Mexican gastronomy is among the most beloved culinary cultures in the world. As much as we love a plate of tacos, chips and guacamole, or spicy enchiladas, no Mexican meal is complete without a tequila pairing. Named for a small town in the Mexican state of Jalisco, tequila is an agave spirit distilled from the cooked and fermented blue agave plant.
Below, this article will discuss six types of tequila, their ingredients, and distillation methods to whet your appetite for this delicious and festive spirit. Learn about the six types of tequila, their production method, aging process, aroma, and tasting notes.
Meaning “aged” in Spanish, Añejo tequila must age for a minimum of one year and a maximum of three years. Tequila ages in oak barrels, and as with any aged spirit, the flavors imparted from the barrels and the blue agave plants will enhance while the harsher alcoholic taste of young or unaged tequila dissipates.Thus, Añejo tequila is characteristically smooth with a rich flavor profile.
Añejo tequila has a yellow or golden coloring with a silky, full-bodied texture. There’s almost no burning finish that you might associate with younger tequila. The complex flavor palate of Añejo tequila includes earthy wood from the barrels and caramel, vanilla, butterscotch, and floral flavors that end in a smooth finish. Añejo is the perfect sipping spirit in my opinion.
At the other end of the spectrum lies Blanco tequila, an unaged version of tequila in its purest form. The color of Blanco is a transparent, crystal clear liquid, coming directly from the distilling stills to the bottle. You’ll also see this type of tequila marketed as Silver tequila or Plata tequila.
Blanco tequila offers the most agave-forward flavor palate, and it also has the most alcohol-forward flavor palate, with a well-known fiery finish. Tequila blanco is an excellent option for shots or for mixing into cocktails. I especially love to taste the strong agave flavor of Blanco tequila in a margarita on the rocks. The sweetness from the orange liqueur and simple syrup showcases agave’s rich flavor.
Meaning “rested,” reposado tequila is the middle ground tequila between Blanco and Añejo. It is aged between two months and one year, resting in oak barrels. Reposado tequila delivers characteristics of both Añejo and Blanco. You still get the agave-forward flavors of the Blanco, but the short aging process mellows the alcoholic bite, so you can taste the agave without the burn.
The agave flavor is usually the first thing I taste with a reposado, but the mid-palate offers a rich bouquet of flavors. The palate offers a trifecta of floral, spicy, and fruity, with a hint of vanilla and flowers on the ultra-smooth finish. Reposado tequila is nice for sipping, albeit a bit strong. I recommend using reposado in sophisticated, less sweet cocktails like a Mexican Martini, Tequila Old Fashioned, or even a top-shelf margarita on the rocks.
Extra Añejo Tequila
The ultimate vintage tequila, extra Añejo is an extra aged tequila that has been aging for a minimum of 3 years in oak barrels. The longer the tequila sits in the French oak barrels or American Oak barrels, the darker the color, the richer the flavor, and the smoother the finish.
Extra Añejo tequila is thus a deep amber or dark gold hue and a highly complex flavor profile. The wood barrels impart an earthy and spicy flavor that hits the nose of each sip, followed by tobacco and chocolate notes on the palate. The finishes for Añejo tequilas are especially long and refined. Extra Añejo is certainly the most elegant, expensive, and delicious of all the tequilas and the ultimate sipping spirit to drink neat.
“Joven” means young in Spanish, and Joven tequila is a mixture of unaged and aged tequilas. I can only surmise that the name arose from the idea that blending unaged and aged equals “young.” Whatever the reason, Joven tequila is the only blend you’ll find on the shelves and offers the best of both worlds. You get a harsh and complex flavor profile with Joven tequila.
You’ll also see it called Oro or Gold tequila. One significant detail that might be offputting to the purists among us is that Joven tequila tends to have added ingredients like caramel or another coloring to reach its golden hue.
According to the governing body on tequila and mezcal regulations, tequila only has to be 51% blue agave, which leaves nearly 50% of tequila ingredients up to producers. They can include other agave plants, flavoring, and coloring agents. Joven tequilas tend to be inexpensive and are some of the most common types of tequila on the market. It is the most widely used in restaurants and bars for mixing cocktails like margaritas, Palomas, and other fruity, tropical tequila drinks.
Meaning “crystalline” in Spanish, Cristalino tequila is an aged tequila that has undergone a filtration process to remove the golden hues imparted during oak barrel aging. A crystal clear aged tequila offers a more elegant pour and has become a popular type of tequila in recent years.
