What Are the Two Classifications of Tequila?

by Jim Casey

While there are 5 expressions of tequilablanco, joven, resposado, añejo, and extra añejo—the Mexican spirit is generally classified into one of two parent categories: 100 Percent Blue Agave or Tequila Mixto.

To be officially designated “tequila,” the spirit 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. The tequila-making process typically features 7-Steps, including harvesting, cooking, extracting, distilling, and more.

Tequila is either labeled “100 Percent Agave” or the less desirable “Mixto.” Let’s dig in to the difference, which is pronounced on the palate.

1. 100 Percent Agave

If the tequila you are buying at the liquor store or ordering at the bar doesn’t say “100 Percent Agave” on the bottle, keep moving. As the designation suggests, a tequila 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 (Tequila Regulatory Council: TRC) allows tequila makers to use the “100 percent agave” designation as long as the additives are less than 1 percent.

What kind of additives (a process known as abodaba) can you expect? Sugar-based syrups, glycerin, oak extract, and caramel color. 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. Tequila Matchmaker’s database does a stellar job tracking additive-free tequila.

Before you buy, look for “100 percent blue agave” with no additives. (Photo by Ricardo Beliel via Getty Images)

In addition, to be labeled “100 percent agave,” the blue agave plant must have been grown and harvested within the aforementioned Mexican territories. To earn the designation “100 percent agave,” the tequila must be bottled in a packing facility, within the territory, by an authorized producer.

Once you know you are buying or ordering a tequila that is “100 percent agave,” it’s time to decide on the expression. Do you want a blanco, joven, resposado, añejo, or extra añejo? Of course, sampling various expressions of “100 percent agave” tequilas over time will help you sort out your flavor profile.

One more note, if you see a blanco labeled “100 percent agave,” it truly contains zero additives, since a blanco is tequila’s purest expression. Check out Outsider’s Best Blancos to get on the tastiest track.

2. Tequila Mixto

If your tequila isn’t labeled “100 percent agave,” you’ve got a “mixto” on your hands. In order to be designated a “tequila,” the spirit is required to be made from 51 percent blue agave sugars in the aforementioned Mexican territories. The other 49 percent can come from cane, beet, or high fructose corn sugars, to name a few. Mixtos routinely contain additives like coloring, flavorings, and thickeners.

Adding outside sugars to the fermentation process allows mixto tequilas to be produced in larger quantities at cheaper prices. Of course, quality suffers as a result.

Most of the time, you won’t see the “mixto” designation on the tequila bottle. It has a rather negative connotation within the industry. Instead, you may see something like “Made With Blue Agave” on the bottle. Don’t be fooled by this. When you don’t see “100 percent” on your bottle, chances are you have a mixto in your hand.

Of course, mixtos can be suitable the next time you make mass quantities of margaritas at the tailgate. Or Jello shots on spring break.

“Mixto” tequila is only required to come from 51 percent blue agave. (photo by Eduardo Parra via Getty Images)