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.

Spirits Review: Arrogante Tequila

Tequila is what I call a polarizing spirit – people either really love it, or they hate it to the point of being terrified of it. I’ve never met anyone who was just okay with it. Bring it up in a conversation with a group of friends and, chances are, a couple of them will recoil in horror and say something like, “I can’t touch that stuff, it makes me crazy,” or make a squeamish noise like you just pulled a dead mouse out of your pocket. Some of them might talk about their “bad tequila night,” and a long story about blacking out, getting arrested, and going to the hospital might ensue.

A handsome bunch of bottles, these.

A handsome bunch of bottles, this.

I never had a “bad tequila night.” I’ve drunk too much of pretty much every other spirit at one point or another, but never tequila. But I’m not foolish enough to think that the bad nights I had with vodka, bourbon, or whatever else, were a result of whatever I was drinking, rather than how much I drank. For some reason, though, tequila is one of those things people really don’t want to give a second chance, which is a shame, because there are few things more enjoyable than sipping a glass of delicious, well-aged tequila. Last night I had the opportunity to try the blanco, reposado, and añejo offerings from Arrogante Tequila, and I was reminded of just how much I love this oft-maligned spirit.

Arrogante Tequila is distilled from 100% blue agave from the Jalisco highlands, using a process which, according to the manufacturer, is devoid of shortcuts. The agave is harvested, slowly baked in stone ovens called “hornos,” and fermented for 3-4 days. It is then distilled twice, and while the blanco is ready to go at that point, the reposado and añejo tequilas are then aged in used bourbon barrels. The name comes from the pride that results from producing such a tasty spirit – as their website explains it, “We’re so proud of the quality of our tequila, we called it Arrogante!” Anyway, without further ado, here are my thoughts on the line.

Stats

Packaging: 750ml bottle or 6-pack of 50ml minis

Proof: 40% alcohol (80 proof)

Price: $47.99-$58.99 + tax

Aging: Blanco: n/a; Reposado: 6 months; Añejo: 18 months.

Appearance

Blanco Reposado Añejo
Clear with medium-thin, moderately paced legs and medium viscosity. Pale caramel tint. Nice viscosity with clinging, slow legs. Nice caramel hue with ultra-clingy legs. Whisky-like in appearance.

Aroma

Blanco Reposado Añejo
Floral yet very clean nose, with just a hint of peppery alcohol. A bit more pepper and smoke on the nose, but not enough to totally cover up the earthiness of the agave. Lots of oak on the nose, along with some caramel or butterscotch, but still with some agave character.

Taste

Blanco Reposado Añejo
Super smooth and slightly smoky with a little bit of pepper and a lasting, subtle agave finish. This is among the smoother blancos I’ve tasted – not the most complex spirit, but a very enjoyable one. This is a no-frills blanco that tastes good on its own, but would really make a margarita shine. Soft and very slightly sweet up front. Much woodier than the blanco with some spicy pepper on the tip of the tongue. Long oaky, smoky finish. This is not your typical reposado; it’s not as fresh tasting as a lot of the others and has a lot more woodiness. This is a great sipper, though if you absolutely must mix it, it would be delicious in a cocktail. Smooth and a buttery; not a lot of sweetness to speak of, but lots of smoke and a little minerality on the finish. No burn whatsoever. Much sterner tasting than the reposado; not sweet, but smoother overall. This is the one that had me sitting back in my chair and wistfully staring into my empty glass, wishing I had more.

Final Thoughts

"The Tasting Lab," as I like to call it. It's not a lab. It's my desk.

“The Tasting Lab,” as I like to call it. It’s not a lab. It’s my desk.

Each one of the Arrogante Tequilas I tried really exemplified its respective style, yet each also carried some of its own unique character. They’re complex enough to impress a tequila aficionado (particularly the reposado and añejo), yet smooth enough to act as an inviting “gateway” tequila for someone who isn’t too familiar with the good stuff. As with any high-quality tequila, to shoot it would be a waste; slow down, sip it, and enjoy.