A Tequila’s identity is forged during distillation. Upon bottling it is complete and the label on the outside can tell you as little as the law will allow or as much as its creator is willing to advertise with some maker’s going so far as pasting the GPS coordinates of the field harvested front and center! Knowing a Tequila’s every step from infancy doesn’t improve the quality of the spirit, but it does serve to enhance your experience when enjoying it, and it is to this aim that we at TRES have pledged our knowledge of Mexico’s national drink– Tequila.
Tequila, is a double distilled spirit derived from a blue-green, swordlike leafed plant known commonly as a Maguey. It’s botanist name is the Agave Tequilana Weber variedad Azul and it is from this species, only, that Tequila may be sourced.
After centuries of cultivation, Tequila is renowned with the same global sophistication that protects Champagne, Cognac, or Bourbon. It is a Denomination of Origin spirit belonging exclusively to Mexico and recognized as such through international trade agreements.
The Mexican government via the hand of a Tequila Regulatory Counsel (CRT) maintains official production standards through the Norma Oficial Mexicana, NOM laws, or “Normas.” Authentic Tequila will always bear a NOM number unique to the distillery where it was made.
Being the first spirit ever distilled in the America’s, it has a beautifully rich cultural history whose roots date back centuries. Learn more about Tequila’s rich cultural history here.
The Tequila industry recognizes 2 main types of Tequila: 100% de Agave and Mixto. Products made of 100% de Agave will always mark their label so since it is a distinction of quality and pride. It means that the entire distillate within a bottle claiming to be 100% de Agave was produced using only juice from the Agave Tequilana Weber Azul.
Tequila makers may produce Tequila from as little as 51% Agave sugars and as much as 49% othersugars; these are called Mixtos. Mixto Tequilas will generally not advertise that they are Mixtos since it is a distinction of little value.
From the 2 broad types there are 6 age classifications for Tequila: Blanco, Joven Abocado, Reposado, Añejo, and Extra Añejo. Part of the Normas scope is to detail requirements for meeting these age classifications.
Blanco, the youngest of all Tequilas, must be bottled within 60 days of distillation. The name translates literally as “white”, but the liquid is actually clear and may have tinges of green or yellow. It is regarded as the purist’s Tequila because it has yet to be affected by any time spent in Oak which would dramatically alter the profile of the tequila in terms of color, taste and smell.
Joven Abocado, or “young and adulterd” is similar to Blanco in that it is a very young expression of Tequila. Bottles tagged as Joven will contain a Mixto Blanco that has been treated with caramel coloring and other flavor additives to mimic the effects of barrel aging. The process for making 100% de Agave Tequila is expensive and time consuming; rarely, if ever, would you find a producer willing to risk “adultering” his or her Tequila with cheap affectations.
Reposados, or Tequilas in repose, are Tequilas that have spent at least 2 months, but no longer than 1 year in Oak barrels. As the name implies, the spirit has undergone a resting period. To ensure that the proper time in Oak requirements have been met, a representative from the CRT must be present at the time the barrel is filled to officially seal it shut, and again if the barrel is opened for any reason at all. All of these special visits from the CRT are documented in strict adherence to the NOM laws.
Añejo Tequilas have been aged longer, more than 1 year, and until late was the oldest classification for Tequila. Mexican law also stipulates that the Tequila may age in barrels with a capacity no larger than 600 liters, though many distillers will opt to use smaller, 200 liter sized ones which provide more concentrated Oak contact for the Tequila.
Extra Añejo as you might have guessed is more than Añejo. Specifically, anything longer than 3 years may be deemed Extra and again, may not be aged in barrels with a capacity greater than 600 liters.
As outlined in the “Normas,” Tequila is exclusive to Mexico, and more specifically to certain regions in Mexico which include the entire state of Jalisco and limited areas within Nayarit, Michoacan, Guanajuato, and Tamaulipas. Roughly 98% of all Tequila produced is done within the borders of Jalisco.
The Tequila producing regions are divided into 2 landscapes, La Valle de Tequila y Los Altos.
La Valle de Tequila, also known as the Valley or Lowlands of Tequila lays approximately 50 km northwest of Guadalajara, Mexico. It is there that you will find the Town of Tequila which sits at the base of a long dormant volcano by the same name. The soil is a fertile dark brown earth and produces herbaceous Agaves rich in volcanic mineral with an average weight of 24 kilos. [ Tequila makers of this region have developed a style of having heavily Oaked Tequilas. ]
Los Altos, or the Highlands of Tequila lay approximately 140 km northeast of Guadalajara, Mexico. The soil is characteristically red and Agave is about the only thing that grows well. Producing Tequila that is aromatically spicy, fruity and rustic, a mature Agave from this region reach 40 kilos in weight. On average, the Agaves from this region will cultivate more residual sugars due to the stress from the climate.