6 Tips for Choosing the Right Tequila

Tequila is the life of the party and with good reason. This beloved spirit is enjoyed in multiple ways, whether sipped neat or as the base for popular cocktails like Margaritas. Despite its wide popularity, choosing the right tequila for a specific occasion can be tricky due to the wide range of options and styles available in the market. From smooth and mellow to robust and full-flavored, we’ll guide you through the vast world of tequila and help you find your new favorite brand.

What Is Tequila?

Tequila is a distilled spirit produced from the agave plant native to certain regions of Mexico, specifically the area surrounding the city of Tequila. This popular spirit often has 38% alcohol content but can be made at 31% and 55% alcohol content. And it can be served neat or used as an ingredient in several cocktails, such as Paloma, Tequila Sunrise, and Margarita.

Here are 6 tips to help you choose the right tequila that meets your taste preferences:

1. The Agave Factor

The difference between a great-tasting tequila and mezcal boils down to the type of agave plant used to make the drink. Tequila is crafted from the blue agave plant, also known as agave tequilana. Agave plants are succulents with large leaves that end in tapered tips. Within the core of the agave plant is a bulb known as the pina. Once the bulb is extracted, it is baked and juiced. The juice is then fermented with yeasts in barrels to make tequila. There are more than 300 agave species. However, tequilas can only be made from blue agave or agave tequilana primarily cultivated in the state of Jalisco. Other agave species can be used to make other types of drinks, such as mezcal, bacanora, sotol, and pulque.

  • Pro tip: Choose tequila made of 100% blue agave or agave tequilana. These agaves produce the highest quality beverage than those made with less agave. Tequila made from blue agaves is typically smoother and has a more complex flavor than cheaper tequilas.

2. The Aging Process

Traditionally, tequilas are aged in oak barrels, giving them unique color and complexity. Although other types of barrels can be used to age the tequila, oak barrels give it a wisp of oak which blends with the agave to deliver a smooth drink. Some more exclusive tequila brands are aged in old used bourbon or whiskey barrels, introducing additional flavors to the drink.

Tequilas can be aged differently to produce diverse brands. For example, while Reposado is aged between 2 to 12 months in oak barrels, Anejo and Blanco are aged between 1-3 years and 60 days, respectively. Barrel aging allows the tequila to “breathe” and soften with time. How long the tequila was aged affects its color, aroma, taste, and flavor.

Choosing the Right Label

When choosing tequila, read the label carefully for specific terms indicating the aging process’s duration. For example:

  • Anejo:  Means the tequila was rested for a period spanning one to three years. This type of spirit has a smoky and complex taste that can be appreciated better when sipped slowly.
  • Extra Anejo: This tequila was aged in barrels for at least three years. It boasts a very deep brown hue and a richer flavor.
  • Respado: This tequila was aged for less time, between a few months to one year. It features a slightly oaky taste with a unique brightness that makes it well-suited for cocktails.
  • Blanco: Blanco, silver, or Plata are “unaged” tequilas that are rested for up to 60 days. It is colorless transparent tequila with small amounts of flavoring additives. Blanco tequila has a spicy, peppery taste and light aftertaste, making it great for drinking straight.
  • Joven: Joven means young. They are either blended with a little bit of aged tequila or aged for just a few weeks before bottling caramel additives can be added to give it a golden hue and unique flavor. It has spicy, pear, nutty, fruity, and roasted flavors, making it ideal for mixing with other drinks or sipping on served on the rocks, over ice, or neat in a glass.
  • Cristalino: Cristalino is aged for 18 months in American white oak barrels. It is then charcoal filtered to remove its color. It is a premium spirit best enjoyed neat or on the rocks. This tequila has a sweet and smooth palate with a more pronounced tropical fruit flavor. It has a sweeter and fruitier finish than the Blanco.

3. The Region

To be called tequila, a spirit must come from five authorized regions in Mexico. Most tequilas hail from the Mexican state of Jalisco, also home to the town of Tequila. Other Mexican states that produce tequila are Tamaulipas, Michoacan, Nayarit, and Guanajuato. Any agave-based distilled spirit outside these regions is mezcal. To begin producing tequila, the jimador or farmers of agave in these regions plant the blue agave, which takes between 8 to 12 years to mature for use in tequila production. Agave typically acquires different profiles and flavors based on the topography, soil, and climate of the region where they grow. Unless it is made from one of the only five specific regions in Jalisco, tequila taste, flavor or quality will vary accordingly.

Regions Matter

Notably, the tequila produced in Jalisco can be further categorized into highland and lowland tequilas. Each region plays a large role in the distinct taste that each agave can produce. So what’s the difference between tequilas produced in highland and lowland regions? Let’s take a look:

  • Highland tequilas: Highland tequilas are produced from agave plants grown in the Jalisco Highlands, popularly known as the Los Altos. The region sits approximately 7500 feet above sea level and has red clay soil natively called Tierra Roja, which is rich in iron. Highland tequilas generally have fruitier flavors attributed to the sweetness of the agave grown in this region.
  • Lowland tequilas: Lowland tequilas are grown in El Valle, or Tequila Valley, just beneath the Los Altos. The valley sits between 3,500 and 5,200 feet above sea level. It contains a natural element in the soil called Tierra Negra, which gives agave an herbal flavor and an earthy tone.

