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?
National Tequila Day is upon us (it's Wednesday!). Of course, we couldn’t be more buzzed about it. And what better food holiday is there 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 type of tequila drink 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 the 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.
Blanco—which be found in silver or white—comes straight from the sill. It's a pure blue agave spirit that's bottled directly after the distillation process, where any cloudiness is removed and the spirit is made perfectly clear. Its flavor is bright, clean, and grassy with evident notes of agave. Blanco works incredibly well in tequila drinks like a Paloma cocktail or basic margarita; pair it with citrus fruits, fish, root vegetables, even desserts. Also, take note: Gold or Joven tequila is actually just Blanco tequila with added coloring and flavoring.
Reposado is made when Blanco tequila is aged anywhere from two to 11 months in oak barrels. This aging process allows the spirit to mellow and take on a deeper and more complex character. It has a softer, smoother, and more aromatic flavor than Blanco, and often takes on vanilla and/or caramel flavors from the oak aging. Pair Reposado with meat, fruit, and spicy foods.
Añejo must be aged for more than one year in the same barrels, and the quality is strictly controlled. Añejo is only allowed to age in barrels less than 600 liters. It's a highly complex and richly perfumed spirit, thanks to the super smooth character it takes on from the extended aging process. Extra Añejo, another style, is Añejo that's been aged longer than three years.
Añejo is the most aromatic of the three styles and has the least bite. Pair it with heavier meats and other rich foods. Also, we recommend sipping it on its own rather than serving in a cocktail.
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.
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 also 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 Mezcal, the agave piñas are smoked in earthen pits with lava rocks; for tequila, the piñas are steamed in ovens. This gives Mezcal a far smokier profile than tequila, but an unaged mezcal also possesses some of the grassy notes of a Blanco tequila. The spirit can be aged in oak barrels just like tequila, which makes a Reposado and Añejo version of the initially distilled juice. Mexcal is customarily served with salt and an orange slice, but is 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, sip on this Grapefruit Kombucha Margarita.
Now go put this new knowledge to good use and make one (or all!) of these irresistible summertime cocktails!