The Spirit From South of the Border
It is difficult for one to think of Mexico without thinking of Tequila and its unique flavors. Today, one might be surprised to discover that the distilled liquor from South of the Border has gone through a sort of evolution from its humble beginnings. Had anyone tasted the liquor a half century or more ago they would have found its taste was more akin to something American’s called moonshine. It came to your lips straight from the still, unaged and uncut. A macho drink that many mistakenly thought was a representation of the true Mexican flavors.
Now, the Tequila that comes across the border is aged and every bottle is a sure fire 80 proof distilled liquor, charcoal filtered. The unique flavor of the modern tequila is mostly derived from the Agave plant grown and processed in the city of Tequila in the Mexican state of Jalisco. According to Mexican law, true tequila can only be produced in this region much like Champagne can only be produced in the Champagne region of France. Produced anywhere else, it is not real tequila.
The agave plant takes from 8 to 12 years to mature before it can be harvested and distilled. When it is finally ripe enough the core of the plant (looking like a wild pineapple from outer space) is cut out. Each core, weighing anywhere from 80 to 400 pounds is taken to the distillery where it is steam cooked for several days. Once the starchy parts have successfully been converted to sugar, it is chopped and pressed. Yeast is then added and it is pot-stilled for fermentation. Finally, it goes through two processes of pot-stilling before it is drawn off at about 100 proof. White tequila is aged in oak barrels for 1 year while gold liquor is aged for 3 or more years until it reaches its ideal smoothness.
The tequila that is most common today is a mixture of two different ingredients. The first is the agave which makes up 55% of the end product and the second is a distilled sugar with a somewhat neutral flavor.
Of course, you can’t talk about tequila without saying a word or two about the infamous worm that is supposed to be in any bottle of good tequila. Many may actually be surprised that the infamous worm that is in every decent bottle of tequila is a myth. The worm is actually relegated to another Mexican distilled beverage called Mescal. They are both made from the agave plant, but tequila is only made from the blue agave while Mescal is made from any one of the plant’s varieties. So, if you’re looking to prove your machismo by eating the worm in a bottle of tequila look again.
On the other hand, if tequila is what you are really looking for here is a list of some of the best tequilas on the market.
Top Premium Tequilas – 2022
1. Casa Noble Single Barrel Extra Anejo
Distilled by La Cotradia, S.A. DE C.V. The Extra Anejo means that it has been aged for at least 60 months before bottling. This makes for its extra smooth taste. It is produced in limited editions.
2. El Tequileno Platino Tequila
This is the newest premium brand from Jorge Salles Cuerv Distilleries. This silver tequila is 100% agave that produces a special flavor and clean quality that is attributed to the Cuervo line.
3. El Tesoro de Don Felipe Anejo Tequila
Distilled by La Altena Distillery. Another aged tequila to give it a full and balanced flavor. It has been aged for at least 24 months and many connoisseurs say it is one of the world’s finest sipping tequilas.
4. Espolon Tequila Anejo
Distilled by El Espolon. Although this tequila says it is aged at 12 months it has been aged slightly less than the average for all Anejo Tequila. Its bright, golden color and intense aroma makes for an elegant drink.
5. Milagro Select Barrel Reserve Reposado
This particular tequila has been categorized as a Reposado meaning it has been aged for 10 months. Reposado is the first state of aged tequila. Reposado can be aged anywhere from 2 to 11 months. Milagro has been aged in French white oak barrels to give it a smooth, complex balance of agave and oak.
6. Magave Anejo Tequila
Magave is distilled by Destiladora del Valle de Tequila. Aged for around 14 moths in white oak. It has a complex blend of vanilla, caramel, citrus and spice. A great sipping tequila.
7. Orgullo Anejo Tequila
aged for 12 months in American oak barrels. Amazingly clear with a long and pleasant finish to the taste.
8. Rey Sol Extra Aged Anejo Tequila
This extra anejo has been aged from 6 years in French oak barrels. This is the longest aging period for any tequila. Recommended for fine dining at the end of a meal with a delectable dessert.
9. Tequila Blu Reposado
This tequila won double gold medals at the 2010 San Francisco and 2010 World Spirits Awards. Its exceptional sipping quality comes from Jalisco, Mexico distilled entirely from the blue agave plant. It has been aged in charred oak barrels from 3 months to produce its distinctly rich and smoky taste.