Cristalino tequila undergoes an interesting decoloration process involving adding activated carbon dust to barrel-aged tequila, followed by a second filtration process. Unfortunately, in the process of removing the coloring, a lot of the rich and complex flavors imparted by aging get lost, too. Cristalino tequila does have a lighter and silkier mouthfeel than regular aged tequilas.
Differences Between Highland and Lowland Tequila
The regions in which the blue agave plants grow (the same ones that can be used to produce mezcal) to produce the different types of tequila have two main geographical distinctions, which we’ll discuss in the following sections.
Highland tequila, as its name implies, is from the highland region of Jalisco, known locally as Los Altos. Blue agave grown in altitudes greater than 7500 feet above sea level yields highland tequila. The soil in the highlands of Jalisco is rich in clay, offering characteristically red dirt, earning the name Tierra Roja, or red earth. Clay is a mineral-rich component that distinguishes highland tequila’s unique flavor.
Higher altitudes, clay-infused soils, and an environment closer to the sun’s rays are all factors that affect the taste of highland tequila. Highland tequila is known to be fruity and sweet and considered superior to its lowland counterpart.
Lowland tequila comes from agave plants grown in the valleys of Jalisco surrounding the town of Tequila itself. While lowland tequila may not come from as high up as 7500 feet, it still grows at a much higher altitude than sea level, averaging between 3500 and 5200 feet above sea level.
Another notable characteristic of the ecology of lowland agave plants is the soil. Lowland tequila grows in the valleys surrounding a volcano called the Volcan de Tequila.The volcano’s mineral-rich ashes infuse minerals into the soil to create black soil the locals call “Tierra Negra.” The mineral-rich Tierra Negra gives lowland tequila a much earthier and herbal flavor.
I recommend tasting a tequila Blanco or silver from the lowlands to get the best herbaceous flavor profile.
Iconic Tequila Cocktail Recipes
Because tequila varies widely in terms of flavor profile, it pairs with an equally diverse list of mixers to create a massive list of tequila cocktails. The following list includes many favorite tequila cocktail recipes, from the tried-and-true classics to the novel, creative cocktails.
The most famous tequila cocktail of them all, a margarita, at its most basic, is a blend of orange liqueur, tequila, lime juice, and simple syrup.You can use all types of tequila in margaritas, but the type you choose will change the flavor of the cocktail. I like using a blanco!
A great option if you’re into a complex flavor profile of tart, sweet, and bitter, the Paloma is a mixture of grapefruit, lime, tequila, and soda water. Again, I like to use a silver tequila in citrusy cocktails like the Paloma.
This layered cocktail is as tasty as it is beautiful, with a ratio of 6 parts orange juice, 3 parts tequila, and one part grenadine. Opt for a sweet and light silver tequila in this drink.
Substituting tequila for vodka in this most beloved of brunch drinks will spice things up and pair perfectly with a plate of chilaquiles or a breakfast burrito. The strong and spicy flavors allow for all types of tequila in this drink. The most common choice is blanco, but I like it with a reposado as well. We’d steer clear of the ultra aged anejos for this cocktail.
This simple yet flavorful tequila sour combines lemon, lime, and simple syrup with a Blanco tequila. The result is a tart, sweet cocktail with an alcoholic finish and a frothy head thanks to the egg white stirred in!
Texas Ranch Water
If you’re looking to quench your thirst and get tipsy all at once, this simple three-ingredient cocktail of tequila, lime juice, and soda water will do the trick. Ranch water is a refreshing cocktail; use a premium tequila that you really enjoy, since the simple ingredients won’t mask the taste.
Frequently Asked Questions
Now that we have a better idea of the different types of tequila and their characteristics let’s look at some frequently asked questions to answer any remaining queries you may have.
Which tequila is the best for shots?
The best tequila for shots is the smoothest-tasting tequila that would also be a good option for sipping. You want to maximize smoothness to minimize the burn that will undoubtedly rise through your throat after a tequila shot.
Personally, I look for the smoothest silver and Blanco tequilas with the most robust flavors that lend well to shot-taking or clean sipping.
When was tequila first made?
Tequila production originated in the mid-1700s as the process of distillation was introduced by colonizers to the indigenous groups who, in turn, used it to produce mezcal.
Tequila is essentially a type of mezcal using blue agave instead of the nearly 50 varieties of agave used in mezcal production.
The first officially sealed tequila comes from the Cuervo family, who were formally granted permission from the king and queen of Spain to mass produce and sell modern-day tequila.
Can tequila only be produced in Mexico?
Not only is tequila solely produced in Mexico, but only specific regions in Mexico can produce the blue age plant. The states that produce tequila where the blue agave plant is native include Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas.