This strong, well-known Mexican liquor is made by fermenting and distilling the sweet sap of the blue agave plant, a member of the lily family. Clear to light golden brown in color, tequila's flavor ranges from fresh and fruity to earthy and rich depending on its age.
Tequila is best known for its mixer role in margarita cocktails, but finer varieties can be elegantly enjoyed as an after-dinner drink or used to prepare a variety of recipes from savory sauces and marinades to carne asada and ceviche.
Tequila is named for the central Mexican town of Tequila, Jalisco where the liquor originated and is still produced today. It's closely guarded by a Mexican Denomination of Origin law, and only distilled spirits made from blue agave plants in specifically designated areas may be classified as true tequila. The private, nonprofit Tequila Regulatory Council oversees every aspect of production, from agave cultivation to labeling and bottling.
Varieties and Buying Tips
- Mexican law requires tequila to be made with at least 51% blue agave (the other 49% is usually sugarcane). Look for varieties labeled "100% Blue Agave"—these are considered best.
- Tequila is generally bottled at 80 proof, although some aged versions may have higher alcohol levels. The different grades of tequila include:
- Blanco (also known as white, silver or plata)—Bottled soon after distillation, this "fresh" tequila has a smooth, fruity flavor with hints of herbs and pepper.
- Joven Abocado (also known as oro or gold)—This tequila blanco is colored and flavored with ingredients like caramelized sugar, oak tree extracts or glycerin to give it a smoother taste similar to aged varieties.
- Reposado—Also flavored and colored, this higher grade has been stored in wood barrels for two to 12 months. The aging gives it a more mellow character and hints of vanilla and spice.
- Anejo—As the highest grade tequila, this variety is aged for at least one year. Extra anejo has been aged for three years or longer, and tequilas known as reserva have been aged five to 10 years. Anejos have a smooth, elegant, complex flavor that is often compared to fine cognac.