Tequila is a tiger with many different stripes. For the tongue that is truly paying attention, no two tequilas taste alike... Well, almost no two taste alike. In order to understand the differences and similarities among tequilas, we should look at what the stuff really is. For tequila to be legally considered tequila, at least 51% of its contents by volume must be made from fermented and distilled parts of the agave plant. The remainder can be any other liquor made from any other sugar source. This is the reason why good tequila is great and bad tequila is a liquid headache. Picking your tequila depends greatly on whether you're shooting it, sipping it or mixing it.
- Look for 100% Pure: If you want a good tequila, look for "100% blue agave," “100% de agave” or “100% puro de agave.” This means that the spirit was produced using only the sugars from the blue agave plant and no other fermented sugar spirits were used to "cut" it. These "lesser" tequilas are called mixto for obvious reasons, and can be found in a certain bottle of "Gold" made by some guy named Jose.
- Pick a Variety: Depending on color and the amount of time it has been aged, tequila falls into one of four different categories.
- Blanco (Silver)- Not as smooth as its older cousins, blanco should be completely clear and shiny in the glass. It should never be anything but transparent because it has not been aged. It should be fragrant and somewhat fruity, with blossomy notes in the finish. The bouquet of a tequila is the ambrosia of the agave plant and is used mostly for margaritas and other mixed drinks.
- Reposado (Rested)- As the name implies, reposado is blanco that has spent time in the barrel. Usually, this variety of tequila spends anywhere from two months to a full year aging in wooden casks, much like scotch or bourbon. The result of this aging is a distinct oaky note that softens the sometimes pubescent nature of the blanco, as well as darkening the spirit slightly. Reposado is usually shot or sipped, but also stands up well to mixers if the cocktail is elegant in nature.
- Añejo (Aged)- This variety of tequila is simply a reposado that has spent more time in the barrel. In order for it to be considered an añejo, it must spend at least one year and up to 4 years confined to the keg. Darker in color than the reposado and much oakier, the añejo has a much more distinctive bouquet. The crisp flavor of the agave may be hidden beneath the age and aroma of up to 4 years in the barrel, so this is definitely a sipping tequila.
- Reserva- Though not technically a true "variety" of tequila, the reserva is a very old tequila that spends up to eight years in the barrel. Originally utilized as a term for the superior wines of Spain and Portugal, reserva has been applied to tequilas of exceptional age and quality. At this stage of development, the tequila enters the realm of fine cognac or an Islay scotch in both taste and price.
- Pick a Use: How will you dispatch your tequila? Looking for something to impress that vixen drinking a scotch on the rocks? Order an añejo in a snifter. If your purse and palette allow, by all means get a reserva. If you're looking for something to put in the blender with some ice and a mix, go with a blanco. Got a salt shaker, a lime and a keg party? Go for the mixto.
So now you're armed with some basic facts about tequila, its grades and a few of their medicinal applications. It can be an elegant spirit that is capable of more than just complementing sour mix or a dirty shot glass. Tequila can be dignified and regal, satisfying and refreshing. You have the power to shatter its stereotype and elevate it to a level more attuned to its nature. The power is yours, so use it wisely.