I had the pleasure of attending a tequila tasting the other evening and thought I would share some information on how tequila is produced and what the difference is between blanco, reposado, anejo, etc. Come on in.....
Making tequila is a lengthy process, full of all sorts of rules and regulations from what plant can be used to how long it can be aged. At the end of our lesson is a delicious drink recipe for you!
The liquor is made from the blue agave plant, which looks similar to a gigantic aloe vera plant (the blue agave is a succulent like aloe vera) and is related to the lily family. This plant bears a fruit similar in appearance to a pineapple (the agave fruit is called a piña) which takes roughly 8 to 10 years to mature. When the fruit is deemed ready to harvest, men called Jimadors (heem-a-door) use a flat paddle like tool on a long pole to pry the fruit from the plant. Each mature fruit weighs approximately 50 pounds.
The fruit is roasted in large ovens and then transferred to stills to undergo a natural fermentation process (the natural yeast in the air ferments the cooked fruit). After the fermentation process the alcohol is required by law to be distilled twice. This is where the story splits into different endings depending upon the liquors' fate...
THE TYPES OF TEQUILA
Blanco or Silver tequila is clear and the youngest of the levels of tequila. It is either completely unaged or can be aged for only up to 2 months. It tends to be the best representation of true tequila flavor as it has no time to pick up any of the flavors from the barrels. Blanco tequilas are a favorite for margaritas and a drink called the Paloma (recipe at the bottom of this post) as its freshness complements citrus very well.
Reposado, which means "rested" in Spanish, has a minimal aging time (over 2 months and up to 1 year) thus giving it a light straw color and a touch of the flavors which come from the charred American oak barrels in which it is aged. This short aging time mellows the liquor making it noticably smoother than the younger Blanco tequilas. Still a good choice for a margarita on the rocks or a mixed beverage such as a tequila and tonic or tequila and soda where the tequila is allowed to shine. Also good for shots!
The third main category of tequila is Añejo, which roughly translates from Spanish into "years". This is the darkest of the widely available tequilas and must be aged for a minimum of 1 year and up to 3 years. A good Añejo tequila has the rich color and in many cases flavors of a good bourbon or aged rum. It is best served after dinner in a snifter as you would serve a cognac, on the rocks or in any mixed beverage that you would make with Bourbon.
There is a fourth category called Extra Añejo in which the tequila is aged for 3 to 6 years but it is a very small percentage of tequila production and each bottle costs several hundred dollars.
WHAT ABOUT GOLD?
Gold tequila is actually not a category. It is simply a silver or blanco tequila that has caramel coloring added to it.
WHERE IT"S MADE.....AND MORE RULES!
Tequila is named after it's primary production location, the Tequila region in the state of Jalisco which lies in the Southwestern portion of Mexico. Just like cognac or champagne, in order to be able to be called tequila it must be produced in Tequila. Anything produced outside of the region or not made from the blue agave is Mezcal (there are some excellent Mezcals out there, it's not all worm in the bottle stuff).
The agave used in tequila MUST be the blue agave (there are other types of agave) and in order for it to be considered tequila, 51% of the volume in each bottle must be liquor made from the blue agave. The best quality and purest tequilas are made with 100% agave and will be clearly labeled as such. Any bottles of tequila that do not say "100% de Agave" are most likely a minimum 51% tequila and 49% alcohol distilled from sugarcane.
Phew....I think that is all. Thank you to Isabel and Brown Foreman for filling in the blanks and providing the great photos. Oh, and for introducing me to the Paloma. Try this once and you will be drinking it all summer. It's dangerously delicious.
1 1/2 ounces blanco or reposado tequila
juice from 1 lime
Fresca or Squirt (citrus-y grapefruit-y soda)
lots of ice!
Fill a tall glass with ice. Add tequila and lime juice. Top with Fresca or Squirt. Enjoy!
What is your favorite way to enjoy tequila? Do you prefer a lighter tequila or a darker tequila?