Highlands vs. lowland tequila: which should I choose?

Lowland tequilas typically have an herbal, vegetal taste ranging from citrusy and floral to peppery. On the other hand, highland tequilas are a softer, rounder, and a more fruity taste with a touch of sweetness. For this reason, the highland tequilas earn higher favorability than the lowland tequilas.

4. The Brand

Like all other drinks, tequilas are not created equal. Some are perfect for sipping, while others are perfect for margaritas. With an abundance of labels on the shelves, you will always have options when it comes to tequila brands.

The following are some of the popular tequila brands today:

  • Don Julio: Don Julio is one of the world’s first premium luxury tequila. It is available in Blanco, Reposado, Añejo, 70 Añejo Claro, 1942, and Real, Don Julio’s labels. Don Julio is generally round and sweet with a slight burn, typical of highland tequila. It has peppery stone fruit and menthol finish making it ideal for shooting.
  • Ocho: Ocho is the first brand to introduce the concept of terroir to tequila. This brand is available in Plata, Reposado, Añejo, Extra Añejo, Añejo Single Barrel, and Extra Añejo Single Barrel labels. It delivers a smooth and velvety feel with a pleasantly warm finish featuring a touch of anise and a subtle earthy note.
  • Jimador reposado: Jimador is one of the best-selling tequila due to its affordability. It offers a roasted agave scent with oak wood, vanilla, and ethanol taste. It has a warm finish with a drizzle of cinnamon, black pepper, and sweet oak.
  • Espolon: Espolon is a multi-award-winning brand situated in the Los Altos region. Espolòn is available in Blanco, Reposado, Añejo, and Añejo X labels. It has a lightly floral aroma with distant notes of pineapple, guava, lemon zest, and white pepper. Its finish is clean and fresh with a hint of heat.

In general, brand affects the taste of tequila owing to the diverse factors that go into each brand’s production. To choose a brand with the right taste, consider factors such as the type of agave, the aging process, additives, and even the region where the agave grew.

5. The Mix

There are several flavor pairings for margaritas and tequila cocktails. The type of mixers you use will affect its taste and flavor owing to the diversity in ingredients.

The following are some of the popular tequila mixers:

  • Orange juice: Orange juice is a classical tequila pairing ideal for several cocktails, such as sunrises and margaritas. Orange juice has a sweet, intense flavor that stands up well to the harsh taste of white tequila.
  • Pineapple juice: Tequila flavor pairs well with tropical fruits such as pineapple. The acidic sweetness of pineapple juice complements the biting taste of spicy tequilas. Pineapple juice is ideal for making jalapeno margaritas.
  • Bloody Mary mix: Bloody Mary is a mixture of lemon juice, tomato juice, Tobasco, Worcestershire sauce, and seasonings. The mixture has a spicy, smokey depth of flavor that adds complexity to the drink.
  • Other types of tequila mixers include club soda, coke, grapefruit soda, and agave syrup.

Generally, the flavors of your tequila drink play a critical role when choosing the right mixers. Choose a mixer that enhances and builds your tequila flavors. The right mixture should also balance out your drink so it hits all the right notes in the right order on your palate.

  • Pro tip: Consider experimenting with different mixers to create unique and delicious Tequila cocktails.

6. The Occasion

Tequila’s versatility makes it the ultimate party starter for different occasions, from birthday parties to anniversaries, receptions, banquets, rush parties, weddings, and dinners. During such occasions, different tequilas can infuse various cocktails and mixed drinks, including the Margarita, the Paloma, and the Tequila Sunrise. Some of the best tequilas for specific occasions include:

  • Parties: Roca Patrón Reposado, Casamigos Blanco, Código 1530 Rosa Tequila., Chamucos Blanco Tequila, Cenote Blanco Tequila, El Tesoro Añejo Tequila.
  • Weddings: Altos Plata, Espolon Blanco, 1800 Silver.
  • Birthday gift: Espolòn Tequila, LALO Tequila Blanco, ears of Llorona Extra Añejo.
  • Dinner/food pairing: Cabeza, Hornitos, Código 1530, and Rosa tequila.

Explore Distilleries Near You With Distillery Nearby

So, raise your glass and cheers to the delicious and versatile spirit of tequila! With the help of this guide and Distillery Nearby, you’ll be sipping like a pro in no time. Whether you’re looking for the perfect tequila for a dinner party, anniversary, or celebration, there’s a great tequila to match. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us for all your tequila needs, from finding the perfect bottle to planning your next distillery vacation. Let’s make every occasion a tequila occasion!

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