10. Tequila Cinco Blancos Anejo Tequila
Aged for up to 18 months in oak barrels. Its golden coloring reveals the strength of its flavor. Its taste is strongly influenced with the wood from the barrels it was aged in.
There are in fact five different types of tequila that fill certain categories.
Tequila Category #1: Tequila Blanco
Sometimes called white or silver tequila. This tequila is usually bottled right after being distilled. When the clear liquid drips from the cooling coils of the still it is whisked away to the bottling plant. There are some distillers that will allow it to rest for a few weeks before bottling but the majority of these are bottled immediately. Here are the top 10 Tequila Blancos on the market today.
1. La Fortaleza Blanco
An old school tequila. The agave has been stone crushed in the same manner as the ancients did. Then it is cooked for 33 hours before it is allowed to ferment. It is considered a low land tequila which means it has more earthy and herbal flavors to give it just the right balance.
2. 4 Cops Blanco
It has a slight white pepper taste mixed with lemon and lime. A great sipping drink, but with enough of an all around flavor to work well in mixed cocktails too.
3. Arette Blanco
With a strong aroma of citrus the taste is a combination of the blue agave mixed with citrus and nuts. Great for making mixed drinks.
4. Corazon Blanco
A clean and smooth tequila with a nutty taste. It is made from 100% agave of the highest quality. Oxygen is then infused into the tequila after the second distillation process is completed. This makes it much softer and enhances the aroma and the flavors.
5. Tequila Tierras Blanco
This is a new tequila but it has already won Gold medal at the S.F. world Sprits Competition. Very fresh and clean aroma with a hint of pepper and citrus. The taste is of real tequila and a mixture of both citrus and vanilla blended in.
6. Tequila Revolucion Blanco
A full bodied tequilia with a flavor that gives off hints of black pepper and vanilla.
7. Republic Blanco
Flavor is rich in sweet agave but very smooth which is very rare in blancos since they have not been aged. Perhaps its unusual smoothness comes from the act that it is allowed to rest for 3-5 days to ensure unique smoothness.
Tequila Category #2: Tequila gold
Sometimes called tequila joven. Tequila Gold is a Blanco that has not been allowed to mature so it has not developed the distinct coloring that comes with ageing. So, to get the golden color, just prior to bottling colorings and flavorings are added in the form of caramel, oak tree extracts, glycerin, or sugar syrup.
1. Antano Gold
With a pale, golden color it has a floral aroma with a taste of praline, cream, and roasted yellow peppers. Great for mixed drinks and cocktails.
2. Jose Cuervo Especial Tequila Gold
the number one selling Tequila in the world. Can be found in nearly every bar in the world.
This tequila is 100% agave, unaged tequila. The flavor is smooth and hot. Best for shots rather than a sipping drink. It works well with mixed drinks too. You can also get it in the more potent 110 proof selection.
4. Alce Negro Tequila Joven Black
Also made form 100% Blue Agave. It has a unique flavor that comes from the additional food coloring and flavoring that makes it stand out from other similar brands.
5. Casa Dragones Tequila Joven
With a light aroma and a slight citrusy flavor, but very smooth for a gold.
6. La Cava de Los Morales Tequila Gold
Another 100% pure Agave product bottled directly after distilling. A pure tequila from 3rd generation tequila distillers.
7. Sombrero Tequila Gold
Made from the Bloue Agave when it harvested at its exact point of maturation. A high quality tequila notably used in many cocktails,
Tequila Category #3: Reposado
This means “rested.” Unlike a blanco which pretty much goes straight to the distillery, a Reposado can spend up to 1 year in a barrel. Since they have less time to age in the barrels they have a little coloring but not much. They tend to hold more of the true tequila taste with only a touch of the woody flavor that comes from the aging.
1. 1519 Tequila Reposdo
Aged in French white oak barrels that were previously used for XO cognac. The aroma carries hints of toffee and sarsaparilla with strong flavors of caramel, amaretto, honey and espresso.
. 1800 Tequila Reserva Reposado – 100% Agave is double distilled and aged in French and American Oak barrels for 6 months. It is exceptionally smooth with a soft Agave taste.
3. 1921 Tequila Reposado
This Agave is double distilled in stainless steel pot stills with copper coils. Aged for a minimum of 6 months in new American Oak Barrels with medium charring.
