Everybody loves small snippets of information to impress their friends at a get-together. After all, what is a dinner party or a soiree without small talk? When it comes to gourmet alcohol, everybody likes to sound like an expert and listen to people who sound like experts too. That’s precisely what the Tequila Insider section is going to do – educate you with some quick facts about tequila. You’ll sound like the expert and you might find your friends come to you for advice. By the end of this guide, you won’t just know your blanco from a reposado from an anejo. You’ll be able to explain which areas of Mexico a drink must originate for it to be called tequila. When you have friends over for your next soirée, where hopefully you’ll be sipping some of the tequilas discussed here, you’ll sound like a master.
Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Tequila
Q: When was Tequila invented?
A: Tequila was first distilled in the 16th century by the Spanish conquistadores. Having used all their supply of brandy, they heard about a drink called pulque that pre-Columbian societies were making from the agave. Eventually, somebody distilled a product from the blue agave.
Q: How much is a bottle of tequila in Mexico?
A: The cheapest tequilas – usually blancos – retail for about 100 pesos. This works out at around £4 or $6-7 (US). The most expensive extra anejo (extra aged) can cost 7,000 pesos or around £270 / $350.
Q: Best blanco tequila for sipping?
A: Blanco tequilas tend to be sharp and used mostly for mixing. Though some brands have tried to create blancos for sipping. The Gran Patron Platinum, grown in the volcanic highlands of Jalisco, is considered one of the best.
Q: What is the main ingredient in tequila?
A: Blue agave. If it is a blend of different types of agave, it is not tequila. If it uses agaves that are not of the blue variety, it is not tequila. We call this drink mezcal or mescal.
Q: 100 percent agave tequila brands?
A: Popular brands such as Ocho, Sauza, and Tapatio are all 100%. Always look out for the 100% tequila claim on the label. Those that are not will state they are mixto. These have no less than 51% blue agave with the rest made up of sugars from other sources.
Q: What is the smoothest tequila?
A: Blanco tequilas are not known for being smooth. However, some modern brands are distilled for extra smoothness such as the Tapatio Blanco. For a luxury anejo, you won’t find many better than Casamigos, consistently voted one of the best sipping tequilas.
Q: How to drink anejo tequila?
A: Like a fine whisky or brandy, it’s strongly recommended to drink anejo tequila neat. They are aged in oak barrels, typically in those previously used for other spirits. This is the only way to enjoy the unique delicate flavours.
Q: Is all tequila made from agave?
A: For a drink to be called tequila, it must have used blue agave only, but it doesn’t need to be 100%. A mixto must contain no less than 51% blue agave. If it’s made from other agave, it’s not tequila, but mezcal.
Q: How long is reposado tequila aged?
A: Reposado translates into English as rested. A tequila is reposado if it is aged anything between two months and one year. Less than that, it’s blanco. Longer than that, it’s anejo.
Q: Best tequila brands for margaritas?
A: Try to use blancos or reposado in cocktails. The best options include the Patron Silver which is known for its versatility. A good reposado would be El Jimador for its sweet undernotes. Want to try anejo in a cocktail? Perhaps consider the Hornitos.
Q: What kind of alcohol is tequila?
A: Tequila is a spirit much like brandy or whisky. Spirits are distilled from a fermented product. In this case, blue agave. This process gives a much higher alcohol content than wine which is produced through fermentation, and beer which is brewed.
Q: Strongest tequila in the world?
A: Most tequilas are in the typical range of spirits, anything between 35% and 45%. But at an incredible 75% ABV, the Sierra Silver tequila – a blanco – is nearly double the strength of most other tequilas.
Q: How many types of tequila are there?
A: Five. Blanco is unaged and may be called platinum or silver. Then there is gold tequila which is mixto – sometimes blending reposado with blanco but sometimes a blend of blanco and sugars and colourings. Third is reposado which is aged between two months and one year. Next is the anejo which is anything aged for a year or longer. Finally, extra anejo tequilas are aged over three years.
Q: Is tequila only found in Mexico?
A: No, tequila is not only found and purchased in Mexico. You can buy all types all over the world. Due to a special protected status, it cannot be called tequila if it is not produced in the small number of Mexican states legally permitted to do so.
Q: Is all tequila from Mexico?
A: Yes, and only from the state of Jalisco and some small limited areas of other Mexican states. This is because Mexico has been granted Protected Designation of Origin under international treaties. The US, the European Union and Japan all recognise this.
Q: How long is tequila aged?
A: That depends on the type of tequila. If it’s a blanco or silver, it isn’t aged at all; it’s bottled upon completion of the distillation. Reposado tequilas are aged anything from a few months up to a year. Anejo tequilas are aged anything between one and three years. Extra anejo tequilas are aged for three years or more.
Becoming a connoisseur of any beverage would not be complete without knowing all the important words. Many of the words below appear throughout our guide with extensive explanations of their meaning. In this glossary, we give you a quick list of clear meanings in each case.
100% tequila: If a tequila is described as 100%, that means it is made exclusively from the sap of the blue agave.
Agave: This is the plant from which we derive both mezcal and tequila. Mezcal comes from any agave plant, but tequila is derived solely from the blue variety. It is a succulent like aloe and cacti, but it is not cacti.
Aguamiel: This is the sugary sap extracted from the heart or piña of the blue agave, which is then fermented and distilled to create tequila.
Anejo: Tequila aged for up to the longest is known as anejo. It has this label if it is aged anything between one and three years.
Autoclave: A type of pressure cooker used to cook the piña to extract the sugars for fermentation. This extraction takes hours rather than days as older methods tended to take.
Barrica: A barrel – wooden storage device used for transportation. In tequila production, barrels are used to store the blanco tequila to age it in the production of reposado or anejo.
Blanco: The clear tequila bottled immediately upon completion of the distillation process. Also known as silver or white tequila.
Coa de Jima: The official name of the farming tool used to harvest the blue agave heart.
Gold tequila: This is usually a mixto with added caramel or colouring although it can also apply to reposado.
Extra Anejo: A new designation introduced in 2006, this is applied to any tequila aged for over three years.
Jalisco: The major centre of production of tequila, the state in which the town of the same name is located and one of a small number of designated areas where the beverage is produced.
Jimador: A highly skilled farmer whose job it is to harvest the blue agave hearts.
Margarita: One of the world’s most famous tequila-based cocktails. Made with Cointreau and lime juice.
Mezcal: This is an alcoholic beverage distilled from other types of agave, or a blend of types. Tequila is a type of mezcal, but mezcal is not tequila.
Mixto: A blend of tequila from blue agave and other sugars. To be mixto, it must contain no less than 51% sugars from blue agave.
Normas Oficiales Mexicanas or NOM: The Mexican government’s system of quality standards. There is a system for tequila in which every distillery is granted a unique NOM number to identify the place where a bottle was produced.
Pencas: The leaves of the blue agave plant which must be removed to get to the piña.
Piña: the heart of the blue agave from which jimadors extract the sugars for fermenting – the start of the tequila distillation process.
Pulque: This is the material that results from the fermentation process of the blue agave hearts. In pre-Columbian societies, it was enjoyed as the final product. But today, it is distilled to produce tequila and mezcal.
Reposado: If a tequila has this on the label, it means it has been aged between a few months and a year.
Silver tequila: See blanco.
Want to know how tequila is made, from harvesting to bottling? Read all about it in our other article about tequila.