Beginner Tequilas – For Your First Dive Into Finer Tequilas
So you’re thinking about getting into tequila – you’ve come to the right place. We thought for a bit about what would make a good tequila for a beginner and decided a couple of things:
1) Beginners probably have only had Cuervo Gold, maybe a Tres Generacions, Hornitos or 1800.
2) They probably don’t want something with a lot of heat. Something soft and easy to drink would be a good entree.
3) They’d probably be pleasantly surprised to learn that tequila doesn’t always taste like agave and only agave.
4) They may not be looking to spend a ton of money.
So, with those thoughts as our base, we set out to find a great set of tequilas that was relatively inexpensive, was especially smooth and perhaps had a unique taste.
**OUR RECOMMENDATIONS FOR STARTER TEQUILAS** (link coming back soon!)
Quick and Dirty Rundown
What’s with the colors? Silver’s the best right? Wrong. That’d be like saying chardonnay is the best. It’s not. It’s just different. Tequila categories are really about age. First up is
Gold/Oro/Firewater. Stay away. This is only 51% agave alcohol (the minimum to call it tequila), the other 49% is usually either sugar or grain alcohol. That’s where that punishing hangover you got in college came from. Usually dyed gold.
Silver/Blanco/Plata are all synonyms, and they all mean that the tequila hasn’t been aged in a barrel (at least not for very long). Tequila’s natural color is clear. Some tequila snobs will tell you they prefer blanco because it’s not tainted by the flavors from the barrel. We say drink what you like. We like flavor from the barrel.<
Reposado means “rested”; and the tequila has been kept in a wood barrel for less than a year.
Anejo literally translates to “aged” and these tequilas have all been in the barrel for at least a year.
Extra Anejo Yep, that one’s been in the barrel even longer. Law requires that to be labeled an extra anejo the tequila must be in the barrel for a minimum of 3 and a half years. Evaporation is a factor with all spirits, particularly those made in the heat down in Mexico. That evaporation (often called the “angel’s share” plus the time and effort to store and maintain the tequilas drives up the price.
Tequila’s made from cactus right? Nope. Tequila’s made from the Agave plant. It’s a succulent that looks a lot like aloe. Cut the leaves off and that leaves you with a pina (looks a lot like a pineapple). Crush and bake it, and squeeze out the agave juices. Ferment that, distill, and you have a blanco tequila. Then choose a barrel if you want to make a repo or anejo. Some use French White Oak, others American Oak, still others used barrels previously used to make Jack Daniels or Sherry. Lots of variety here leads to a very wide range of flavors. Agave’s an amazing plant. Try agave nectar as the sweetener for your margaritas, tea or coffee. It’s delicious but some think much better for you than sugar. And notice that if you only drink 100% agave tequila all night, you won’t suffer the hangovers you get from just about everything else. For the love of god man, get yourself 100% agave tequila. See “Oro” above.
Tequila’s from Mexico yes? Si. But only a specific part of Mexico. Tequila must be made in the Tequila region of Mexico, which is in Jalisco, near Guadalajara. Make it anywhere else and it’s not tequila, it’s an agave spirit. Just like Champagne must be made in the champagne region of France, otherwise it’s sparkling wine. It’s literally written into NAFTA. Common agave spirits include Mezcal (usually from the Oaxaca region, and sometimes marketed with a worm in the bottle) and Sotol.