The Agave Plant: Tequila is made by distilling the fermented juices of the Weber blue agave plant with water. The agave is a member of the lily family and it looks like a giant aloe vera plant with spiked barbs on the tips. After seven to ten years of growth, the agave plant is ready to be harvested and used in the production of tequila. 100% Agave vs. Mixto: According to Mexican law, all tequila must contain at least 51 percent Weber blue agave (Agave tequilana). Really good tequila is 100% Weber blue agave and will be clearly marked that way on the bottle. The law also requires them to be produced, bottled, and inspected in Mexico. Tequila that is not 100% agave is called mixto (mixed) because it is blended with sugar and water during distillation. Mixto tequilas can be produced outside of Mexico. Until around the turn of the 21st century, mixtos were the main tequilas produced. Today, the majority of the tequila you will find is "Tequila 100% de Agave."
The 5 TYPES OF TEQUILA:
Blanco, Silver, or White Tequila: Blanco tequila is a clear spirit that can be either 100% agave or mixto. These tequilas are "aged"—more like "rested"—no more 60 days in stainless steel tanks, if they are aged at all. Silver tequila is primarily used for mixing and is perfect for almost any tequila cocktail and often smoother than the gold tequilas for shots.
Joven or Gold Tequila: These are often unaged tequilas that are typically mixtos and have been colored and flavored with caramel, oak extract, glycerin, syrup, and other additives. While many gold tequilas leave something to be desired in comparison to the other classes, there are now a few decent bottlings available.
Reposado Tequila: Reposado (rested) tequilas are aged in wood casks for a minimum of two months and many are aged from three to nine months. The barrels mellow the flavors of a pure blanco and impart a soft oak flavor to the agave as well as giving the tequila its light straw color.
Añejo Tequila: Añejo tequila is "old" tequila. These tequilas are aged, often in white, French oak or used bourbon barrels for a minimum of one year to produce a dark, very robust spirit. Most añejos are aged between 18 months and three years while some of the best can spend up to four years in barrels. Añejo tequilas tend to be very smooth with a nice balance of agave and oak. You will often find butterscotch and caramel undertones, which makes these perfect for sipping straight (chilled if you like) or for those really special cocktails.
Extra-Añejo Tequila: These tequilas spend over four years in barrels and have a profile that rivals some of the oldest whiskeys you can find. Logically, the price of these tequilas reflects their extra time in the barrel and these are ones that you will want to save for straight sipping, enjoying every second of the experience.