All The Types Of Tequila And How To Drink Them — Tequila Varieties
Whether you enjoy sipping a refreshing margarita, throwing back shots, or drinking straight, tequila is an all-star in any liquor cabinet. And when it comes to buying a bottle, the options are endless. You can find bottles endorsed by small, family-run distilleries, major beverage brands, and even celebrities.
With a highly saturated market, it can be difficult to find what’s right for you. “Tequila has an amazingly wide range of flavors, from spicy and complex to fruity,” writes Joanne Weir, author of Tequila: A Guide to Types, Flights, Cocktails and Bites. “There is something for everyone.”
To understand the world of tequila, you need to learn a whole new language (and not just Spanish). We break down everything you need to know about the main types of tequila.
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But first, we need to establish what makes tequila, you know, tequila. The spirit itself is made from the agave plant. By law, tequila must be made with at least 51 percent Weber Blue Agave. Many premium bottles contain 100 percent blue agave and state this on their label. Other brands produce mixto tequila that contains at least 51 percent agave but is supplemented with other sources of sugar (usually cane sugar, corn syrup, or molasses).
Mixto tequila is often maligned by purists—but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked. It’s great to use when you’re making a cocktail, looking for a smoother, milder tequila, or just want to drink on a budget.
Aside from the agave content, most types of tequila are determined by how long they have been aged. Here are the main types and what they mean.
Blanco tequila, often referred to as silver or plata tequila, is the youngest variety. It can mature in stainless steel tanks for up to two months. However, most brands bottle their Blanco Tequila immediately after distillation.
Because of this, what you end up tasting is very agave-forward. The clear spirit is sharp and peppery with a distinct bite. “Many tequila lovers prefer blanco to aged tequilas because it captures the floral and vegetal flavors of agave,” says Weir.
The bold flavor can be a little overwhelming for tequila newbies, but the spirit shines especially in citrus cocktails. In most cases, margaritas and palomas are made with a blanco tequila base.
The word reposado translates to “rested”, referring to the time spent after distillation. If you think of Blanco as a tequila that lasted all night, think of Reposado as the kind of tequila that napped. Reposados can be aged in oak barrels or stainless steel tanks for anywhere from two months to a year.
Most commonly, reposado tequila is aged in oak casks previously used to age American whiskey. The vessel, together with the aging time, imparts a soft, almost caramel-like flavor and a delicate golden hue. It’s one of the most versatile types of tequila – it’s complex and enjoyable on its own, while still being mild enough to incorporate into cocktails.
Añejo means “old” in Spanish, which is an apt description of this type of tequila. To be classified as an añejo, tequila must be aged for at least one year, but can be aged in oak barrels for up to three years. In contrast to reposado, for which no cask size is specified, the cask size for an añejo must not exceed 600 liters. This allows more spirit to interact with the wood and develop a deeper, richer flavor.
This type of tequila is dark caramel in color and often contains the same notes you would find in other oak cask aged spirits. “Añejo tequila has notes of toasted almonds, caramel, and honey,” says Weir. Its nuanced flavor makes it ideal for sipping, just as you would a premium, well-aged whiskey.
Even if you don’t speak Spanish or are unfamiliar with tequila terms, the definition of extra añejo tequila is pretty simple: it’s just like añejo tequila, but older. Extra Añejos mature for at least three years in oak barrels that can hold a maximum of 600 liters. The notes are similarly warm and complex as Añejo Tequila, only they are more pronounced.
The color depends on the distillery, but according to Weir, most bottles of Extra Añejo are tinted a dark, almost mahogany hue.
Because of all the time and labor that goes into making additional añejos, they’re considered some of the highest-quality tequilas on the market. This is not your average tequila. It definitely doesn’t belong in a margarita. If you’re willing to treat yourself to a bottle, this would be a special occasion sipper.
You’ve probably seen all the other types of tequila at your local liquor store, but Cristalino is a newer variety that you may not have seen before. It first hit the market in 2011 and is not legally recognized by the Tequila Regulatory Council. It is an aged tequila that is charcoal filtered to remove the colors and some of the oak flavors from the cask. Don Julio started the first.
What’s left is a clear spirit with the crispness of a blanco and the nuance and smoothness of an aged tequila. It’s the newest frontier in the tequila industry, and brands are increasingly adding a Cristalino to their portfolio—but its evolution has yet to be determined.
What’s your favorite type of tequila? Let us know in the comments.
Gabby Romero is Delish’s editorial assistant, where she writes stories about the latest TikTok trends, develops recipes and answers all your cooking-related questions. She loves spicy food, collects cookbooks and adds a mountain of parmesan to every dish.