Courtesy of Tres Agaves

A trip to Tequila, Mexico will teach you how to appreciate the spirit properly. 

Jenn Rice
March 23, 2018

As Guadalajara-based mixologist Andres Ismael Moran Gutierrez says of tequila, “sip to taste, shoot to waste," though we don't have to tell you that tequila is a spirit worth sipping slowly, neat or in a cocktail.

While you know the underlying difference between Blanco, Reposado and Añejo, there are so many more nuances to tequila. Here, industry experts offer key facts about the spirit.

Tequila must be made in Tequila

Just as Champagne is solely produced in the Champagne region of France, true tequila must be produced in the area surrounding the city of Tequila. Iliana Partida, a second-generation tequila producer and fifth-generation agave grower, puts it plain and simple: “There are a total of 181 counties in five states of Mexico, including the whole state of Jalisco, 30 counties in Michoacán, eleven in Tamaulipas, eight in Nayarit and seven in Guanajuato states,” Partida says. “Both agave farming and actual tequila production have to be done within these counties.”  

Tequila flavor varies tremendously by area

An enormous variety of factors, including altitude and climate, can affect the agave crop. “The flavor of tequila can be impacted by many factors—the agave, water, local micro-climate and microbiology, fermentation base and distillation process,” says Partida. It can also be affected by where the agave is grown; the highlands produce sweeter and more fruity flavors, while the lowlands (Amatitan and Tequila Valley) produce a more earthy, herbal flavor. The maturity of the actual agave is also another factor; more mature agaves produce a sweeter must and flavor.”

Jimadors are the real MVPs of tequila

Harvesting agave is no simple task, as it's all done by hand. “To be a jimador takes an extraordinary amount of strength and skill,” says Barry Augus, the CEO of Tres Agaves. “A seasoned jimador can harvest and trim the pencas off approximately 125 to 175 plants a day—over one ton of agave.”

Terminology matters

Blanco is tequila in its purest form, Reposado is tequila that has been aged a minimum of two months (but less than a year) in oak barrels and Añejo refers to tequila that has been aged in oak barrels for a minimum of one year (but less than three). The dollar sign starts rise with Extra Añejo tequilas; they sit in oak barrels for at least three years.

For tequila tastings, start with Blanco and work your way to Extra Añejo

“By law, nothing can be added to a 100% de Agave Blanco Tequila, so it is the truest expression of a master distiller’s craft,” says Augus. “Thus, when tasting through a line of tequilas, I always start with Blanco and then graduate to the aged varietals to taste the nuances imparted by the barrels or the predecessor spirits in those barrels.”

Courtesy of Tres Agaves

Tequila is delicious with ... Squirt

Hear us out. In Tequila, Mexica, Squirt soda is an incredibly popular mixer for tequila. “Tequila and Squirt is a common way of drinking tequila in Mexico—a Paloma of sorts,” says Augus. “I like using real grapefruit juice, an herbaceous Blanco tequila and a splash of soda to make a craft Paloma—the citrus and sweet complement the earthy tequila flavors really nicely.”

Tequila is also delicious with Mexican Coke (when stirred with a knife)

The world’s most basic, yet satisfying tequila drink can be found at La Capilla in Tequila, Mexico, and you guessed it, it involves Mexican Coke. Locals linger in this no-frills joint for the Batanga, a simple drink invented by Don Javier Delgado Corona in the 1950s. Mexican Coke, Blanco tequila, fresh lime juice and salt make up the satisfying cocktail, but it’s the knife used to stir the drinks that makes the ultimate difference, as it’s the same knife used to cut limes, chilies and avocados.

Tequila + soda + soda = perfection. Clay bowls, optional

“Mexico produces incredible fruit, especially citrus fruits, so it’s very common to find these seasonal ingredients mixed with Tequila and soda,” says Gutierrez. “There’s traditional ‘cazuelas’ or clay bowls for sharing, where pieces of orange, grapefruit and lemon are served with tequila, ice and grapefruit soda.”

You can identify where your tequila comes based on a number

If you’re unable to detect a good tequila based on the bottle and label, search for its NOM on this website, a number that protects the Appelation of Origin and regulates production. If you can’t find a NOM on the bottle, we strongly suggest avoiding.

Sip tequila like you’d sip Scotch

If you’re drinking a solid product, lime and salt are not needed. “The best way to really enjoy the flavor of the tequila is to sip it,” says Gutierrez. “That way, one can really appreciate the nuanced flavors.” Augus reiterates that spirt has come a long way in the last 15 years, and “a good tequila, whether aged or not, sips as well as some of the world’s finest distilled spirits.”

The oldest known tequila stills have been found in Amatitán

Tequila Valley’s history runs deep, and as of late, the area has become a popular tourist attraction. Augus notes that while the industry is heavily focused around the town of Tequila, that anthropologists believe the first tequila still was discovered in the neighboring town of Amatitán (part of the Valley) in the early 1600s.