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Types of Tequila

Types of Tequila

Even though we have different types of tequila today, in the 16th century, this was the first indigenous distilled spirit of North America made out of the agave plant when the Spanish conquistadors exhausted their own supply of brandy.
Madhura Panse
Now tequila may be the favored beverage of outlaws but that doesn't mean it gives them preferential treatment. In fact, tequila probably has betrayed as many outlaws as has the central nervous system and dissatisfied wives. Tequila, scorpion honey, harsh dew of the doglands, essence of Aztec, crema de cacti; Tequila, oily and thermal like the sun in solution; tequila, liquid geometry of passion; Tequila, the buzzard god who copulates in midair with the ascending souls of dying virgins; Tequila, firebug in the house of good taste; O tequila, savage water of sorcery, what confusion and mischief your sly, rebellious drops do generate! ― American novelist, Tom Robbins.
Tequila had its real mass-production for the first time in 19th century Mexico. Its different types - shot, sipped, or mixed in cocktails, are made out of the blue agave plant originally growing in the volcanic soils of the town called Tequila, in Jalisco, Mexico. It is one of the most abundantly zestful, sharply pungent, spirited distilled spirits. The taste of quite some shots has been described almost invariably, like that of 'dust with a little smoke, sun, and life hanging in the ganglion of the afternoon air'. Many, on trying it for the first time and every other time, have a sudden outburst of fiery breath of an evanescent fire expelled from displeased oral faculties. It can be quite the imp of all spirits put together; and one should know how to play with it without being a casualty of dreadful, head-splitting hangovers.
The Aztec Mythology
In the Aztec mythology, the goddess and deity of the stars, Tzintzimitl, demanded human sacrifices and kept the earth in darkness. The feathered serpent deity, Quetzalcoatl, decided to put an end to her tyrannical and evil reign. He sought to find her and slay her. But he found her beautiful granddaughter, Mayahuel, and instantaneously fell in love with her. Tzintzimitl got to know of this and was horribly enraged. In order to hide from her wrath, Quetzalcoatl and Mayahuel went to earth, where they transformed into the form of two trees whose leaves were entwined with each other.
Tzintzimitl, however, found them both. Quetzalcoatl survived, but Mayahuel was destroyed by the fury of the stars devouring her. Since then, at the place where Mayahuel died, the first agave plant with a seductive-smelling, sweet nectar grew. It was struck by a lightning bolt and the agave nectar, which was the blood of Mayahuel oozed out. Ever since, this elixir has been used in rituals and ceremonies.
How Is It Made?
  • Made out of the piñas or pineapples of the broad, spiny-leafed blue agave or agave azul, when it is perfectly ripe at around the age of eight to twelve years, it is then filled with the sweet sap called aqua miel.
  • The pale yellow piñas are without any smell and are made of pure starch.
  • Prematurely harvested piñas, that are overly roasted in a hurry can become bitter; whilst overripe agaves may add unpleasant smells.
  • After being cut away from the mother-plant and shredded, the perfectly ripened piñas, hand-picked by jimadores who have generations of knowledge about the harvesting of these, are steamed in stone ovens for either one or one-and-a-half days at temperatures of 176 to 203 degree Fahrenheit.
  • The orange-brown colored, sweet-smelling, cooked piñas, are then, pressed in three pressing mills to extract their nectar.
  • The agave's fibers reabsorb most of the juice, and hence are washed again in order to get the maximum amount of juice.
  • This consequent result is called aguamiel (honey-water), and is then put into barrels of wood, mainly oak, to ferment. A sugar-fermenting yeast, mainly kept as a secret by many companies, is added to the barrels to convert the sugars to alcohol.
  • The length of time for the aging process and the strain of yeast create the unique qualities and subtle differences between the bouquets, flavors and the amount of alcohol in the types of tequila.
  • The factors affecting its quality are the ripeness of the agave and its piñas, water used for distillation, the strain of yeast, and the hygienic conditions. For instance, unhygienic tanks or barrels in which the fermentation takes place, have bacteria growing that can adversely affect the flavor and the bouquet.
The two main tequila types are distinctly classified into two categories:

100% Blue Agave: This is a high quality spirit made entirely out of the Blue Weber Agave.

Mixto: If the label doesn't quite say '100% de Agave', you can be certain that this one's a mixto (mixed). Here, there are rarely more than the minimal 51% sugars of the agave, and the rest 49% is made of liquor out of corn or other sugars, and caramel or caramel coloring added for a golden tinge and smoothness. Both, fructose and glucose sugars are used in a mixto.

Furthermore, the types are classified and designated on the aspects of their aging process:
Blanco or Plata
Hardly having an aging span of 60 days or less, or bottled straight after the distillation process, unlike the other 3 types that are stored for a longer time - blanco, meaning 'white', or plata, meaning 'silver', is clear and transparent, and stored in stainless steel or oak wood barrels. It has the naturally harsh, yet sweet and smooth, or is sometimes boldly earthy in flavor. But it always maintains the distinct primordially intense and sharp flavor of the blue agave. It's the purest form amongst all the types and is considered to be quite a good aperitif. Blanco is generally the one that you're served in short and dainty caballito glasses.
Joven or Oro
The word joven means 'young', and oro means 'gold'. These are basically silver tequilas, or blanco which hasn't quite been left out in the barrels to age, but taken out immediately after distillation in order to add colorants and flavorings - sweet caramel and sugar syrup, being the most common, and glycerin, and may be rested for a while in oak barrels to give it a soft and subtle woody flavor and a golden hue.
The word reposado means 'rested', which simply means that this drink is an aged one, sometimes, distilled more than once and left to ferment longer in French oak wood or white oak wood barrels for a span of time between two months to twelve. The wood and other elements, such as the resins and tannins added, justly impart their own flavors, thus, making it taste more rich and complex than blanco or joven. It has a more straw-like color or deeper golden one depending upon how long it is aged for. The longer the time for aging, the darker its color will be.
Owing to the addition of various colorings or flavorings, such as citrus, spice, pleasant sweeps of vanilla, and the like, some reposados are attributed to having a subtle sweet and smoky bouquet, which makes it an excellent variety for sipping. This was the first aged one amongst all types and devours a chunk of 60% sales in Mexico.
Añejo, which means 'vintage', is a tequila typically aged for a minimum of one to three years. They're stored in the wooden barrels of old oak, as new wood darkens the drink faster to a very dark amber color. Sometimes, old Holm or Encino oak is used to age the añejo, so are old oak barrels of whisky or bourbon. The taste of the juicy agave in the añejo is complexly sophisticated and smoother than that of reposado. These can also be darkly-finished mixtos with notes of vanilla, orange peel, syrupy caramel, cinnamon, and smoke-peppery spice. This is one of the types that is not used for mixing.
Extra Añejo
The extra añejo, extra-aged or ultra-aged, is the most recent appellation and classification since October 2006. It's basically an añejo that is aged for more than three years in oak. It is of a very dark amber color, compared to a fine Cognac or a single malt Scotch.
Amongst all the types for margarita recipes or other beverages and drink recipes, blanco is the one that's most commonly used. There are several different brands and prices that you'd like to compare in order to choose which one suits your palate the best. And, after all that's said about the different tequila types, hopefully the next time, before you begin swirling in the dizzying swivel of this impish distilled spirit, remember the funny words of American stand-up comedian, George Carlin- One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor!