Tequila is a fine spirit to be enjoyed neat, or as the base for margaritas and other cocktails. These tips for choosing the best tequila should help you sort the sippers from the mixers and find the best brand style for your drinks.
Understand How Tequila is Made
The U.S has laws regulating what spirits can be called bourbon—down to the percentage of corn used in the mash to the charred oak barrels for aging and the ABV in the bottle. Similarly, Mexican laws state that tequila can only be made from blue agave, and can only be made in the Mexican state of Jalisco and limited cities in Guanajuato, Nayarit, Tamaulipas, and Michoacán.
Blue agave takes around ten years to grow before it can be harvested. The spiny leaves are cut off and the “heart” is slowly baked, then crushed to extract juice for fermentation. The traditional way of crushing the hearts uses a big stone wheel called a tahona. These used to be pulled by mules, but now they’re motor powered. The juice is fermented and twice distilled, then bottled directly or sent to age in barrels.
Mixto vs. 100% Agave Tequila
The first tip for choosing the best tequila is to look for the indication on the bottle that the tequila was made with 100% blue agave. They provide better flavor and less burn. If you don’t find the “100%” on the label, you’re looking at a “mixto.”
Mixtos must have 51% agave, but the other 49% may include fermented sugar cane, or even added coloring or flavoring. Mixtos can be okay for making fruity or frozen pitcher cocktails, but definitely not for sipping. Avoid bottles with worms or scorpions—these are marketing tactics used in cheap mixtos.
Age and Color
Tequilas fall into several categories based on whether they were aged and for how long. Blanco (white), plato (silver) or oro (gold) tequila is bottled right after distillation, or rested for around 60 days in barrels. Flavors tend to be fruity, floral, and herbal.
Reposado means “rested” and these tequilas age for up to a year. They take on a more golden color and replace fruity and herbal tones with woody, vanilla, and brown sugar notes.
Añejo means “old” or “aged,” and these tequilas age for up to three years, taking on earthier, smokier notes. Extra añejos age for more than three years, are darker still, with more of a burnt caramel flavor that should be sipped and enjoyed.
Highlands, Lowlands, Estates, and Families
Jalisco’s tequila making areas are divided into highlands and lowlands. Blue agave from the highlands is generally sweeter and fruitier, whereas the lowland varieties lean more toward spice and herbs. Different estates produce tequilas with different flavor profiles.
Check out our rare tequila for sale. Contact us with any questions you have about what tequila to choose for sipping or cocktails. The best tequila is a fine spirit with complex flavors to be sipped and enjoyed.