must be produced in Jalisco or one of the other designated states of Tequila production like Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, Guanajuato, and Tamaulipas.
However, not all Tequilas are the same. There are two different classes and seven different types of Tequila. But first, a short introduction to Tequila in general.
What is Tequila?
Tequila is a distilled spirit from Mexico. It's a specific type of Mezcal and can be produced only in a few states. Similar to top-shelf alcoholic beverages Champagne, Tequila is strongly regulated.
Unless having been produced and manufactured in some of the few designated regions, it can not be named Tequila.
Further, unlike other Mezcals, only one specific agave plant is allowed in the production of Tequila. And that is the blue weber agave, also known as blue agave plant or agave tequilana.
If you want to learn more about the connection between Mezcal and Tequila, you can read about it in this article dedicated to the differences between Mezcal and Tequila.
The two classes of Tequila
And before I explain the different types of Tequila, you should know that there are also two classes of Tequila. The first is Tequila mixto, and the second is 100% agave Tequila.
Here's a quick overview of the two.
100% agave Tequila
Tequilas of this class are made of blue agave only. They get distilled from the piñas of the blue agave plant without any added sugars.
Also, it is mandatory that 100% agave Tequila is bottled within the designated production territory.
Usually, those Tequilas are of the highest quality. Saying that, ideally, you would only drink Tequila shots that fall into this class. That will save you from some severe headaches.
As the name suggests, the mixto Tequilas are mixed. That means that, before the fermentation process, other sugars are added to the mix.
On paper, the majority of sugar still has to come from blue agave. Although, on closer inspection, that translates to a reality of 51% natural sugar being enough to classify as a Tequila mixto.
You see that basically, half the sugar of a Mixto can be additive, which you can also identify by taste. The agave notes are a lot more subtle, almost hidden sometimes.
The most significant and unfortunate part here is that you will never find the word "mixto" on a bottle. The Mixto Tequila is sold as just "Tequila" all the same.
So only if the bottle states it's 100% agave do you know you have the real deal. Therefore, be wary next time you stock up your home bar.
The five different types of Tequila
When talking about Tequila, many can agree on five different types. Some others, however, argue that there are, in fact, seven types nowadays.
One way or another, I will cover the two new ones, but I will do so in a separate paragraph.
I want to add that when I say different types of Tequila, I don't mean the of-the-shelf distinction between "silver" and "gold". It is about the actual types of Tequila, which are Blanco, Joven, Reposado, Añejo, and Extra Añejo.
Blanco Tequila (aged for 0-59 days)
For many experts, this is the purest version of Tequila. Blanco Tequila is also known as "Silver" or "Plata", referring to its usually colorless appearance.
Blanco Tequila is also called an unaged despite aging for up to 59 days. This short amount of aging time is one of the principal reasons for the colorless appearance.
The other is that Blanco Tequila usually is aged in stainless-steel tanks rather than a barrel.
However, you can find Blanco Tequilas that have a light golden shade to them. It occurs when they are aged in oak wood barrels. Then they turn to a pale amber tone.
Joven Tequila (blended)
The term "Joven" is the Spanish word for young and indicates we are not talking about an aged Tequila. Its characteristic amber color is the reason why it's often called "Oro" or "gold" Tequila.
There are two different ways to achieve this amber color. In the best case, Joven Tequila is a blended mix of unaged and aged Tequilas.
But unfortunately, most of the time, what you get is a Blanco Tequila "blended" with added coloring and flavoring.
So I recommend, if you want to make sure to get a Tequila that truthfully aged slightly longer, look for a Reposado.
Reposado Tequila (aged for 60 - 364 days)
A Reposado Tequila deserves to be called aged Tequila, as it matures in oak or Holm oak barrels for at least 60 days.
The barrels also cause a darker color because besides adding a richer flavor, the wood also brings color to the distilled Tequila.
Within this type of Tequila, you can find a large variety of products. Some are barely different from Joven Tequilas, while others are aged for almost a year.
Those Tequilas can be nearly as mature as Añejo Tequilas.
Añejo Tequila (aged for 1+ years)
Añejo translates to old. And this type of Tequila is aged for at least one year in large Tequila barrels.
If we talk about, let's say, Whiskey, that would by no means qualify as old. But in the world of Tequila, it does. That is not least due to one big disadvantage Tequila producers have:
Agava plants take almost a decade to grow before one can harvest them. That's a lot of time and effort already going into the product before it even exists.
The maximum size of barrels for Tequila-aging is 600l. Once filled, the sealed casks are set aside for one year or more. Age then gives the beautiful amber color to the Tequila, while it also develops vanilla and floral aromas.
In some cases, caramel is added to Añejo Tequila to enhance the color and flavor of the final product even further.
Extra Añejo Tequila (aged for 3+ years)
Tequila of the type Extra Añejo is aged for at least three years in the same barrels as Anejo Tequila. This type is relatively new and evolved due to the rising popularity of the agave spirit.
It was first released in 2006 and quickly became very popular. The main reason for this is that aged Tequila develops very intense, deep, and intriguing flavor profiles.
There are some top-shelf Extra Añejo Tequilas that are comparable to fine Cognacs in terms of complexity - and also in price.
The first time I tried a truly excellent Extra Añejo Tequila, I honestly was blown away by its taste.
Should you want to share the experience, it was a glass of Jose Cuervo's Reserva de la Familia. Certainly not cheap, but it is worth its price tag.
New types of Tequila
Now that the initial five types of Tequila are covered, let's look at the latest two additions on the list. The reason for listing them separately is that they are both somewhat controversial.
Both change the traditional Tequila in a way that almost turns it into a different product. So let's talk about the Curados and the Cristalino Tequilas.
Tequila Curados get flavored with natural ingredients like fruits. Typical flavors are lemon, orange, strawberry, and pineapple. But not only the flavor is modified.
Tequila Curados only need to contain 25% agave during the fermentation process. That's even a lot less than a mixto needs.
The fact that additional sweeteners, coloring, and flavors are allowed makes this type very debatable. According to the standard, up to 7.5% can be additional, non-traditional ingredients.
In my opinion, that's too much and takes away from the beautiful product Tequila is.
Another controversial type of Tequila is the Cristalino. Cristalino Tequilas are either filtered with charcoal or redistilled before bottling to get crystal clear Tequilas.
However, most of the time, the Tequilas are "only" filtered to achieve the desired look.
Sadly, this usually is performed with Añejo Tequila, which matured for at least one year. The charcoal filtration will remove the beautiful golden coloring that it got from the wooden barrels.
But not only the color gets lost. -A considerable portion of the beautiful, slowly developed flavor also is removed by filtration.
The result is a clear Tequila that somewhat lost its identity. Personally, I would prefer the standard aged Añejo Tequila over a Cristalino any time.
But then, that's just my two cents. If you ever tried one of these two new versions, perhaps you want to share yours in the comments.