Understanding Tequila: your guide to authentic flavor
Get it right at the next tequila party, and you’ll thank us on the day after
Real tequila is made from 100% blue agave plant through fermentation and distillation
Silver tequila is less than two months old, while “añejo” ages for a couple of years in oak barrels
For the best drinking experience, you’ll want to try sipping tequila neat from a long shot glass
Tequila is widely popular across the world, and yet, there are tons of misconceptions and little known facts about it. Often blamed for bad decisions and terrible hangovers, tequila is a traditional Mexican drink with rich flavor and elaborate production methods. Most importantly, it can offer a truly enjoyable experience when consumed responsibly, and as locals do.
The long way from the plant to the bottle
The unique essence of tequila is the plant it’s made from — blue agave, a type of succulent native to Mexico. Highly dependent on manual labor, the cultivation of the plant is the longest and the most demanding part of tequila’s production process.
It may take up to a decade until the blue agave is ready for harvest, and then, its heart (which looks a lot like a huge pineapple) is cooked to extract its juice and turn its complex carbohydrates into fermentable sugars. After the juice has fermented into low-percentage alcohol, it has to be distilled at least twice to get the type of tequila we know as silver or white.
Real tequila has to earn its name
To protect its unique national drink, the Mexican government has imposed strict regulations on tequila production. If a bottle has the word “tequila” on its label, then it must come from Mexico, as no foreign-produced item is allowed to use this name. In fact, only selected states and municipalities in the country have the denomination of origin to produce tequila.
However, finding the name on the label is not enough to make sure you are having authentic, high-quality tequila. Some of the brands on the market sell tequila “mixto,” which doesn’t contain just agave but also other sugars, such as cane sugar. This is the kind of stuff that will give you a headache in the morning and will have you swear you’re never having tequila again. On the other hand, there’s 100% agave tequila, which is usually more expensive, but it’s definitely worth it.
Four types of tequila
To further distinguish between types of tequila, based on age and distillation, here are the main four of them: silver, gold, “reposado” and “añejo.” Silver is white tequila with raw agave taste, which is unaged or aged for less than 60 days. Gold tequila is usually mixed with additives such as caramel, which is where the brownish hue comes from.
Both “reposado” and “añejo” are aged types of tequila, with “reposado” (which translates to rested) having a shorter aging period: from two to 12 months. “Añejo,” or old tequila, would usually stay in oak barrels from one to three years, which will add smooth oak flavor.
The main four tequilas are silver, gold, “reposado” and “añejo”.
Do it Mexican style
We’re so used to seeing people downing tequila shots with salt and lime that it’s easy to believe this is the traditional way. However, it’s very far from how Mexicans prefer to have it and will only make you think tequila is your worst friend. In fact, salt and lime get in the way of pure tequila flavor, so you can’t really appreciate it this way.
In Mexico, tequila is served neat at room temperature in a long shot glass called “caballito,” which means little horse in Spanish. And instead of drinking it in quick shots, locals are sipping it like you would do with bourbon and enjoying it to the fullest. So, next time you decide to have tequila, try it the Mexican way, and not only will you discover a new world of taste, but your body will thank you the next morning.
A deeper dive — Related reading on the 101:
We really don’t want you to feel like crap after tequila night.
Here’s one more reason to get another drink without thinking twice.