With expressions like blanco, reposado, añejo, and more, tequila can be a little intimidating when you sit down at the bar or walk the aisles of your favorite liquor store. But with just a bit of tequila acumen, you can power through your next tequila query like a pro.
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. Tequila is generally at least 40+ percent ABV (alcohol by volume).
Mezcal, on the other hand, can be made from any of the 50 different varieties of agave (not just the blue agave) and is generally 55+ percent ABV. So, all tequila is a type of mezcal, but all mezcal is not tequila.
Tequila is either labeled “100 percent agave” or the less desirable “mixto,” which is only required to be made from 51 percent blue agave sugars, so the other 49 percent comes from cane, beet, or corn sugars. Mixtos routinely contain coloring, flavorings, and thickeners—and should only be consumed as Jello shots by spring breakers.
Now, sip on our Tequila Primer to learn about the 5 Types of Tequila recognized by the Consejo Regulador de Tequila (Tequila Regulatory Council: TRC).
- Translation: White
- Aged: Less than 2 months or not at all
- Taste: Agave forward, Citrus
- Best Served: Margarita, Paloma
A blanco tequila, the spirit’s purest expression, is most often bottled immediately after distillation. However, some blanco tequilas will rest in stainless steel or wooden tanks for up to 60 days. Since blanco is usually clear, you’ll commonly hear it referred to as white, silver, plata, or platinum tequila. Occasionally, blanco will be aged for two months to lessen the palate punch, so it won’t always be crystal clear.
2. Tequila Joven
- Translation: Youthful
- Age: Unspecified
- Taste: Agave Forward, Hints of Oak
- Best Served: Margarita, Mexican Mule
A joven tequila is a blanco that has been blended with a small amount of aged tequila (reposado or añejo, see below). Now, here’s where things can get tricky with a joven, also sometimes labeled “gold/oro” since the coloring is darker than the blanco. Gold/Oro tequila is often a mixto that gets its gold color from additives (a process called abocado), so if you are going to buy a joven, look for “100 percent agave” on the label. Otherwise, you’re buying a lot of additives.
3. Tequila Reposado
- Translation: Rested
- Aged: 2-12 months
- Taste: Agave, Oak
- Best Served: Margarita, Tequila Old Fashioned, Splash of Soda
Reposado tequila is aged in oak barrels for a minimum of two months, and a maximum of one year. The oak aging mellows the tequila a bit when compared to the blanco. Reposado is a dutiful spirit, and makes an enjoyable agent in your favorite mixed drink, while still packing a flavorful agave kick.
4. Tequila Añejo
- Translation: Aged
- Aged: 1-3 years
- Taste: Fruit, Vanilla, Butterscotch
- Best Served: Neat, On the Rocks, Splash of Soda
Añejo tequila is aged in wood barrels (most commonly ex-bourbon oak staves) for a minimum of one year, and a maximum of three years. During the aging process, the agave-forward flavor is replaced by the oak’s sweeter characteristics of fruit and vanilla. In addition, the aging imparts tequila with its classic amber coloring.
5. Tequila Extra Añejo
- Translation: Extra Aged
- Aged: 3+ years
- Taste: Vanilla, Carmel, Chocolate
- Best Served: Neat
A relatively new category that was established in 2006, extra añejo tequila is aged for a minimum of three years in wooden barrels (typically ex-bourbon oak staves). As you would expect, the extra añejo develops a more complex flavor and deeper amber color during its extended barrelling. Of course, if you’re going to spend the extra cash for extra añejo, ditch the mixers and enjoy this tequila neat.
Bonus: Tequila Cristalino
- Translation: Crystalline
- Aged: Unspecified
- Taste: Fruit, Carmel, Vanilla
- Best Served: Top-Shelf Margaritas, Splash of Soda, Neat
Invented by Don Julio in 2011 to celebrate his 70th birthday, cristalino is an aged tequila (typically an añejo or extra añejo) that has been filtered with charcoal to remove its color. Looks like blanco, tastes like añejo. The Tequila Regulatory Council has not officially defined what constitutes a cristalino, but the spirit is gaining popularity in posh establishments.