Tequila has the unfortunate reputation as the “lick, shoot, suck” and get hammered liquor. But that’s because when it comes to tequila drinking, most people don’t know much about the magical elixir. As the craft spirit industry booms, people’s thirst for higher quality tequila increases.
With the growing demand for better tasting tequila comes an onslaught of craft tequila distilleries. Just going to your local liquor store can be overwhelming. Forget asking the clerk for advice on the best tasting tequila! Once they start asking questions to narrow down the options to “whet your whistle”, your mind swims with even more confusion.
Where to Start
First, do some soul searching…ask yourself:
- Do I prefer a Reposado?
- Am I Blanco person?
- Does “NOM” matter?
- Do I like my Margarita Auténtica with organic tequila?
Some questions may have you asking if you even know yourself at all. While you seek to find your favorite tequila, ensure you are selecting the best the industry has to offer with a little tequila 101.
Four Types of Tequila
There are four main types of tequila:
- Blanco (or Plata) – Unaged tequila housed in stainless steel tanks for up to two months.
- Reposado – “Rested” tequila, aged between 2 and 12 months in a barrel.
- Añejo – “Aged” tequila, having spent between 12 and 24 months in a barrel.
- Extra Añejo – “Aged” tequila, having spent over 3 years in a barrel.
- Joven Abocado – Young and smooth tequila, commonly known as “gold tequila”, not 100% agave.
Each type of tequila has its own distinct color and taste. Blanco is derived purely from the blue agave and has a natural sweetness. Just like its name implies, it is clear (white) in color. Reposado is traditionally golden hued with a deeper, fuller taste than the blanco. Añejo is a dark amber color, with a typically smooth finish and complex taste. Extra añejo (Remember? That’s age.) adds another level of flavor to the tequila.
Making Tequila from Agave
Now that you know what types of tequila there are, you might want to know where tequila comes from. It is a distilled spirit made from fermented mash of an agave. By Mexican law and an international agreement, it is only produced in certain states of Mexico.
So what is agave? Most people think agave is a cactus. Wrong. It’s actually a succulent that is part of the lily family. Out of the over 200 classified species of agave, only Blue Weber Agave is cool enough to make tequila.
When the agave is ready to harvest (typically in 7 – 10 years after planting), the jimador (harvester) cuts the plant and removes the pencas (spiky leaves), revealing the piña. The piña is cooked and then mashed to extract the sugary juices. After the extraction, fermentation processes the sugar into alcohol and prepares the liquid for distillation.
Learning so much about Azuñia Tequila courtesy of Kailee Asher.
Posted by Phoenix Bites on Tuesday, July 26, 2016
During distillation, ferments are separated by heat or steam. Once distillation is complete, the long process of aging begins for all but Blanco. Blanco is stored in stainless steel tanks for only a couple of months until it’s ready to be bottled, sold and served.
Patience, grasshopper! After the tequila is moved into oak barrels, the long lonely period of resting begins. Remember, resting can last over three years depending on the type of tequila before it’s ready to be bottled, sold and served.
Speaking of bottling, the label (or what’s printed on it) matters. The Norma Oficial Mexicana (NOM) is the series of standards and regulations of activities in Mexico. Tequila producers must follow these rules, certified by the Tequila Regulatory Council (TRC). If the tequila you’re about to buy doesn’t have a NOM printed on the label, then it’s not authentic. Trust us. You want your tequila to be authentic.
It’s authentic. But does it have to be organic? Of course not! Should it be organic? Of course! Simply put, to be certified by the US Department of Agriculture, the food (or drink, in this case) must be produced without residues that can potentially cause pollution to the air, soil, and water. If you strive to stay organic in other areas of consumption, then by all means, choose organic tequila when available.
Get More Tequila 101
We’ve talked about tequilas – types, origins, distillation process, authentication, and organic designation. With 5 types of tequila and over 1,000 authenticated brands of tequila, it’s easy to get lost in all those pretty bottles and fancy packages. Did you learn something from this post? We hope so. Most importantly, we hope you gained the knowledge to march confidently into the liquor store on your next tequila run!
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