The mere mention of “tequila” sends memories of parties, celebrations, and crazy epic nights out with friends that probably ended up in their hidden books of hangover stories or embarrassing social media posts that will forever be part of your digital footprint.

But any kind of alcohol consumed in shots will definitely hit you like a rock, get you drunk fast, and knock you out. So if you wake up with a throbbing headache and bouts of shame from a night of tequila shots, blame it on yourself and the peer pressure from friends who screamed “shots, shots, shots!”

There’s more to tequila than shots at parties. It has a history that goes back to the Manila galleon trade and flavors that are often best explored by sipping it slowly. To change the way we look at tequila, first we need to understand what the spirit is and how to drink it.

The Blue Agave

Tequila is a distilled spirit made from the blue agave plant (pronounced as ‘Uh-Gah-Vee’), a spiky Mexican plant that looks like a cactus and resembles a pineapple plant (the agave fruit is actually called a piña). The spirit comes from the cooked and fermented juice of the heart of the agave (piña). Just like Scotch, which can only be produced in Scotland, tequila is produced only in Mexico in the region of Tequila.

😍 #agavepiña #ovenready #tequilacasasanmatías #locosporeltequila

A photo posted by humbertoojeda (@humbertoojeda) on

Now, not so many people are aware that Filipinos had a hand in the historical creation of this spirit.

Filipino Technology

(Yes, we played a part in Tequila history)

The Spaniards used to make agave wine with mud stills. Distilling the fermented juice only came about when Spain opened the route in Manila and Mexico. Galleons for trading spices, silk, porcelain, and ivory were manned with Filipino sailors. Aside from mangoes and coconuts, Filipino sailors brought with them “coconut brandy,” a distilled coconut wine (tuba) known to us as lambanog. They also brought the portable stills used to distill the spirit. Using Filipino technology Mexicans started to distill their own spirits, but since there was a limited supply of coconut in Mexico and the Spaniards suppressed production of coconut brandy so as not to threaten production of Spanish brandy, Mexicans used agave, which was abundant in their land. Some researchers believe that Mexicans were already distilling spirits before the Spanish conquest but proof of this remains unclear as some archeological findings point to Filipino portable stills. In Jalisco, Mexico, they still use the word “tuba”—which means “coconut wine” in Tagalog—to refer to mezcal wine before it goes to distillation.

Imagine if we had applied the same effort in promoting lambanog; our own liquor may have been of the same caliber as tequila is to the world. But maybe that deserves another article.


Tequila Classifications

There are a lot of tequila brands in the market, probably close to a thousand. But many of us associate tequila with Jose Cuervo. It’s no secret that Cuervo Gold is a party staple. But a true tequila aficionado will direct you to different types of tequila that you never even knew existed.

The main classification of tequila falls under two categories:

  1. 100% Blue Agave – 100% agave means no other sugar was used during fermentation and purity is government approved. This means a more full-bodied tequila and stronger flavors and aromas. And no additives means there’s a lower chance of a hangover.
100agave
“100% agave” label on the bottle

Some purists would say a “100% agave” label on the bottle is one of the most important identifiers of a good tequila, but this is not always the case, as it does not guarantee quality. Good quality tequila boils down to the agave source, distillation process, and production technique that affect the bottled spirit. The taste of the final product is still the best indicator of quality and that all depends on your preferences when you taste the spirit.

  1. Tequila Mixto – Mixto means mixed. By law, tequila must contain at least 51% agave, and the other percentage can come from other sugar sources—agave juice and other sugars, sometimes cane sugar in the form of sugar syrup. Other additives are caramel color, almond essence, or oak extract flavoring.

If the bottle is not labeled 100% agave, then it is a mixto tequila. Now, do not go looking for “mixto” on the label; no brand puts that on their bottles. A mixto will simply be labeled “tequila.”

dotd-1
Mixto tequila

Mixtos were first produced in Mexico in the 1930s, partly because of an agave shortage. A lower agave percentage means cheaper production, therefore mixto brands are more affordable. Since 2006, mixto tequila has been legally bottled outside of the Tequila territory, including other countries.

Purists and tequila snobs won’t drink mixto tequila, but most of them have probably tried the popular Jose Cuervo Especial Gold in their younger years. That’s the Cuervo Gold bottle, what we grew accustomed to in the local market. For some, the product was more palatable to taste. Some bartenders only use mixtos for tequila cocktails like margaritas, as 100% agave tequilas are best consumed pure. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t use a bottle of 100% agave tequila to make your favorite cocktail; go ahead, indulge your palate.


Let’s drill down to the five types of tequila under 100% Agave tequila and Mixto. Labels on the bottles indicate the type of the spirit, which classification it is in, years of aging, and where it was produced. And since we are accustomed to the widely available Jose Cuervo brand, let’s start from there and get acquainted with the other tequila types in its portfolio for a clear comparison on the classification of tequila.

shoot-tequila-jose-cuervo

  • Tequila Silver

Silver, Blanco, Plata, platinum, or white tequila is characterized by its clear and transparent liquid (like gin or vodka). Typically unaged agave, this variety of tequila is often directly bottled after distillation, giving it that harsher taste of alcohol. Some brands age it for at least two months for a smoother taste. It can be either 100% agave or a mixto; both can be good for sipping or mixing in a cocktail.

Tequila Reserva 1800 Silver (Price: P1,100 – P1,300)

1800-tequila-blanco
Tequila Reserva 1800 Silver

1800 is owned by the same family as Jose Cuervo, it was named 1800 marking the year when tequila was first aged in oak casks. This bottle is made with 100% Weber blue agave and aged in oak barrels for 15 days. Its nose has the aroma of sweet fruit. You can taste the sweetness from the agave from your first sip, followed by a fruity and peppery flavor. It’s clean, balanced, smooth to the tongue, and doesn’t give a burning sensation in the mouth. It’s at 40% ABV and can work as either a sipping tequila or mixed in your favorite margarita.

Jose Cuervo Tradicional Silver Tequila (Price: P1,100 K – P1,300)

Jose Cuervo Tradicional Silver Tequila
Jose Cuervo Tradicional Silver Tequila

Jose Cuervo’s line of 100% agave is called Tradicional, which was first sold in 1795, but the Blanco was only released in 2011. It’s an affordable Blanco made with 100% agave. It is smooth to taste, with hints of lemon, vanilla, honey, and agave. It is too light for sipping if you’re looking for a deeper agave taste but works well mixed with cocktails.

Jose Cuervo Especial Silver (Price: P600 – P800 (700 ml)

Jose Cuervo Especial Silver

This is the Blanco version of the golden bottled Jose Cuervo Especial Reposado that we’re used to. It’s a mixto bottle with an aroma of light white pepper and herbaceous agave notes. Its mouthfeel is lighter compared to the gold bottle and it has pepper and lemon zest notes. You can taste sweetness but not the agave flavor you’d find in 100% agave bottles. This one has an almost sugarcane-like sweetness to it. It is affordable and readily available in the market. It’s smoother than the gold variant so there’s less heat when you down it as a shot. It also mixes easily with tequila cocktails. We used this bottle for one of our Halloween punches (see the recipe here). (http://drinkmanila.com/2016/10/25/spooky-halloween-punch/)

  • Tequila Gold

Also referred to as “joven” and “oro” and known for its golden liquid. Typically a mixto, it may have a golden hue because of added caramel coloring. But there are higher end brands that use 100% percent agave. The color comes from mixing a silver tequila with an aged tequila.

Jose Cuervo Especial Reposado (also known as Gold) (Price: P575 – P935 (700 ml) or P742 – P1,100 (1 L))

Jose Cuervo Especial Reposado
Jose Cuervo Especial Reposado

Yes, you know this one. It might confuse some, as the bottle often has “Reposado” while some just say “Gold.” But it is one and the same. This bottle is the most popular tequila worldwide and ranks as the brand with the highest sales, but if you’ve tried a lot of other kinds of tequila it’s not necessarily the best. It is a blend of reposado and other younger tequilas with additional caramel coloring, hence the color of the spirit. It has a sharp alcohol burn so it’s usually taken as a shot, the quicker the better, but sip it slowly and it will reveal an astringent herbal note, a little hint of lemon and orange, a bit of pepper, and cinnamon. This usually what bartenders put in margaritas, Palomas, and tequila sunrise cocktails, unless you ask to change it to a top-shelf tequila.

  • Tequila Reposado

You’d often hear the term “rested tequila” when referring to a reposado because it is a tequila that is aged at least two months but less than a year in oak barrels. Reposado takes its color from the barrels used for its aging and it also takes some flavors from the wood. Different brands age reposado in different barrels such as French oak, wine, bourbon, or cognac barrels and it makes for more complex tequila flavors.

Jose Cuervo Tradicional Reposado (Price: P1,100 – P1,300 (only available at S&R))

Jose Cuervo Tradicional Reposado
Jose Cuervo Tradicional Reposado

Tradicional Reposado is sweeter than the Tradicional Silver. Bottled at 38.0% ABV, it has a pale amber color. It is an affordable bottle of a 100% agave tequila. It can be enjoyed as a sipping tequila as it gives a fair amount of flavor notes: cinnamon, sweet agave, caramel, citrus, and herbs. It is also great for mixing in a margarita as its flavor profile creates a complex taste for your palate.

Tequila Reserva 1800 Reposado (Price: P1,100 – P1,350)

Tequila Reserva 1800 Reposado
Tequila Reserva 1800 Reposado

The 1800 Reposado is a bright honey-colored tequila made with 100% Weber blue agave. It is matured in American and French Oak barrels for at least six months and has the sweet flavor notes of caramel, pepper, a hint of cinnamon, and a bit of smoke courtesy of the oak barrels. It feels thick in the mouth and goes down with a mild burn. It is a good tequila for its price range and can be a good mix for a margarita or a tequila sunrise.

  • Tequila Añejo(extra aged)

If the tequila is aged for a year in the barrel, it can be considered an “añejo.” But the rule is distillers are required to age the spirit with a maximum capacity of 600 liters. The result is a darker tequila, amber in color with a richer and more complex flavor profile.

Jose Cuervo Black (Price: P900 – P1,100)

Senhor!!!! ♡♡♡ #josecuervoblack

A photo posted by Solange Susluaga (@sol.susluaga) on

Yes, there’s a black Cuervo. It may seem uncommon but just ask your local liquor store and they’ll point you toward it. This bottle is a mixto añejo tequila aged in oak barrels and mixed with sugar cane spirit. The color of the spirit is deep amber hue (no, not black), but the “black” probably comes from the dark flavor notes of bourbon, toffee, toasted oak, and charred barrel. The taste profile of this mixto tequila is enough to enjoy on its own, on the rocks, or with Coke or a slice of lemon.

Tequila Reserva 1800 Añejo (Price: P1,200 – P1,600)

Tequila Reserva 1800 Añejo
Tequila Reserva 1800 Añejo

This bottle is more complex than its younger siblings and has a deep copper color from aging in French and American oak for three years. The spirit is thick and has a waxy mouthfeel. It has notes of toasted nuts, vanilla, orange zest, a hint of salt, and spicy finish. Head to the Tequila Reserva 1800 website to see some of their cocktail suggestions for this bottle. link: http://www.1800tequila.com/drinks/

  • Tequila Extra Añejo(ultra aged)

“Extra añejo” was added to tequila classification in 2006. Any tequila aged more than three years is an extra añejo or ultra aged. It is rich, often has a deep mahogany color, and carries a smooth yet complex flavor.

Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia (Price: Over P7,000)

Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia
Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia

Released in 1995 to celebrate Jose Cuervo’s 200th anniversary, this 100% agave bottle is made using the inner piña of 10-year-old blue agave plants. It is aged for three years and blended with final blends from the distillery’s 30-year-aged tequila reserves. The spirit is very complex, rich in agave flavors, with dark caramel, vanilla, and fruity notes of orange peels, lime zest, and oaky spices. This one is best enjoyed sipped straight. Every year the box packaging is printed with different artworks of Mexican artists. The 2016 packaging displays the work of Mexican artist Jorge Mèndez Blake, who is known for his geographical imagery.

Sipping Tequila Reserva 1800 all the way up to La Familia will definitely change your perspective on the tequila shots of your younger (or current) years. There are a lot of brands to try out there, and there’s always something special to be discovered in the world of tequila. Start with this primer to help you navigate the tequila section of the liquor store.


Sources:

  • How the Gringos Stole Tequila: The Modern Age of Mexico’s Most Traditional Spirit Hardcover by Chantal Martineau
  • Tequila and other Agave spirits from west-central Mexico: current germplasm diversity, conservation and origin Patricia Colunga-Garcı´aMarı´n Æ Daniel Zizumbo-Villarreal
  • Tequila’s History – www.blueagaveforum.com/tequila

 

Drinkmanila.com is your learned drinking buddy who can tell you what to drink, what you’re drinking and where to drink. Learn about the coolest and the latest bars in the metro, or the newest beverage or new product out in the market, or have fun creating enjoyable drinks from our features and videos within the comfort of your homes.

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