EAT + DRINK
The secret to enjoying Tequila
When most of us hear the word tequila, it’s probably accompanied by an image of a shot glass with salt and lime—accompaniments viewed as necessary to ease the heat of an ill-tasting shooter. But tequila isn’t just a fast track to inebriation. In fact, it’s a refined, complex spirit that, if tasted properly, stacks up to the likes of fine bourbon, whiskey and scotch.
Though there are thousands of different types of agave, tequila must be made from only one, the Weber Blue Agave. It must be grown, harvested, processed and bottled in the state of Jalisco—with a few other distilleries outside Jalisco, grandfathered into the law.
The Blue Agave takes 7-10 years to grow to maturity in mineral rich volcanic soil. Altitude, weather conditions and soil make-up contribute to widely different flavor profiles across different agave fields, with flavors ranging from sugary to mineral-like. Earthiness, smokiness, brine,
citrus, vanilla, caramel and many other flavors are present to varying degrees in different
tequilas, and tasting these differences is a great way to decide what you enjoy drinking.
Blue Weber Agave
When it comes time to harvest the agave, men called jimadores use a large flat-bladed pole called a coa to remove, Ninja-like, the spines of the 100-pound plant to expose the pina, the heart of the plant. The pina is cut into manageable-sized pieces and transported to the distillery, where it is cooked and then crushed to express the sugary juice.
The liquid is then fermented, sometimes with naturally occurring wild yeasts.
After fermentation, it is at least twice-distilled, at which point you have tequila. If you bottle it within two weeks of fermentation, you have blanco tequila, also called plata or silver tequila.
If you take the tequila and age it for up to a year, it is called reposado, which means rested. If you keep the tequila in an oak barrel for up to three years it is called añejo, which means aged. And if it is left in the barrel longer than three years, it’s called extra añejo.
In general, silver is the most agave-forward tasting of the various styles and can be very
peppery or spicy. A cheaply made silver tequila needs a chaser to enjoy, whereas a well-made one doesn’t. Once you rest the tequila in oak it starts to take on the flavors of the barrel, which changes the flavor of the tequila. There are many types of barrels out there, and the oak’s origin—usually American or French—and whether it was used to age a different spirit beforehand—usually bourbon, brandy or sherry—can radically change the taste.
Reposados are lightly aged, and the flavor is usually a balance between the agave and oak
flavors. Añejos begin to taste more like whiskeys, as the wood flavors dominate, and of the bunch, Extra añejos taste the least of the agave and most like whiskey. If you like old scotches, this is the one for you.
Then there is something called gold tequila. All of the above tequilas are 100% agave in the
bottle, and nothing else is added. This is not so with gold tequila. Gold is called mixto tequila, which means that you only need to have 51% of the bottle be agave spirit. The rest is up to the individual producer. In most cases, the other 49% is made up of cheap vodka, a lot of sugar to mask its bad taste, and caramel color to make it look like an aged tequila.