Tequila is more popular than ever. Over the last decade, the premier spirit of Mexico has boomed in popularity across the globe, in part due to a bevy of celebrities creating their own brands. Its unique and delicious flavor profile and smooth, almost viscous consistency make it a popular base for mixed drinks, an easy shot to shoot, and a delicate sipper to savor. While most of us get introduced to the bottom-shelf swill that comes in a plastic bottle, tequila, just like any other spirit, has a vast spectrum of quality. On the low end of that spectrum, you have a cheap mixer that will make you see vapor trails, while on the opposite end, you have a rich, complex delicacy that caresses the senses.
In this article, we endeavor to educate you on what tequila is, the five types of tequila, and three delicious examples of each category. Worry not, none of our picks come in plastic bottles, however, they are all wonderful and cover a variety of price points, from accessible to premium. More than anything, this is a celebration of a spirit that’s finally getting its time to shine in the global limelight. It’s rich in flavor, heritage, and variety. So, without further adieu, let us dive into our complete guide to tequila styles. Salud!
What Is Tequila?
Mexico's Signature Spirit
Tequila is the official beverage of Mexico and is made from 100% agave. Just like how champagne can only be called champagne if it’s made from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France, Tequila can only be labeled as tequila if it’s made in the Tequila region of Mexico. In fact, Mexican laws state that tequila can only be produced in the state of Jalisco, as well as limited municipalities in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas.
Despite its appearance, the agave plant is not a cactus; rather, it’s actually part of the asparagus family. To make tequila, workers use machete-like blades to cut the pointy leaves off the agave to access its heart. Within its core, agaves have a bulb called the piña, which is baked, shredded, and juiced. After the piña is juiced, the juice (called mosto) gets fermented with yeast in barrels or large stainless steel tanks. From there, the agave juices are usually distilled twice, which purifies the tequila and concentrates the alcohol levels. The distillation process, on average, takes two to five days. Once the tequila is distilled, it’s ready to drink as tequila blanco. If the distillers wish to age the tequila, this is the step when they do so in bourbon barrels.
There are three main types of tequila—blanco, reposado, and añejo—with two additional variations: joven and extra añejo.
The Silver Spirit
Also known as silver tequila, tequila blanco is the first product to result from the distillation process. Typically, tequila blanco is not aged, however, distillers are allowed to age tequila blanco so long as it doesn’t age for longer than 60 days. Due to the minimal or absent aging process, tequila blanco has a hotter, raw edge to it compared to its aged counterparts. Its palate heavily features the powerfully vegetal notes of agave, some hints of citrus, black pepper, and on occasion, some sweetness akin to agave nectar. Due to its harshness, tequila blanco is the go-to choice for margaritas, as added sweeteners and mixers can balance out its robust taste.
Espolón is a critically-acclaimed tequila for good reason. Its color is clear with platinum cast, while it offers delicate, sweet agave, floral, and fruity aromas. On the palate, it has a soft mouthfeel, with bright agave flavor, notes of pepper, vanilla bean, grilled pineapple, and spice. Its finish is clean and spicy.
Milagro Silver is iconic in both taste and packaging. It sports a bright, clear color, and its nose is crisp and fresh with notes of citrus and heavy notes of agave. On the palate, Milagro Silver is crisp, fresh, and agave-forward, with vegetal hints and notes of citrus. Expect a spicy, black pepper finish.
Don Julio Blanco
Tequila distilleries don’t get a whole lot more well-known than Don Julio. While they offer a wide range of tequila varieties, Don Julio Blanco is a delicious and accessible standout. It is double distilled and features an aroma that is light with hints of citrus. On the palate, its taste is crisp, clean, and dry, with a hint of black pepper.
A Rare Blend
Tequila joven is a subcategory of blanco, and it’s the hardest to find among the five types of tequila. On occasion, it will be labeled as “oro,” meaning gold, due to the fact that joven is usually a blanco tequila that’s blended with a small amount of aged tequila. This blend will occasionally give Joven a light, golden hue. It’s worth noting that joven or oro tequila will never be called “gold.” Gold tequila contains added sugar, food dyes, and glycerin to mimic the look of reposados and añejos, however, they taste like tank fuel, more times than not. A good way to tell whether or not a tequila is a bonafide joven is by looking at its price point: gold tequilas don’t have a 100% agave formula, thus they’re cheaper. As far as flavor profiles are concerned, we liken joven tequila’s taste to that of blended scotch. Joven provides the bright citrus notes of blanco with the more complex, rich flavors of aged tequila. It’s great as a cocktail base or sipped straight.
Viva XXXII Joven Tequila
This gorgeous offering hails from a small distillery with a surprising amount of accolades. Viva XXXII sports an agave-forward aroma, and on the palate, the flavor features notes of vanilla, lemon peel, and white pepper. The taste of crisp peppery notes crescendoes to a clean and wonderfully smooth finish.
Casa Noble Special Reserve Joven Tequila
While Casa Noble is a well-known distillery, its acclaimed joven offering is hard to come by. Its nose is herbaceous and agave-forward, with notes of citrus. On the palate, the spice, heat, and acidity smoothly transfer over, before giving way to sweet hints of honey. Drinkers can expect a delightfully spicy and long-lasting finish.
Casa Dragones Joven
As far as tequila jovens are concerned, there isn’t a better offering than Casa Dragones. Their joven offers a rich silky texture, with a fresh aroma of floral and citrus notes and hints of sweet roasted agave. On the palate, Casa Dragones Joven is smooth tasting with hints of vanilla and spiced undertones, balanced with delicate notes of pear. For its finish, expect a clean, warm aftertaste with hints of hazelnut.
