By law, tequila can only be made in Mexico. The same spirit, made from the same plant and the same process made anywhere else is properly called Blue Agave spirits. Tequila is also a town in Jalisco, Mexico where the industry is centered. It is located a bit southwest of Guadalajara. Tequila is also made in other parts of Mexico, mostly in Jalisco, such as the Los Altos region of Jalisco and also Guanajato.
There are four basic types of tequila...
Mixto is the lowest form of tequila. The word simply means "mixed" and this is just barely legal tequila. Mixto only has to use 51% of agave in the distillation process. The other 49% of sugars can come from another source. Your generic tequilas are always mixtos. I'd only use these as an ingredient in cocktails.
This is also the kind of tequila that started the notion of one having to bite a lemon (or lime), lick the salt, and then down the shot as quick as possible to avoid the nastiness of it.
The other three types of tequila are made from 100% blue agave. This is a succulent plant that grows in the Jalisco region...as well as many other areas. It is not a cactus, but it does have sharp thorns on its leathery leaves.
By law, only tequilas that are made from 100% agave can have the phrase "100% Puro de Agave" or "100% de Agave" on the label. This is the first thing you look for in a quality tequila. In general, the term "premium tequila"...although having no legal meaning...means that the drink is at least 100% pure agave. If it doesn't say it, it's a mixto.
Plata, or silver, is tequila that has been distilled, fermented, and then bottled with little or no aging. It has a clear color. Although it is usually the least expensive of the premium tequilas, some platas can rival the best aged tequilas. Partida Silver is a particularly good one.
Reposado is an aged tequila. By law, it must be aged at least 3 months. Some are aged more. Wooden barrels are used with impart a golden color to the tequila. Aging tends to smooth the throat feel a bit more and impart a smoky taste. If done right, a reposado can be some of the best tequila you'll taste, although I've had a few that would not be as good as some platas I've had. My favorite reposado is Clase Azul but sometimes I'll lean toward Asombroso La Rosa which is aged in used red wine barrels, imparting a pink color to the drink. Another very good and reasonably priced reposado is Hornitos Reposado.
Añejo is another aged tequila, this one for at least a year. Most distillers also used old whiskey barrels which impart a definite whiskey flavor to it. This is difficult to get right and many añejos actually don't taste as good as a reposado from the same maker. When they do get it right, the result is marvelous...a smooth, smoky, peaty, and warm drink. Some of my favorites include 1921 and Degollado.
Extra añejo is aged for several years.
Another thing about tequila...some of the 100% agave tequilas can actually be as cheap as a mixto, as shown in the video, so keep this in mind next time you're the store...you don't need to spend a lot to get a lot.
Until next time...