Liquor Lesson #1: If You Don’t Drink Tequila, You’re Missing Out

If there’s one spirit I could drink year round, it is most certainly tequila. Whether I’m enjoying a well-made margarita while grilling with some buddies or slowly sipping a glass of dark, oaky Añejo in the living room on a chilly night, it doesn’t matter what the occasion is. I could always drink tequila.

Blanco tequilas; these are clear because they are not oak aged.

Blanco tequilas; these are clear because they are not oak aged.

As I mentioned in my triple review of Arrogante Tequila, tequila is a spirit that a lot of people seem to be afraid of, and that fear always invariably stems down to one awful, overindulgent night with what might very well have been a sub-par tequila (maybe a mixto). Don’t know what a mixto tequila is? Don’t worry – I’ll explain that soon. In the meantime, here are some basics on this delicious, yet misunderstood spirit.

Tequila is a Mexican spirit that is distilled from the starchy core of the blue agave plant (for a detailed look at how tequila is made, check out this video). Any tequila worth its salt (no pun intended) is made from 100% agave; anything less, and it’s a mixto. Mixtos are made from at least 51% agave, along with sugars from other sources; these are fine for mixing, but I wouldn’t recommend them for sipping. The majority of tequilas are classified in any of four ways – blanco, reposado, añejo, or extra añejo. Here’s what all that means:

Reposado tequilas; note the pale yellow color.

Reposado tequilas; note the pale yellow color.

Blanco (“white”) or Plata (“silver”) – Spanish for “white” or “silver.” Blanco tequilas are clear because they are not oak-aged; after distillation and dilution, the tequila is immediately bottled. Blanco tequilas tend to have a fresher, spicier taste, and are generally used for mixed drinks, though many are smooth enough to sip.

 

Reposado (“rested”) – Reposado tequilas are a bit darker than blancos because they’re aged for at least two months, but less than a year, in oak barrels. Oak aging adds a woody, smoky flavor to these tequilas, making them smoother and more suitable for drinking on their own, though they also do well in cocktails.

Añejo (“aged”)- Añejo tequilas are aged between one and three years in oak barrels. Añejo tequilas are darker, smokier, and more complex than blancos or reposados. Añejos are best enjoyed neat or on the rocks, though there are a handful of cocktails that call for them (like the Añejo Manhattan or Añejo Old Fashioned).

Añejo tequilas; the darkest, oakiest, and arguably, the sexiest tequilas.

Añejo tequilas; the darkest, oakiest, and arguably, the sexiest of the tequilas.

Extra Añejo (“extra aged”) – As you might have guessed, extra añejo tequilas are aged for longer than añejos (at least three years). If you’re used to drinking scotch, an extra añejo might be the tequila for you.

There’s also a fifth category, joven (“young”) or oro (“gold”), which is used much less frequently. This category includes tequilas that are colored or flavored with caramel.

Regardless of whether you prefer a peppery blanco, a smooth reposado, or a bold and complex añejo (or extra añejo, if you have that kind of cash), there’s a tequila out there for anybody who enjoys a finely crafted spirit. It might seem like a bit of a gamble to buy an entire bottle of something you’ve never tried before, but fortunately, there are plenty of affordable, high-quality options out there (my picks: Espolon Silver, 750mL – $26.99 + tax; Hacienda Vieja Reposado, 1L – $26.99 + tax; El Jimador Añejo, 750mL – $29.99 + tax; all 100% agave).

There’s also plenty of information out there about pretty much every tequila ever (see: Tequila.net), but if you don’t feel like combing through it all yourself, stop by the store and we’d be happy to recommend one to you. Now if you’ll excuse me, this glass of Tapatio Añejo isn’t going to drink itself.

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