Tequila 101

by Russ Motley, Akumal Investments

Tequila is a spirit made from the blue agave plant, primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila, 65 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of Guadalajara, in the highlands of the western Mexican state of Jalisco.
There are two very important things about tequila that pass through our subconscious as we throw down shots of tequila, or sip our favorite margaritas. They are the use of the term "tequila" and the types of tequila.

Mexican laws state that tequila can be produced only in the state of Jalisco and limited regions in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. Mexico has claimed the exclusive international right to the word "tequila," threatening legal action against manufacturers of distilled blue agave spirits in other countries. In this sense, tequila is like "champagne" and "cognac," which can only be produced in the Champagne and Cognac regions of France, respectively.

Tequila Categories and Types

Agave Field near Tequila Mexico

The two categories of tequila are 100% de Agave and Mixed (Mixto). Tequila that is 100% de Agave is made with only the sugars of the Weber blue agave. Mixed (Mixto) tequila is made using 51% agave sugars and 49% other sugars. Each of the tequila categories has distinct characteristics.

There are three basic types of tequila: blanco, reposado, and añejo/extra añejo.

Tequila blanco is clear, unaged tequila that is normally bottled right after being distilled. When the clear white tequila drips from the cooling coils of the alambique, it is correctly called silver or plata, but is more commonly called white or blanco.  Most platas pass directly to the bottling plant, however, some producers allow the tequila to settle and finish for a few weeks in the tanks before bottling.

Tequila joven is blanco tequila which has not been left to rest or mature but to which colorants and flavorings, such as caramel coloring, oak tree extracts, glycerin, or sugar syrup, have been added prior to bottling. These tequilas are often called suave, joven, gold, or abocado, implying youth and smoothness. They can be made from 100% Agave but are normally made with the 51% mixed tequila. The blending of silver tequila with aged or extra-aged tequila is considered gold or joven tequila.

Tequila reposado (rested or aged) is the first definitive level of aging, and it is mandated that the tequila remain in wood for a period of two months, but no longer than 12 months. Reposado may be rested in oak barrels or casks as large as 20,000 liters, allowing for richer and more complex flavors. The preferred oak comes from the U.S., France or Canada, and is usually white oak. Some companies char the wood to impart a smoky flavor, or use barrels that were previously used with different kinds of alcohol (e.g. whiskey, scotch, or wine). Some reposados can also be aged in new wood barrels to achieve the same woody flavor and smoothness, but in less time.

tequila Anejo

Tequila añejo (extra aged or vintage) is the next level of aging.  Añejo, which means "vintage," can only appear on bottles that contain tequila aged in oak barrels having a maximum capacity of 600 liters and a minimum of one year of aging. Añejos are often rested in barrels that have been previously used to rest reposados. The barrels cannot be more than 600 liters, and most are in the 200-liter range. Many of the barrels used are from whiskey or bourbon distilleries in America, France, or Canada, and Jack Daniels barrels are especially popular. This treatment creates many of the aspects of the dark color and more complex flavors of the añejo tequila, which is also smoother than reposado tequilas. After aging of at least one year (typically aged between 1 and 3 years), the añejo can be removed from the wood barrels and placed in stainless steel tanks to reduce the evaporation that can occur while in the barrels.

Tequila extra añejo (ultra-aged) is a new subset, or classification of añejo tequila. Extra añejo tequila has been aged for a period of at least three years, without specifying the aging time on the label, in direct contact with the wood of oak (holm or holm oak) or Encino oak containers with a maximum capacity of 600 liters. Its commercial alcohol content must be adjusted by diluting with water, bringing the alcohol content to 80 proof.

Scorpion Mezcal

"Tequila worm" myth:  It is a misconception that some tequilas contain a "worm" in the bottle. Only certain mezcals, usually from the state of Oaxaca, are ever sold con gusano, and that only began as a marketing gimmick in the 1940s. Mezcal is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the maguey plant (a form of agave, Agave americana) native to Mexico. The worm is actually in the larval form of the moth Hypopta agavis, which lives on the agave plant. Recently the Caballeros Tequila company marketed a mezcal with a scorpion in the bottle instead of the traditional worm. They do not recommend eating the scorpion, but the stingers are removed for those willing to try.

Watch for Tequila 102. Also watch our video 100% Agave.

The three basic types of Tequila can be related to the three basic types of properties for sale in Akumal and the Riviera Maya. Think of the jungle properties on the western side of the Tulúm–Cancún highway as Tequila Blanco.  Then, the oceanfront properties with a rocky beach, like in North Akumal, are a step up, and can be related to Tequila Reposado. The beachfront properties in Half Moon Bay and Tankah can then be related to Tequila Añejo, while the soft, sandy beachfront properties in Jade Bay and South Akumal can be associated with the Tequila Extra Añejo, about as good as it gets. If you are still wondering about the associations, and need further clarification and/or additional information, contact Akumal Investments to help readily point out the differences in the tequilas and Akumal properties for sale.


Akumal Villas