Updated: Jun 16, 2021
Yay! Once again, Henry has agreed to tell us about one of his favorite spirits. Yes, friends, it’s time for another #WhatTheHeckWithHenry, where our extremely handsome and photogenic cat explains what the heck this ingredient is.
(As told through purrs and meows, and transcribed by us.)
There are two kinds of people in this world: those that love tequila for all its delicious, complex, beautiful earthiness, and those who had really bad experiences with it in college and swore it off for the rest of eternity. If you’re in the latter category, Henry is here to convince you to come to the light side and enjoy this intriguing spirit (responsibly this time...hehe).
Under Mexico’s legal definitions (and there are many), tequila must be produced in only five Mexican states and made from the Weber blue variety of agave (we will return to agave in a second). Tequila can legally be made with 51% agave plus other fillers in its “recipe,” but stay away from those! (These low-agave bottles are called mixtos, and they are likely the cheap tequila culprits that caused those bad memories in college! When purchasing tequila, make sure it says "100% blue agave" on the label.) Tequila must be distilled at least twice, and, in the products imported into the US, be bottled at 40% ABV.
The agave from which tequila is made is a succulent plant that is actually biologically related to asparagus, garlic, and onions, and it thrives in the tropical/desert regions of Mexico as well as the US southwest region. They take a loooooong of time to grow — in fact, agave are sometimes referred to as the “century plant.” For tequila production, the agave plants are typically left to mature for six to twelve years. (As you can see, tequila takes a long time to get into your bottle!)
At the base of the agave is the heart of the plant, or the piña (Spanish for “pineapple,” because it looks like, well...a big pineapple.) The jimador (a person who harvests agave plants) cuts all of the spiky leaves from the piña and removes it from the plant (check out this interesting video of the process). The piñas are then steamed or roasted in large ovens, where their starches are converted to sugars that will then be fermented. The roasted piñas are shredded and pressed, and the liquid is left to ferment, after which it goes into the still to be distilled into yummy tequila.
There are several categories of tequila, all with different flavor profiles:
Blanco (“white”) tequila is unaged (but can sit in a neutral barrel or tank for up to two months). You might also see it labeled as plata (“silver”). Blanco is typically used in cocktails for its big, bold, earthy flavors that hold up well even with other ingredients in the drink.
Joven is a little bit tricky. True joven tequila is made from blending blanco tequila with a small amount of aged tequila — without any other sugars or flavorings added. This is not carried in many liquor stores in the States, especially here in Pennsylvania, but if it is in stock and it’s not suspiciously inexpensive, it’s probably a nice bottle for mixing cocktails. But if you see “gold” on the label, this is likely a mixto with additives, so stay away!
Reposado is aged between two to twelve months. Producers use American or French oak barrels, or barrels that have previously held bourbon, cognac or wine. You’ll get nice, oaky barrel flavors come through on these tequilas. We usually prefer to sip this category, but some cocktails do call for reposado tequila.
Añejo is aged for one to three years and develops more of that delicious barrel flavoring. If you’re a whiskey drinker dipping your toes into the tequila pool, start here.
Extra añejo is aged for more than three years. It’s sometimes compared to a nicely aged Scotch and is on the pricier side due to the longer aging time.
Curados are flavored tequilas, and you’ll see flavors such as fruits and coffee added in.
And as we said many times before, don’t drink the mixto!
That’s great...but how does tequila taste?!
We find that tequila has flavors that are grassy, earthy, and floral – with notes of a sweetness, similar to marzipan. The blue agave plants for tequila are grown in different regions of the Mexican stare of Jalisco, namely the highland and lowland areas. The altitude and soil differ in these regions, which affects the flavors of the agave, and therefore the spirit. Agave grown in the highlands tends to be brighter on the palate, with citrus and floral notes. The lowlands agave is a bit darker, with more earthiness and spice. And, of course, as we talked about before, barrel aging lends notes of caramel, vanilla, and oak to tequila, just as it does with other aged spirits.
Thirsty for some tequila now?! It is delicious sipped neat, and, of course, tequila makes super delicious cocktails! Everyone knows the famous margarita — try the traditional cocktail, but also the refreshing and bright Tommy’s margarita. There’s also the Paloma, which is so cooling on a hot summer day. And a tequila tonic is a great option for letting the flavors of the spirit shine through.
Let us know your favorite tequilas and cocktails — and, if you need to commiserate about those bad tequila you had in college, you have a sympathetic ear with us! 😉