Friday, December 10th 2021

All About Tequila

Two things make tequila, tequila. First, where it’s made. And, secondly, what it’s made from. Only products made in the Mexican state of Jalisco and in small areas of four other states – Nayarit, Guanajuato, Michoacan and Tamaulipas – can be legally called tequila. And only the product distilled from Blue Weber Agave can use the name “tequila.”
It’s kind of like champagne. Only sparkling wines made in France’s Champagne region, and made with the “methode champagnois,” can legally be called champagne in the EU. So tequila is defined by where it’s from and what goes in it. But not all tequilas are the same.

There are actually five types of tequila:
• Oro (Joven)
•Blanco (Silver)
•Reposado (Rested)
•Añejo (Aged)
•Extra Añejo

Oro/Joven Tequila: Think of “gold” tequila as tequila on training wheels. It is the only class of tequila that is allowed to be less than 100% blue agave. Up to 49% of the sugars can be from other sources – usually cane. Coloring and flavors may also be added. Oro tequilas don’t have the strong agave flavor of 100% agave tequila, which is why they’re often preferred by folks who don’t drink tequila regularly. Any tequila with added non-agave sugars – sometimes called mixtos – cannot say “100% de Agave” on the label.

Blanco/Silver Tequila: We’re normally taught that gold is better than silver. But when it comes to tequila, the opposite is true. Blanco tequilas are as close to the agave as you can get. Blancos are distilled, bottled and sold. There’s no aging. It’s straight from the agave to you. And because there’s no aging, blancos have a strong agave flavor. It’s what some refer to as “vegetal”. In other words, you’ll clearly notice a plant-like taste. Good blancos are earthy and smooth. And because they’re less expensive than aged tequilas, many people prefer them for their margaritas.

Reposado/Rested Tequila: Reposado tequila gets its color one of two ways. You can add it (usually as caramel coloring) to make oro or you can age it. Reposado tequilas get their color the hard way: day by day. Reposados are aged in oak barrels for at least two months, but less than one year. During that time, they absorb some of the characteristics of the wood they’re aged in. And this is where truly complex tequila flavors begin. Some tequila producers age their tequilas in used barrels. Once-used bourbon barrels are popular and add a distinctive flavor. One producer – Asom Broso – ages tequila in used Bordeaux barrels. This gives their reposado a distinctive pink coloration – and a unique smooth flavor.

Añejo (Aged): Until recently, añejo was the brass ring of the tequila merry-go-round. It sat atop the heap as the most carefully and patiently crafted of tequilas. Añejos are aged from one to three years in oak barrels. And distillers tend to lavish their most careful attention on this premium product. In fact, añjejos must be aged in relatively small barrels – just 600 liters. For true lovers of tequila, this is where the most complex and interesting flavors can be found. Añejos are rarely used for margaritas or shots… this is true sipping tequila.

Extra Añejo: This is a fairly new classification of tequilas. Extra añejos are aged over three years. And like the finest Scotch whisky, they are priced accordingly. Voodoo Tiki Tequila’s limited edition extra añejo, for instance, sells for over $1,000 per bottle!

The rise of tequila bars around the country over the years has opened our eyes to the vast selection of styles of tequilas on the market; there are roughly 1,000 kinds available.But when it comes time to drink the stuff, too many of us revert back to old bad habits from less sophisticated days. It’s a shame, because the best tequilas are as complex and ripe for savoring as fine Scotches or wines. In other words, with tequila, it’s time for you to slow down and smell the (agave) flowers.

“Not many people are aware how complex and unique tequila is because of the fact that it’s associated with kids and parties and that sort of thing,” says Jose Cuervo brand ambassador Rene Valdez. It’s time, then, to start drinking tequila like an adult. Here’s what you need to know.Put the shot glasses down. Not only is shooting tequila (or anything, for that matter) boorish, but even drinking tequila slowly from a shot glass also cheapens the experience. “It’s a glass that doesn’t allow you to experience the full complexity,” Valdez says. You’ll just end up compressing the aromas. If you’re serious about tequila, consider picking up a set of long-stemmed Riedel tequila glasses. Cuervo’s master distillers were consulted in their design, Valdez says. Failing that, a white wine glass, as opposed to a snifter, is the best choice.

The key to tasting tequila well is through the sense of smell, so pay heed to your nose. “Many people tend to automatically do it the way they would wine. They take a big sniff out of the glass. But this is 80-proof alcohol. Therefore, you need to make sure you don’t do that and oversaturate your nose,” says Jose Cuervo brand ambassador Rene Valdez. Instead he recommends three little sniffs. The first is to see what aromas you’re able to identify without moving the liquid. Next, twirl the tequila to let the aromas come through the glass. Alternatively, you might try sniffing through each nostril one after the other. As with wine, different people will be able to pick out different aromas, depending on your susceptibility to spiciness, herbal aromas and so on. Take a small sip first to get your palate used to the alcohol. Starting with a bit of a neutral spirit, like vodka, is even better. It’s like doing stretches for your tongue’s impending workout. Next, take the tequila onto your tongue and try to hit all of the flavor receptors — salty, bitter, sweet, and so on. “It helps to keep some liquid in your mouth,” Valdez says. “Breathe with your mouth open with the liquid in your mouth.” Finally, of course, swallow it for the back-end notes that will emerge.

The best way to learn about any type of spirit is to do side-by-side tastings of different styles. With tequila, start with a blanco, then progress toward a reposado and on to anejos, moving from youngest to oldest.

“When I come across someone who says ‘I don’t like tequila,’ I think, you haven’t taken the time,” says Jose Cuervo brand ambassador Rene Valdez. “Do a tequila flight, and you’re able to experience and do the tasting through different expressions and find something you’d enjoy, and be able to appreciate the complexities that each expression will bring.”

It’s easier to pick out tasting notes with wine because the common fruit profiles are things that people are familiar with. It’s harder with tequila, Valdez says, because not many people are accustomed to the taste of cooked agave. Since tequilas vary so much in flavor and aroma, there are no hard-and-fast tasting rules, but there are a few common traits you’ll find. Blancos tend toward the peppery side, with citrus, agave and herbs being the focal point. Reposados take on the presence of the wood, and you’ll start to detect oak and vanilla, perhaps olive. With anejos and extra anejos, the wood is more assertive, and common traits tend to be cinnamon, caramel, chocolate, and coffee. You might even detect banana, avocado or dry nuts.