Light In Age, Heavy In Character
Tequila reposado is tequila that is aged in European or American oak barrels for at least two months and up to a year. This time window hits a sweet spot both literally and figuratively for resposado’s taste. The extended aging process extracts the oaky flavor of the casks in which it is aged while retaining the citrus and spice flavors that people love about tequila blanco. Moreover, the aging process pulls tannins from the cask that yields a beautiful, golden color. Lately, some distillers have been implementing bourbon, cognac, or even wine casks, which add more complex layers to the reposados flavor profile. The palate of reposados usually features notes of chocolate, caramel, chilies, vanilla, and cinnamon. Reposados toe the line perfectly as far as enjoyment: some are strong enough to be used as a mixed cocktail base, while others are delicate enough to be enjoyed sipping straight.
Mijenta’s Reposado is aged up to six months in a blend of American white oak, French oak, and French acacia casks. On the nose, Mijenta is delicate with notes of vanilla and bergamot, as well as hints of honey, preserved fruits, and orange blossom flowers. Rich flavors of cooked agave, honey, vanilla, and hints of cacao nibs harmonize on the palate before finishing with a smooth, long aftertaste.
Roca Patrón Reposado
Patrón is another iconic tequila producer, and boy does their Roca Patrón Reposado explain why. On the nose, this straw-colored ambrosia features notes of vanilla, citrus, and hints of oak. For its palate, expect a smooth and sweet mouthfeel with notes of ginger and caramel that culminate in a rich, complex, and long-lasting finish.
Clase Azul Reposado
Clase Azul Reposado features one of the most recognizable decanters in the tequila space. Its gorgeous packaging mirrors the delicious tequila inside of it. Its golden yellow body gives off aromas of honey, vanilla, candied orange peel, and American oak. On the palate, Clase Azul Reposado tastes of hazelnut, vanilla, earthy spices, and a subtle hint of agave syrup. Its finish is sweet and smooth.
The Smooth Sipper
Tequila añejo is the aged brother of reposado. It’s made by aging tequila in American or European oak barrels for at least a year but up to three. While it’s common practice for producers to stick to one type of barrel during the aging and blending process, some distillers choose to introduce other barrel types to deepen the añejo’s flavor profile. In the world of spirit making, time yields flavor, which is why añejo has a darker, more complex flavor, as well as a more intense amber hue than reposado, blanco, and joven. Añejo’s longer aging process transforms the spicy, citrusy, vegetal palate of tequila into a thick, sweet, caramel-like profile. Due to its rich taste, añejos are usually more expensive and are best enjoyed sipped neat or on the rocks.
Cincoro Añejo Tequila
Cincoro’s Añejo Tequila is aged for a full two years in new French oak barrels and comes in a luxurious bottle. On the nose, drinkers can expect complex aromas of agave, caramel, dried fruits, and spices to complement its balanced palate of toasted oak, butterscotch, vanilla, chocolate, and sweet cooked agave. Its rich, complex flavors give way to an elegant finish that is as long-lasting as it is complex.
Truth be told, it was near impossible to limit ourselves to just one offering from Casamigos. Their añejo, however, is particularly delectable. On the nose, expect soft notes of caramel and vanilla. For its palate, Casamigos Añejo offers a balance of sweet agave notes layered with hints of spice and barrel oak. It features a sweet and pleasant finish.
Don Julio Añejo 1942
We’d say that Don Julio Añejo 1942 is as beautiful to look at as it is delicious to imbibe, but that would be selling its taste short. Its nose is a rich harmonization of caramel and chocolate, which bridges to a complex palate of oak, vanilla, and roasted agave. For its finish, expect a lingering aftertaste of oak that gives way to rich vanilla. It’s no wonder this is one of the go-to choices for aficionados around the globe.
Tequila Extra Añejo
The Luxurious Newcomer
Tequila extra añejo is the most opulent, as well as the newest, classification of tequila. First made in 2006, tequila extra añejo is aged for a minimum of three years and often spends time in scotch, cognac, wine, or port casks to develop a deep, ultra-premium flavor. Admittedly, this classification is a bit geared toward aficionados as tequila extra añejo is not only the most delicate in flavor, but it is also the most expensive in price. Extra añejo’s elongated aging time allows the oak flavors and minerality of its cask to dominate the typical agave flavor. It still retains some of the sweet, caramelized notes of añejo and reposado, however, its texture is usually creamier and more viscous.
Jose Cuervo Reserva De La Familia
Don’t let the stuff that college students buy deter you from the greatness of Jose Cuervo. Their superb Reserva De La Familia is the stuff of legend. It’s dark amber in color with a sweet nose of oak, almonds, apples, olives, and cinnamon. Its palate is complex in flavor, featuring notes of rich oak, toasted almonds, vanilla, and hints of cinnamon. This beautiful combination of flavors results in a long and silky finish that will have you yearning for more.
Dame Mas Reserva Extra Añejo Tequila
What port is to wine, Dame Mas Reserva Extra Añejo Tequila is to tequila. Dame Mas’ extra añejo offering epitomizes the dramatic change in flavor profile that occurs with an elongated aging process. On the nose, expect notes of cooked agave and oak, with hints of rich caramel and sweet vanilla. The aromas carry over to the palate smoothly with similar tastes of cooked agave, oak, and caramel, as well as notes of butterscotch. Its finish is sweet and syrupy.
Tears of Llorona Extra Añejo Tequila
At first look, Tears of Llorona looks beautiful enough to be an exhibit in a museum. This award-winning spirit has a gorgeous aroma of caramel custard, dried fruit, and dark chocolate. On the palate, expect hints of agave that build to a heady spiciness and complexity that comes from its aging process. The finish is so warm and pleasant that the distillers say it feels like “a warm scarf on a cold day”.
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