Tequila is made by fermenting and distilling the juice of crushed blue agave plants, with tfive main types of tequila sold today. Most tequilas on the market are young (joven), typically fermenting for only a few weeks and retaining its iconic clear appearance (known as white, blanco, or silver, plata). Tequilas that have been fermented for longer take on the color of the barrel–usually wood–which explains why you find golden tequilas (called rested, reposado, or aged, añejo).
After four years, not much happens in the barrel except for costly evaporation, so you won’t find many tequilas older than three years, although this is slowly changing.
So what’s the best type of tequila?
True ‘tequileros’ argue that the only real tequila is white or young, because it is the only way to taste the agave in its purest, unaltered form.
Young tequilas have earthy, natural and raw flavors, giving you insight into the factors that influence taste, such as the soil and altitude where the plants grow. When you drink young tequila, you are truly getting a taste of Mexico.
This is not everyone’s view, though, as shown by the sale of añejos aged for more than 10 years and costing upwards of $1,000–2,000. Aged tequilas tend to have a smoother and refined flavor, which is perhaps why they are more popular in international markets.
Companies are also starting to experiment withing the five accepted levels of tequila. Don Julio, for example, released a crystalline aged tequila.
The 5 Levels of Tequila
Tequila is divided into five main categories, which typically indicate the different levels of aging.
- Silver, White, Platinum or Young Tequila: aged less than two months, and considered the truest type of tequila.
- Tequila Gold (oro) or Mixed (mixto): aged less than two months, with coloring added so it looks aged. This is usually the cheapest type of tequila, mixed with sugars other than agave.
- Tequila Reposado: aged two months to a year.
- Añejo Tequila: aged one to three years.
- Tequila Extra Añejo: aged longer than three years, a newer type of tequila.
In general, you’ll generally only see the three main types of tequila for sale: silver, gold and reposado. Aged tequilas are a newer and rarer product – and, naturally, generally pricier.
Different Types of Tequila
By law, Tequila only needs to comprise 51% of agave sugar, so the first distinction to check is whether the tequila type is mixed (mixto) or 100% pure agave. The latter type of tequila is much higher quality and, although more expensive, worth the price.
Because tequila is aged in wooden barrels, it explains the levels of different colors you can find, from white to golden brown to dark amber tequila.
1. Silver, White, or Young Tequila
This is tequila in its purest form, typically crystal clear and un-aged, either being bottled directly after distillation, or stored in stainless steel tanks for no more than two months. This captures the true flavors, natural sweetness and intensity of the agave plant. If it’s closer to the two-month mark, you’ll notice a slightly smoother (or suave in Spanish) taste. It is also considered the best type of tequila to use in cocktails, such as tequila margaritas.
2. Gold Tequila
This is also non-aged tequila but is usually a ‘mixto tequila’, comprising a mixture of sugars and flavorings or colorings are added to make it golden. They are generally less expensive, lower quality and commonly used in bars for mixed drinks – the kind of tequila that gives you a worse hangover.
Some exceptions exist, though, where silver and reposado tequilas are blended to create a golden color, without sacrificing the 100% agave composition. Check if the bottle is labelled as 100% or agave puro (pure agave).
3. Tequila Reposado
Reposado Tequila is the first stage of ‘rested’ tequila, where the liquid is aged in wood barrels or storage tanks from 2 to 12 months. Tequila reposado takes on a golden color and distinct taste from the wood, but without overpowering the agave. There is a variety of wood types used to create distinct flavors, the most common being American and French oak. Some producers also experiment with ageing tequila in whiskey, cognac or wine barrels to create depth in the flavor profile. In these cases, the tequila takes on unique taste profiles from the previous alcohol.
4. Añejo Tequila
Añejo Tequila (ah-nyeh-ho) is noted by its deep amber color, resulting from an extra-aging process of at least one year. The flavor becomes smoother, complex and richer, making Añejo tequila one of the best types of tequila for sipping.
5. Tequila Extra Añejo
This is a newer classification (since 2006) for tequilas that have been aged for more than three years. The color is much darker, almost mahogany, and extremely smooth and rich in flavor – to the naked eye, it is hard to discern these extra-aged tequilas from other aged alcohols, like whisky or cognac. Aged tequilas also tend to be more expensive and it is not common to use them in mixed drinks.
Other Types Of Tequila
There are many more tequila-based products in the market, including
- Creamy tequilas (Creama de Tequila, or Tequila Cremes)
- Tequila liqueurs
- Infused tequilas – lemon, chili, pepper
- Flavored tequilas
Some of which are worth a try, although they rarely come close the premium achieved in pure tequilas and are not usually 100 percent agave.
Types Of Tequila Brands
The main factor between types of tequila brand is whether they produce premium or lower quality tequila, which also relates to whether they are an expensive or cheap brand. By law, tequila only needs to contain 51% of agave sugar, creating one of the most important distinctions between the types of tequila brands:
- Premium quality is labelled as 100% agave or pure agave. This increases the distinct agave flavors, and the purity reduces the day-after hangover and offers the health benefits associated with tequila.
- Tequila that contains only 51% can be made up of a number of other sugar types, such as cane or corn sugar. The price is usually better, so they can be a good option for making cocktails, but you can’t rely on the healthy (especially celiacs) or hangover-free benefits.
The next distinct factor is where the tequila is produced; by law all tequila must be grown in the authorized states in Mexico, but this doesn’t stop companies from bottling it outside of these states, or even outside of Mexico. True tequila experts say this also reduces the quality.