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Tequila is a distilled liquor made from the Weber blue agave plant. It’s produced in the western Mexican state of Jalisco, as well as some parts of Guanajuato, Nayarit, Tamaulipas, and Michoacán. The agave plant — or agave tequilana — has tall, spiked leaves on the top, similar to the top of a pineapple. The “heart” of the agave plant also resembles the outside of a pineapple — this is why it is sometimes referred to as the “piña,” the Spanish word for pineapple.
Tequila is made by harvesting the blue agave plant. The piña of the blue agave plant is heated and baked in a special oven referred to as an horno. The piña is then pressed and shredded in order to extract its liquid sugars known as the mosto. To retrieve the sugars for fermentation, the piña is shredded with either a traditional stone wheel called a tahona, or a special machine. The sugars are then fermented with yeast and water to be turned into tequila. This clear tequila is distilled and either bottled immediately, such as with tequila blanco, or aged (rested) in steel or oak barrels to develop different flavors and colors, as is the case with reposado tequila.
When browsing through different types of tequila the first indicator of quality to look for is a label that reads “100% de agave. Artisanal tequilas, which are made from 100% blue agave, should have some version of this label.
Tequila Blanco is also sometimes referred to as silver tequila. This variety of tequila is considered the purest form of tequila, as it is typically bottled directly after distillation. Because tequila blanco is not aged or “rested” in oak barrels like the other varieties of tequila on this list, it maintains a clear shade. Tequila blanco can have a slight citrusy flavor. This is the variety of tequila used in most familiar cocktails, including margaritas and Paloma's. A few quality brands to look for are Espolòn, Patrón, and El Jimador.
Tequila reposado refers to a slightly aged tequila — reposado translates to “rested” in Spanish. Just like tequila blanco, tequila reposado is made from the blue agave plant, which is fermented and then distilled. After distillation, tequila reposado is aged between two months and one year in oak barrels. It should have a light amber hue. Tequila reposado typically has flavors of oak, vanilla, and citrus. Huerta says that tequila reposado can sometimes be used in place of tequila blanco in cocktails — especially classic ones that are fruit-forward, such as margaritas. Some popular brands that sell tequila reposado include Casamigos, Don Julio, Fortaleza, and Herradura.
Tequila añejo is a tequila that has been aged one to four years — añejo translates to “vintage” or “old” in Spanish. This variety of tequila is aged in American or French oak barrels, has a dark amber color, and has notes of oak, vanilla, and caramel. Tequila añejo is usually considered the smoothest of all types of tequila and is best enjoyed by itself rather than in cocktails or over ice. However, some proponents say tequila añejo’s subtle oak and vanilla undertones make it a great swap for dark liquors. For example, you can swap it for the bourbon in an old fashioned or the cognac in a vieux carré. While the lengthy aging time means that tequila añejo can be expensive, the brands Don Julio, Hornitos, and Cazadores all sell relatively affordable versions.