From tequila sunrises and palomas to tequila sours and classic margaritas, we’ve never met a tequila cocktail we didn’t want to slurp down. But if you’re getting ready to mix up some magic with this Mexican spirit at home, it would behoove you to know the basic types of tequila on offer. Read on for a full rundown so you can pick the right booze for your minibar.
5 Types of Tequila to Know and Love
Tequila vs. Mezcal: What’s the Difference?
You have probably heard of mezcal—a popular spirit that can seemingly be used interchangeably in tequila-based cocktails. So what’s the deal, is mezcal actually just a kind of tequila? Not exactly. Mezcal is basically an umbrella term used to refer to a distilled spirit that’s made from any type of agave plant (there are more than 40 different species), whereas tequila comes exclusively from the blue agave plant—making it a small subset of the broad mezcal category. In other words, all tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila. This is an important distinction because the blue agave plant gives tequila a distinctive, agave-forward flavor and smooth, rich taste, while the flavor profile of other types of mezcal can really run the gamut, depending on the plant from whence they came.
5 Types of Tequila
Now that you understand the mezcal-tequila relationship, let’s break things down a little further. There are several classifications within the category of tequila, all of which are given based on the aging and distillation process of the spirit.
1. Blanco Tequila
Blanco is the baby of the tequila family…literally. Blanco tequila can be aged for up to 60 days, but more often than not, this type of tequila is sent straight from the distillery to the bottle without any aging process whatsoever. For this reason, blanco tequila is clear in color (hence the name) and has a very authentic (i.e., unrefined) agave flavor that some might find to be unpleasantly harsh. While blanco tequila might not be a first pick for sipping straight-up, it is the most economical and sensible choice for cocktails, where the more nuanced flavor of other tequilas would be lost anyway.
2. Reposado Tequila
Reposado tequila is the most commonly consumed kind in its homeland of Mexico, and its name, which translates to “rested,” should give you a clue as to what it’s all about. Indeed, reposado tequila (blanco’s older brother) has rested, or aged, for anywhere between two and 12 months before being bottled and sold. The flavor profile of reposado tequila is bold and agave-driven, much like that of blanco tequila, but the taste is slightly warmer and more refined, with a noticeably smoother finish. If you prefer your cocktails to have a little less bite and a bit more finesse, reposado would be a good fit.
3. Joven or “Gold” Tequila
This less common type of tequila is really just a blended variety made from mostly young (blanco) tequila with varying amounts of aged tequila mixed in. Ideally, joven or “gold” tequila is a palate-pleasing compromise between the inexpensive blanco stuff and the aged bottles on the top shelf. However, the experts at liquor.com say you should proceed with caution—namely because the word “gold,” fancy though it sounds, is sometimes just code for “inferior” (i.e., a mezcal that is made from less than 100 percent blue agave and dressed up with additives like glycerin and coloring agents).
4. Añejo Tequila
Now onto the authentically good stuff: añejo means “aged” in Spanish—and that’s precisely what this type of tequila is. In order to receive an añejo classification, tequila must languish in an oak barrel for one to three years. What’s more, the aging process for añejo tequila requires that no more than 600 liters of the spirit be sent to any one barrel, thus ensuring maximum contact with the wood throughout the aging period. The end result is a more complex spirit, featuring a smooth and nuanced agave flavor with the toasty vanilla notes of oak.
5. Extra Añejo Tequila
As the name suggests, extra añejo refers to tequila that has been extra aged. This particular classification has only been around since 2006, and the regulations stipulate that in order to earn it a tequila must have been aged for a minimum of three years, in accordance with the aforementioned 600-liter-per-barrel cap. Although it takes three years for a tequila to qualify for extra añejo status, it’s not uncommon for extra añejo tequilas to have ten years of aging time under their belt. In this varietal, the agave taste typically plays second fiddle to the more pronounced and oh-so complex oak-driven flavor of extra añejo tequila. Yep, all that time in the barrel really does leave its mark.