In this tequila 101 guide, we’ll take a deep dive into the history of the spirit, how it’s made, the different types of tequila, and my top recommendations for brands to keep in your home bar. By the time you’ve reached the end of this guide, you’ll be well-equipped with all the information you need to stock up your bar like a pro.
As one of the most popularly consumed liquors in the world, tequila is an absolute must when it comes to stocking up your home bar. From shots chased with salt and lime to delicious cocktails like margaritas and palomas, tequila is everywhere.
What is tequila
Tequila is a distilled spirit and a type of mezcal. The liquor is made from agave plants and produced only in specific parts of Mexico. Depending on where the agave is grown, the taste of tequila can vary by the bottle.
Similar to the way whiskey can be broken down into more specific categories like bourbon and scotch, tequila can be broken down as well. There are three main types of tequila—añejo, blanco, and reposado.
History of tequila
It should come as no surprise that tequila’s rich history starts in Mexico, where it is also the national drink. The very first version of tequila was invented by the Aztecs, after they discovered that blue agave plants could be fermented to produce drinks from them.
Of course, back then the fermentation methods weren’t quite the same and the final product was more of a milky beverage.
Years later in the 16th century, Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the Mexican town of Tequila to establish a colony. The townsfolk knew how to use the blue agave plants to produce an alcoholic drink, so the Spanish taught them a distillation technique that allowed them to produce a clear spirit, rather than the milky one the Aztecs had come up with.
After the first batch of beverages was produced, they decided to name it after the town. Thus, tequila was born.
It took centuries for tequila to gain traction outside of Mexico, but once it began to rise in popularity, the Mexican government passed a law that tequila could only be produced in Mexico.
Today, tequila is one of the most popular liquors on the market and is imported to countries all over the world.
How tequila is made
Tequila is made by distilling the fermented juices of the blue agave plant, also known as Agave tequilana. The blue agave plant is a member of the lily family and looks similar to the aloe vera plant. It is grown for seven to ten years before being harvested to make tequila.
The plant produces a large bulb underground called a piña that looks almost like a pineapple. After being harvested, the piña is cut into quarters and then slowly baked until the starches are converted to sugars. The baked piña quarters are then crushed to extract the sweet juice within, which then gets fermented with yeast to convert the sugars into alcohol.
The best tequilas on the market are clearly labeled as “100% Weber blue agave,” however many are not labeled as such because they are classified as “mixto.” Mixto tequilas are mixed with different agave varieties or other ingredients, thus reducing the percentage of pure blue agave.
Mexican law states that in order for a bottle to be considered tequila, it must contain at least 51% Weber blue agave. Tequila is typically distilled until it reaches approximately 110 proof and is then cut with water to reduce it to between 76 and 80 proof. By law, tequila cannot go over 100 proof.
Types of tequila
Because each type of tequila offers its own distinct flavor profile and color to shots and cocktails, it’s essential to know the differences between the three main types of tequila before you head to the store to do your tequila shopping.
Añejo: Aged for a minimum of one year in white French oak casks or used bourbon barrels, anejo tequila is a dark liquor that tends to be smooth and robust. This type of tequila has a nice balance of oak and agave, with undertones like caramel and butterscotch.
Blanco: Known to produce the purest taste, blanco tequila has a semi-sweet and earthy flavor that tastes distinctly of agave. Blanco tequila is a clear spirit that is rested for no more than 60 days in stainless steel tanks before being bottled. It tends to be a good-quality and affordable tequila.
Reposado: This type of tequila is aged in wood casks for a minimum of two months and as many as nine months. The wood imparts a soft oak flavor onto the tequila and gives it the light straw color it’s known for. Many distilleries even use bourbon barrels to age reposado tequila to add another layer to the final taste.
Best tequila brands for your home bar
Commonly enjoyed as a shot, on the rocks, or in a refreshing cocktail, tequila makes a fantastic addition to any home bar. In my opinion, it’s a must-have spirit for your collection.
If you’re looking to make a tequila cocktail but aren’t sure where to start, I highly recommend starting with a margarita, tequila sunrise, or paloma. These are classics and a few of my all-time favorites as well.
Whether you’re looking for the best bang for your buck or a fancier brand to impress your friends, there’s a stellar tequila out there for everyone. Below are my top recommendations for the best tequila brands to keep in your home bar.
- Casa Noble Crystal. This award-winning blanco tequila is 100% agave and certified organic. It’s crafted in small batches and triple distilled for an ultra smooth finish. With subtle notes of honey and citrus, this crisp tequila is perfect for mixing into your favorite tequila cocktail.
- 1800 Silver. This is another blanco tequila that is 100% blue agave and made with a blend of tequilas for added complexity and flavor. Double distilled for a more crisp sipping experience, 1800 Silver is smoother than many budget tequilas you can find. It’s got a clean, balanced flavor profile with notes of sweet fruit and pepper.
- Don Julio Añejo. This añejo tequila is aged in white-oak barrels in small batches for eighteen months for a rich and robust flavor profile. Complex in flavor, this tequila balances notes of agave, wood, and vanilla. Don Julio Añejo is full-bodied and is best enjoyed by tequila lovers on its own, either neat or on the rocks.
- Cabo Wabo Reposado. This thick cut reposado tequila is the kind of liquor other liquors wouldn’t want to get in a fight with at the bar. Meant for those who don’t shy away from the bold flavor of agave, Cabo Wabo Reposado is gold in color and strong in flavor. The nose carries scents of citrus, while the taste offers notes of fruit and spicy pepper. This tequila is great on its own or mixed into smoky cocktails.
- Patrón Reposado. This tequila is crafted from 100% Weber blue agave and distilled in small batches in Jalisco, Mexico. After distillation, it’s then aged for three to five months in oak barrels for added flavor. Patrón Reposado is light amber in color with an oaky aroma and notes of fruit, citrus, oak, and honey. It finishes smooth with floral and vanilla notes for an exceptional tasting experience.
- Herradura Ultra. This ultra añejo tequila is one of the smoothest tequilas you can find. Before the filtering process begins, pure agave nectar is added to the tequila to add subtle notes of cooked agave to the final product. Herradura Ultra features notes of caramel, honey, toasted almonds, and cooked agave, as well as a deliciously smooth finish. Crisp and smooth, this tequila is best enjoyed by itself one sip at a time.
- Patrón Tequila Burdeos Añejo. This is the tequila to end all tequilas. It comes with a hefty price tag (around $500), but is definitely a bottle worth trying someday. This luxury añejo tequila is an exclusive find, crafted in very limited quantities from the finest 100% Weber blue agave in Jalisco.
- It’s double filtered and aged in both American and French oak barrels, then finished in vintage Bordeaux wine barrels for added complexity and the resulting dark amber color. With aromas of rich wine and notes of oak, vanilla, and raisins, Patrón Tequila Burdeos Añejo is velvety smooth and truly one of the best-tasting tequilas on the market.
I hope you found this Tequila 101 guide useful. Check out my other guides to vodka and whiskey and keep a lookout for future guides to rum and gin (coming October and November of 2021). Leave me a comment if you have questions or feedback about this post or to let me know your favorite tequila brand!