What's The Difference Between Good And Bad Tequila?

Tequila Shots With Lime

Tequila is not just for margaritas, nor is it just for shots during happy hour.

Tequila is a spirit with a long history and a wide range of styles, production methods and flavor characteristics. Tequila is just like wine, gin, or whiskey: There are so many different types and flavors that you really need to keep tasting them all until you discover the one that suits you and your unique likes and dislikes.

You'll find a spirit that's nuanced, vibrant and flavorful, without the cheap burn you may remember from your youth.

What is decent tequila?

Tequila Types

You might think there are only two kinds of tequila: cheap tequila that will make you feel like you ate two dozen cotton balls and a herd of elephants danced on your head, and ultra-premium and ultra-expensive tequila that will drain your bank account. However, there are five different types of tequila, which also differ in the way they are made and aged.

Were is Tequila Made?

Tequila is subject to some of the strictest regulations and can only be made in certain areas of Mexico. Tequila must be made in the states of Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit or Tamaulipas.

The Two main Categories of Tequila:

Tequila is divided into two categories: 100 percent agave (which contains only the sugars found in the blue agave plant ) and mixto (or "mixed") ( no less than 51 percent agave, with other sugars such as glucose and fructose sugars as the remainder). There are five varieties of tequila in these two categories: blanco (silver), joven (gold), reposado (matured), añejo (extra matured) and extra añejo (ultra matured).

The Five Classifications of Tequila:

  • Tequila Blanco

Tequila Blanco is known as "silver" (or "plate") tequila because it is a transparent white spirit. This tequila is not matured and is usually bottled and packaged shortly after distillation. 

Because it is not aged in barrels, blanco tequila is the spirit in its purest form, with the finest flavors of blue agave. Blanco tequila is sometimes referred to by distillers as "the essence of tequila" because it captures the true essence of the inherent sweetness of blue agave.

  • Joven Tequila

This tequila is named "joven" in Spanish, which means "young." It is also known as golden tequila because the spirit takes on a golden or rich light brown hue after being flavored with sugar, glycerin, oak extracts and caramel color. 

Unaged blanco tequila can also be blended with aged or extra-aged tequila to produce golden tequila. This type of tequila is not as well known as the classic trio of blanco, reposado and añejotequilas. Gold tequila is usually a mixto tequila, and since it is less expensive, it is best used in mixed cocktails such as margaritas.

  • Reposado Tequila

This type of tequila is referred to as "aged" or "rested." The Mexican government regulates reposado tequila, which is matured in oak barrels for at least two months but less than a year following distillation. Tequila is often matured in white oak and French oak barrels, where resins and tannins influence the flavor of the drink. Since the barrels were previously used to mature other spirits such as wine, cognac, whiskey, or bourbon, many different types of wood barrels give the tequila various characteristics.

  • Añejo Tequila

In Spanish, añejo means "old," and añejo tequila is matured in oak barrels for at least one year but no more than three. Tequila must rest in oak barrels with a maximum volume of 600 liters to be designated añejo, according to the Mexican government.

Whiskey barrels, French oak casks, and cognac barrels are commonly used to mature this tequila. Añejo is deeper in color, more nuanced, richer, and smoother in flavor than reposado. The amber-colored spirit is known as vintage tequila and is primarily used as a sipping tequila.

  • Extra Añejo Tequila

Since 2006, when the Mexican government designated tequila as "extra añejo," this ultra-matured liquor has been recognized. Extra añejo tequila goes through the same distillation and aging process as añejo tequila but is aged for longer.

Tequila that has matured for more than three years is categorized as extra añejo. It must still be aged in a barrel with a capacity of no more than 600 liters. The ultra-aged tequila has a dark mahogany color that is darker than that of añejo. Extra añejo is the most expensive due to the extended aging process, but it is tequila. The alcohol content must be diluted by adding water after the aging process.

What is The Difference Between A Cheap Tequila & Expensive Tequila

Agave Tequila Farm

The catch is that cheap tequila contains only 51 percent agave, the legal requirement, and the rest is sugarcane liquor flavored with caramel and colored with natural dyes. The chemicals in the agave, not the alcohol, are to blame for this situation.

 An excellent tequila is smooth and has a subtle and nuanced flavor. Drink a decent añejo slowly and enjoy the feel of it gliding over your tongue. You do not want to rush a good tequila, especially if it's an expensive one because you want to taste it (not to mention not blowing your money shooting shots with it).

Because there are so many terrible tequilas, many people do tequila shots with lime and salt. You do shooters because it stays on your tongue for a shorter time and you do not have to taste it as much. The salt stimulates saliva production, while the lime counteracts the sharp taste and burning sensation of the terrible tequila.

Helpful Tequila Buying Tips:

  • Avoid any tequila that comes in a plastic bottle or costs less than $15, since these are signs of cheap tequila that will burn your throat like hellfire and taste like lighter fluid.
  • Only buy tequila that says "100% agave" on the bottle.
  • If the bottle has a worm, scorpion, or any other animal, don't buy it. This is a marketing ploy to promote poorly made tequilas (most likely a mixto), and it's almost always dreck.
  • It's absolutely realistic to spend $25-$30 on a smooth, delicious tequila that's fantastic for sipping.

How Do I Make Tequila Taste Better?

The best way to make your tequila taste better is to reduce the remaining harsh and harmful chemicals that the distillers have not removed through distillation or aging. It is very difficult and near impossible to remove all of the unwanted chemicals that remain, this is because of the bonding of the different molecules together. Heating up and distilling will reduce a lot, but not all. In order to reduce these unwanted chemicals further you must use special filters that are designed specifically to be used with alcohol. Classy Spirits Filtration system is able to reduce acetone by >58% and acetaldehyde by >10% reducing the amount of burn, but, and harshness of the alcohol and improving the flavor, smoothness, and quality. Learn more here

If you want some tequila cocktail ideas check out our 10 best tequila cocktails of all time!