If Tequila Is Your Drink of Choice, Here's Everything You Need to Know

Plus an answer to the age-old question: What's the difference between tequila and mezcal?

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Whether it's Cinco de Mayo or National Tequila Day (July 24) or just a Wednesday, any day's a good day to learn once and for all what differentiates the different styles of tequila. They're all deliciously refreshing in a summer cocktail or on their own, but each has a very different personality and flavor profile. To help us cut through the confusion, we checked in with Maurice Tebele and Martin Hoffstein, the founders of JAJA Tequila.

To begin, tequila is produced from the fermented sap of blue agave plants grown in one of five Mexican states: Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacan, Mayarit, and Tamaulipas. It comes in a range of categories, including Blanco tequila, Reposado tequila, and Añejo tequila.

As a rule of thumb, look for tequila bottles labeled "100% Blue Agave." With that certification, you'll be sure the tequila was distilled entirely from the plant and not mixed with other ingredients, like sugarcane.

Blanco Tequila

Blanco—available in silver or white—comes straight from the sill. It's a pure blue agave spirit that's bottled directly after the distillation process, which removes cloudiness making the spirit perfectly clear. Its flavor is bright, clean, and grassy with notes of agave. Blanco works well in tequila drinks like a Paloma cocktail or a basic margarita; and pairs well with citrus fruits, fish, root vegetables, and even desserts. Also, take note: Gold or Joven tequila is actually just Blanco tequila with added coloring and flavoring.

Reposado Tequila

Reposado is made when Blanco tequila is aged anywhere from 2 to 11 months in oak barrels. This aging process allows the spirit to mellow and take on a deeper, more complex character. It has a softer, smoother, more aromatic flavor than Blanco; and often takes on vanilla or caramel flavors from the oak aging. Pair Reposado with meat, fruit, and spicy foods.

Añejo Tequila

Añejo must be aged for more than a year in the same barrel, which must be less than 600 liters; and its quality is strictly controlled. It's a highly complex, richly perfumed spirit thanks to the super smooth character its extended aging process gives it. Extra Añejo, another style, is Añejo that's been aged longer than three years.

Añejo is the most aromatic of the three tequila styles and has the least bite. Pair it with heavier meats and other rich foods. We recommend sipping it on its own rather than serving in a cocktail.

And what's the deal with Mezcal?

Mezcal is also an agave spirit, but the origins and cooking processes differ from those of tequila. It can be made from a variety of species of agave, not just blue agave. It can be made anywhere in Mexico, while tequila is limited to a specified area (similar to how Champagne must come from the Champagne region in France, otherwise it's just sparkling wine).

When making tequila, the agave piñas are steamed in ovens; but for mezcal, piñas are smoked in earthen pits with lava rocks. This gives mezcal a far smokier profile than tequila, but an unaged mezcal also possesses some of the grassy notes of a Blanco tequila. Mezcal can be aged in oak barrels just like tequila, resulting in a Reposado and Añejo version of the initially distilled juice. Mezcal is customarily served with salt and an orange slice, but also pairs well with charcuterie, aged cheeses, chocolate, and fish.

Need help trying it out? Swap the tequila for mezcal for a smoky kick in this recipe for the easiest ever margarita or, if you want to sip on a cocktail with benefits, try this Grapefruit kombucha margarita.

Now go put this new knowledge to good use and make one (or all!) of these irresistible summertime cocktails!

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