4. 1921 Tequila Reserva Especial Reposado
Aged between 9 and 14 months and bottled only when they have met the taste requirements for each bottle. Aged in American oak barrels and bottled only when the taste meets their consistency standards.
5. 2012 Luna Nueva Tequila Reposado
This Tequila is produced after their Silver Tequila is rested for a minimum of 6 months in oak casks with varying levels of charring. It has a smooth and silky flavor.
6. 29 Tequila Reposado
This Tequila is aged in French oak whiskey barrels for a minimum of 6 months. The taste and quality of this Tequila comes from the exact timing and testing to make sure it meetsthe taste [rofile before bottling.
7. 3 Amigos Tequila Reposado
Aged in charred, white oak barrels for ee months. A perfect blend of Agave and oak. The Agave is grown in the red, rich soil of Jalisco from the finest Agave plants in the region.
8. 3 Caballos Tequila Reposado
This ultra smooth tequila is a perfectly balanced blend of the sweetness from the Agave and the smokiness of the American oak barrels it is aged in. It is fermented for more than 72 hours giving it a superior taste.
9. 3 Fusiles Tequila Reposado
A limited production that is part of a special reserve of the Hacienda. It is made with the highest standards of quality using the traditional processes to ensure the highest quality and taste.
10. 3 Garantias Tequila Reposado
Aged for at least 3 months in white oak barrels. Garantias Reposado is produced from pure Agave grown from the soil of the Jalisco region of Los Altos.
Tequila Category #4: Tequilo Anejo
Sometimes called Extra Edged or Vintage. It represents the next level of ageing. Anejos are usually aged for a minimum of one year but it could be as long as three years. The tequila rests in either American whiskey barrels, French oak casks, or cognac barrels. They tend to be darker in color and have more complex flavors with a smoother taste than a Reposado.
1. Riazul Premium Anejo Tequila
This Tequila is aged in French white oak barrels previously used for XO Cognac. It has a blend of deep flavors of caramel, amaretto, tootsie roll, honey and espresso.
2. Don Pilar Tequila Anejo
Aged in American oak barrels after being fermented with Champagne yeast. The rich flavors are improved upon with the help of Baroque music playing in the background during the 200 hour fermentation process. It is then aged for 12 months giving a nice smoothness to the agave flavor.
3. Dulce Vida Tequila Anejo
Made from purely organic agave grown in soil from the Pacific Coast Highlands. The region is surrounded by both mountains and sea where it produces more flavorful Agave. The result shows in the delicate flavor and smoothness.
4. Corrido Tequila Anejo
This single barrel Anejo is made from what is called a triple barrel process. At the 12 month stage of the ageing process, samples are taken and those barrels that meet the taste profile are selected for bottling. Those that are not ready are sent back to ageing until they are ready.
5. Peligroso Tequila Anejo
The Agave for this Anejo is grown and harvested on a private estate in the Jalisco Highlands. Aged in American oak barrels for a minimum of one year. Each bottle is hand numbered and corked to certify its authenticity.
6. Republic Tequila Anejo
Aged in organic Jack Daniels barrels for 20 months. The Agave selected is grown from Blue Agave from the Autlan Region using traditional methods and natural aerobic fermentation.
7. Agave Dos Mil Tequila Anejo Grand Reserve
Produced from estate grown Agave and aged in charred American oak barrels for a minimum of 2 years. With the experience of 5 generations behind it you get the highest quality Anejo from the region.
8. Arta Tequila Anejo
Distilled in an 3rd generation master distiller, this Tequila is made from Blue Agave that has matured for more than 8 years. It has a consistent flavor and an authentic characteristic flavor.
9. Azunia Tequila
From the very heart of Jalisco, this Agave comes from the perfect soil and climate. The land is rich from volcanic deposits from the Tequila volcano more than 200,000 years ago. After fermentation it as aged in American oak barrels for a minimum of one year.
10. Tequila Aha Toro Anejo
This smooth, amber tequila comes from Agave grown at an altitude over 2100 meters above sea level. The climate is cold and semi-dry keeping the Agave cool until it matures giving it its distinctive flavor.
Tequila Category #5: Tequila Extra Anejo (Ultra-Aged)
These are usually tucked away and aged for a period of at least 3 years in direct contact with the wood of the barrel. Usually uses Encino oak barrels. The ageing time for the Extra Anejo is not usually specified but could be as much as 6 years.
