‘At Least 70 Percent of All Tequila Sold Has Additives’ Says One Expert: How to Find Additive-Free Sips

by Jim Casey
(Photo by Joe Raedle/Newsmakers via Getty)

The biz of tequila is booming. In 2021, tequila—and its agave-based cousin mezcal—was the second-fastest growing spirits category by revenue and volume in the United States, according to the Distillery Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS). Only vodka ($7.3 billion) outpaced tequila/mezcal ($5.2 billion) in the U.S., with whiskey ($3.5 billion), brandy/cognac ($3.5 billion), and cordials (2.9 billion) rounding out the Top 5. So, yeah, the biz of tequila is booming.

And that means business south of the border is booming. Because all “tequila” comes from Mexico. Technicality speaking, tequila must be made from Blue Weber agave in the Mexican state of Jalisco or in approved municipalities in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, or Tamaulipas. This is serious business in Mexico. That’s why you’ll never see an American-made tequila (or one from any of the other 193 countries in the world).

Navigating the Tequila Waters

Another interesting factoid from DISCUS is that the sale of tequila/mezcal accounted for nearly one-third of the total increase in spirits revenue in the U.S. Tequila was up 30.1 percent in 2021, as opposed to vodka (4.9 percent) or whiskey (6.7 percent). And that’s a big reason why so many celebrities have attached their names to tequila brands in the past few years. From Michael Jordan and LeBron James to Kendall Jenner and Nick Jonas, the celebrity-endorsed/owned tequila bandwagon seemingly gets more crowded each month.

So if you’re looking to navigate tequila’s agave-infested waters, TasteTequila.com and its TequilaMatchmaker app are fantastic resources. Founded and run by married couple Grover and Scarlet Sanschagrin—both of whom were born in the U.S., but now live in Mexico—the independent tequila blog features an additive-free tequila database, while the app is the go-to resource for detecting your individual “flavor” fingerprint.

Scarlet Sanschagrin of TasteTequila.com partakes in an additive-free inspection at the Cascahuín Distillery in El Arenal, Jalisco, Mexico.

“I think there’s around 67 additive-free tequilas on our site now,” says Scarlet Sanschagrin, who has received formal “catador” training (the art and science of tequila tasting). “They’re mostly small brands. So I would say this would be a very conservative estimate that least 70 percent of all tequila sold has additives based on the sales volumes last year, probably higher than that. The majority in the market still has a lot of additives, and that includes most celebrity tequilas. And since celebrity tequilas are seeing so much growth, it’s going to be a long fight.”

Why Additives Matter

If the tequila you are buying at the liquor store doesn’t say “100 Percent Agave” on the bottle, you might want to keep moving. As the designation suggests, a bottle labeled “100 percent agave” or “100 percent blue agave” is the purest expression.

However, not all “100 percent agave” labels are created equally. While the hope is the bottle has not been enriched with other sugars outside of those obtained from the Blue Weber agave during distillation, the Consejo Regulador de Tequila (Regulatory Council) allows producers to use the “100 percent agave” designation as long as the additives are less than 1 percent. And that’s why TasteTequila.com (and its additive-free database) is such a valuable resource for both newbies and experts—and everyone in between.

What kind of additives can you expect? Sugar-based syrups, glycerin, oak extract, and caramel color, to name a few. And even though the additives are less than 1 percent, they can significantly alter the aroma, color, taste, and consistency. Think of it in relation to a single spritz of perfume in your bottled water. Sure, it’s a small amount, but the overall effect is massive.

If you’re looking to begin—or continue—your tequila-tasting journey, take a look at Outsider’s Best Blancos (tequila’s purest expression).

One of Outsider’s favorite additive-free tequilas is the Los Dos Blanco.