How is tequila made?
According to the Consejo Regulador del Tequila, Tequila is only officially made in the Mexican state of Jalisco, along with designated municipalities in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas.
Tequila is made from the Blue Agave plant, one of the 125 varieties of which that are found in Mexico. Once planted, the Blue Agave takes between eight to ten years to grow before it is ready for harvest. The plant is farmed by jimadors, who plant and harvest all the agave by hand. When harvested, the plant is trimmed down and then cooked to release its sugars.
The next step is to release the sap or aguamiel. Traditionally, this was done with a large stone wheel that rolled over the cooked agave. Nowadays, large machines can shred, press, and wash the agave in one go. The extracted juices are placed in large vats, and yeast is added to begin fermentation. After 12 days, the juice becomes mosto muerte with an alcohol concentration of about five to seven percent.
The mixture is then distilled twice. Afterwards, it is checked to see if it has an alcohol level between 35 and 55 percent. Only then can the liquid be officially labelled ‘tequila’. Afterwards, the tequila can be bottled immediately (resulting in ‘blanco’ or silver tequila) or further aged in wooden barrels. The tequila can be aged for different lengths of time depending on the type of tequila desired.
Types of tequila
Tequilas are categorised based on how long they were aged, and whether or not there are any additives. The five types are arranged in ascending order, from youngest to oldest. Expect to pay a higher price as you ascend the ladder of tequila types.
Blanco is the most common type of tequila. It is unaged and can be bottled directly following distillation. While some blanco tequila can come off as harsh tasting, quality 100% agave blanco can be more flavourful than the aged varieties.
Joven or Oro Tequila
This type is quite similar to blanco tequila, but with added colourings and flavouring to mellow out its harshness. These are also typically unaged tequila, and most are mixto or mixed blend tequila. Oro or gold tequila is a popular export and is most likely to be what ends up as mixers in your cocktails or shots, alongside blanco.
This type of tequila has been aged between two months to a year. It is usually aged in oak barrels, giving it a light golden colour. The aging process mellows out the harsher notes of the tequila, leaving a more complex and rich flavour.
This tequila is aged for a minimum of a year, some varieties going as long as eight to ten years. Most tequila makers find the sweet spot is between four to five years. The long aging time gives the tequila a deep colour and very rich taste.
Extra Añejo Tequila
This is the most recent official tequila type, christened in 2006. This tequila has been aged for a minimum of four years and has a character more like whiskey than what you’re used to with tequila. As with most alcohol, the age of these tequilas should correlate with their price tag.
Best tequila cocktail recipes
A good tequila drink is usually the simplest one. If you’re worried about what to mix with tequila, we’ve provided a list of classic tequila cocktails that will be sure to satisfy even the most discerning of drinkers.
- 60mL tequila
- 45mL orange liqueur
- 60mL sugar water
- 30mL fresh lime juice
The margarita is one of the best-known drinks in the world, and it's dead simple to make. It is a combination of blanco tequila with orange liqueur, syrup, and lime juice, shaken together. It is poured into a glass without ice, and the rim is lined with salt. A traditional margarita is tart, and not overly sweet. Use a good, high quality 100% agave tequila in a margarita. This is a drink that allows it to shine.
- 2 parts tequila
- Orange juice (about 3 parts)
- 1 part Grenadine
The tequila sunrise is another classic cocktail, second only to the margarita in terms of popularity. Like the margarita, making a tequila sunrise is easy. Mix two parts tequila with three parts orange juice, and stir over ice. Pour into a glass and then slowly add in the Grenadine. The mixture of spirits creates a colour display much like the setting sun.
- 2 parts tequila
- 1/2 parts fresh lime juice
- Grapefruit soda, to top
The paloma is a tequila-based fizzy cocktail that is very popular in Mexico. It's made with blanco tequila mixed with lime juice, poured into a glass and topped with grapefruit soda. It's bubbly and fruity, with a good amount of sweet and sour.
- 20mL tequila
- 15mL soda water
The tequila slammer is a simple and fun party drink. Pour both ingredients into a shot glass and immediately cover it with a napkin. The fun part comes next. You slam the shot glass onto the table (thus the name) which causes the soda water to fizz and mix with the tequila. Drink it while it's fizzy. It's a straightforward drink that's more about the presentation.
Long Island Iced Tea
- 30 mL tequila
- 30 mL vodka
- 30 mL gin
- 30 mL rum
- 30 mL triple sec liqueur
- 2 teaspoons orange juice
- 60mL cola
- 1 wedge lemon
Long Island Iced Tea is infamous for its alcohol content. Tequila is an important part of that concoction, along with vodka, gin, rum, and triple sec. Pour into a shaker with the orange juice and cola and shake until frothy. Add a lemon wedge as garnish. Take your time with this cocktail. It may be sweet and tasty, but you’ll be off your feet if you’re not careful.
- 2 parts tequila
- 4 parts tomato juice
- ½ parts fresh lemon juice
- 4 dashes worcestershire sauce
- 2 dashes tabasco sauce
- 2 dashes tapatio hot sauce
- 1 pinch celery salt
- 1 pinch black pepper
It’s a little different from its vodka-based counterpart, but this drink still packs a spicy and savoury punch. Put all the ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake it quickly and strain it into a glass filled with ice. Garnish with lime. This drink will warm you up with its combination of spicy hot sauce and good quality tequila.
Few spirits evoke as many strong memories as tequila, whether good or bad. It is the base of many famous cocktails, and there’s no better choice for a couple of shots with friends. It boasts a rich historical background, and a legacy that goes back centuries. If you’re a lover of alcohol, then tequila surely has a place in your heart.