1. AsomBroso Extra Anejo
Aged for a minimum of 5 years in French oak casks, it makes for a very smooth and mellow Tequila perfect for sipping. Produced using the old fashioned methods of multiple distillation and filtration methods.
2. Casa Noble Single Barrel Anejo Tequila
Aged in hand-selected French white oak barrels for up to 5 years. The entire process is carefully monitored for flavor evolution and evaporation.
3. Chinaco Negro Tequila Extra Anejo
Also aged for 5 years in a single batch. Chinaco is a Limited Edition product. It gets its flavor from a combination of many different factors that include the weather, the Agave’s maturity, the room temperature during distillation, and the wood it is aged in.
4. Tequila Herradura Seleccion Suprema Extra Anejo
This Limited Edition special blend is aged exactly 49 months. It has recived the most valued accolades from all over the world. It is produced from the finest Agave plants, the oldest oven, and the skill in the distillingi process and the long resting phase. All together it produces a product unique in taste and quality.
5. Tequila Corrido Extra Anejo
A Limited single barrel production of only 10,000 liters aged in carefully selected white oak barrels. Aged for 3 years to get the dark amber color that gives off a taste similar to that of Bourbon or Cognac.
6. D’Antani Tequila Anejo
Aged for 5 years in white oak barrels produces this sophisticated Tequila. From the finest Agave chosen from the Highlands of Los Altos to the cooking process in stone ovens to the distillation and resting phase this Tequila is a masterpiece in creation and character.
7. El Tesoro Tequila Aniversario Extra Anejo
This is a 70th anniversary celebratory new tequila. Developed with traditional methods and aged for a whopping 7 years in white oak American bourbon barrels produces an extremely smooth tequila. Only 2007 cases will ever be produced of this special blend.
8. Tonala Anejo Suprema Reserva Tequila
A single barrel blend aged for a minimum of 4 years in sherry wood and used oak bourbon barrels. This is a lush tequila with flavors of oak, tropical fruits and spice. This tequila is smoother than a fine congnac or bourbon.
9. El Gran Jubileo Extra Anejo
Triple distilled and aged in new American white oak barrels for more than 5 years. It comes from a family owned distillery and was created to celebrate the new millennium. Using only the best Agave it is produced using an methodical process the produces the highest quality in tequilas.
10. Don Julio Real Tequila Extra Anejo
Aged for 5 years this is the ultimate Tequila from one of Mexico’s most renowned premium tequila makers. It goes through a double distillation process after the agave is cooked in brick ovens. This is a very high quality tequila that produces an extremely smooth flavor.
There is no way to discuss tequila without mentioning the two drinks it is most famous for. It doesn’t matter if you’re sipping on a salty Margarita in a restaurant or doing shots at the local town bar, these methods are the drinks that have put tequila on the map around the world.
To make a perfect Margarita here are a few steps to help you get it just right.
Step 1 – Prepare the glass. Cut a lime and rub it alone the rim. This will help the salt to stick to the glass. Turn the glass over and dip the rim in salt. Make sure you have full coverage.
Step 2 – Prepare your ingredients.
1 ½ ozs. Tequila
½ oz. Triple Sec or Cointreau
½ oz. lemon or lime juice
Blend well with ice. Be careful not to use too much ice or your drink will taste weak. Strain into prechilled salt-rimmed cocktail glass. Some prefer to use sugar on the rims rather than the salt. It’s your preference. They both work well.
It may surprise you to know that even though the Margarita is the most popular drink in the United States it did not actually make its appearance until some time after World War II.
Interestingly enough, the other drink that gave tequila its popularity comes from the same combination of flavors. A Tequila shot is really not a cocktail but it has become so popular for doing shots that it would just be wrong not to mention it.
First, you want to gather your ingredients. You will need
1 ½ oz tequila
a wedge of lemon or lime
and a pinch of salt
Step 1. Moisten the back of your hand and pour the pinch of salt on the moistened area.
Step 2. Lick the salt off your hand.
Step 3. Drink the tequila shot. Throw it down in one gulp, no sipping.
Step 4. Bite the lemon or lime wedge to balance the flavors.
Tequila has many possibilities. With more than 1200 different tequilas flooding the market today it is a spirit that will not be going away any time soon. Whatever your preferences for tequila and no matter how you choose to enjoy it, it will leave you with a feeling that is muy simpatico.