MainStreet Explains: Tequila 101


Believe it or not, downing shots with a lick of salt and a squirt of lime is not the only way to drink tequila. Though most Americans associate tequila with youthful debauchery (or that one crazy night in Tijuana), tequila is most commonly drunk as a sipping liquor in Mexico and other parts of the world.

Tequila is a made from blue agave, a plant that grows natively in the state of Jalisco in Mexico. It takes eight to 10 years for a blue agave to mature enough to be harvested. Tequila is made from the heart of the plant, which usually weighs between 70 and 200 lbs.

There are several types of tequila, each one created through a slightly different process. Tequila can either be 100% pure blue agave or a mixto. Mixtos have to contain at least 51% blue agave sugar, but the remainder comes from other cheap sugars. Ever get a monster headache after drinking tequila? Point the finger at those cheap sugars. As you might have guessed, mixtos are usually cheaper tequila.

The Four Types of Tequila

1. Blanco (silver or white): This tequila is bottled immediately and is un-aged. It is clear and transparent and usually has a crisp, dry taste. The other types of tequila are made from blanco. This is generally the best type of tequila for mixed drinks like margaritas.

2. Reposado (rested): Blanco tequila aged in barrels for two to 11 months. Aging produces more complex favors, a smoother taste and a pale color. These are the most popular tequilas in Mexico.

3. Anejo (aged): Blanco tequila aged in barrels for more than a year. The longer aging process gives it a more golden amber color and gives it an even smoother and more complex flavor. Don’t waste anejo on a mixed drink, which would mask the taste. 

4. Oro (gold): Caramel or cane sugar is added to blanco to make oro. This gives it a golden color (making it look aged) and a slightly less intense flavor. Oro is the most popular tequila in the United States and commonly used in mixed drinks.  It’s also more likely to give you a serious headache the following morning.

Some very high-end tequila is considered “extra anejo” because it is aged longer than three years. These can cost up to a couple hundred dollars. If you have only ever had oro tequila—like Cuervo Gold (Stock Quote: DEO)—you should treat yourself to a really good 100% blue agave tequila at least once. Ask for a snifter of Asombroso, Don Julio or Patron and taste tequila as it was meant to be drunk. No salt, no lime, no hangover!

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