If you consider yourself to be a tequila drinker (beyond just doing whatever random shot you’re handed at the bar), then there are a couple basic facts that you should know about the spirit. One, there are three primary varieties: blanco (unaged), reposado (aged at least 60 days in oak), and añejo (aged from one to three years in oak). And two, you should never, ever drink a tequila that doesn’t say “100 Percent Agave,” “100 Percent Blue Agave,” “100 Percent Agave Azul,” or something along those lines on the label. Here’s why.
Let’s start by explaining exactly what tequila is. The process used to make real tequila starts with the blue agave, a relative of the aloe plant, and by law it must be grown in the state of Jalisco or a handful of other Mexican municipalities. The sharp leaves of the plant are cut away, leaving only the heart of the plant, called the piña, behind. These piñas, which can weigh up to several hundred pounds, are heated and pressed, and the resulting juice is distilled into tequila. And that’s it. It’s 100 percent blue agave because the tequila is made with only the juice of blue agaves. Pretty straightforward.
Now let’s get into how non-100 percent blue agave tequila, called mixto, is made (You’ll never see the word “mixto” on the bottle; it just won’t say that it’s 100 percent agave). Mixto tequilas are legally allowed to be fermented with up to 49 percent non-agave sugars, and most producers use cheap cane sugar. So when you drink a mixto tequila, you’re essentially drinking half-tequila, half-other stuff. And even worse, in order to make mixtos taste and look more like 100 percent agave tequila, they’ll include additives like sugar syrup, caramel coloring, glycerin, oak extract, and almond extract, and they’ll still be allowed to call it “tequila.” This, my friends, is how hangovers go from tolerable to really bad.
Yes, 100 percent blue agave tequilas (like Patrón and Herradura) are more expensive than the mixto stuff (the most popular of which is Jose Cuervo Especial). But if you’re going to drink tequila, you shouldn’t be wasting your time and money on the low-quality stuff anyway. 100 percent agave tequila is a complex, delicate, and refined spirit that’s intended to be sipped. Mixto is, well… There’s a reason why you have to shoot it down with a lick of salt and a slice of lime.