How to Drink TequilaTequila is a Mexican spirit made from the blue agave plant and distilled to create the liquor we know today. Many people drink tequila straight, but there are plenty of other ways you can enjoy it. In this post, we’ll be talking all about how to drink tequila. (If you’re new to our blog, learn how to drink bourbon and how to drink whiskey.)
How to Drink Tequila – Learn the Basics
WHAT IS TEQUILA?
Tequila is a distilled, alcoholic spirit made from the agave plant. It’s a type of mezcal only made with Weber’s blue agave, also known as agave tequilana.
The blue agave thrives in Mexico and typically takes over seven years to fully mature. Once mature, jimadors (agave farmers) harvest the agave by removing the spiny leaves and exposing the hearts (piñas) during harvest. The hearts are sent off to a distillery, eventually becoming tequila.
Just like bourbon must be produced in the United States in order to be called bourbon, Mexican law dictates that tequila is only allowed to be produced in Mexico and specifically in the Jalisco, Nayarit, Guanajuato, Michoacán, and Tamaulipas regions.
THE HISTORY OF TEQUILA
Tequila’s history dates back to 1000 B.C. The Olmecs drank a fermented drink known as pulque, made from the sap of the agave plant. It’s a sugary, milky liquid. Later, the Aztecs adapted it. Then, during the Spanish invasion of the Aztecs in the 1400s, the Spanish appropriated pulque because brandy supplies were at critically low levels. Spaniards used mud and agave to distill spirits. By the early 1600s, the Marquis de Altamira built the first mass distillery in the modern day Tequila, Jalisco.
In 1758, the Cuervo family began distilling tequila with the Sauza family soon following in 1873. Cuervo and Sauza remain prominent tequilas available today.
WHAT ARE THE FIVE TYPES OF TEQUILA?
The different classifications of tequila are:
- Joven (Gold)
- Extra Añejo
During the Prohibition era in the United States, tequila found a home among scofflaws. As of 1974, tequila is intellectual property of the Mexican government.
How to Make Tequila
- Collecting ingredients: there are two main categories of tequila: “puro” tequilas made from 100% blue Weber agave and “mixto” tequilas are made from at least 51% agave, with the other 49% made up of sugars.
- Fermentation: Once the wash is mixed, the tequila is fermented for 5-7 days. When ready, it no longer tastes sweet or emits vapors.
- Distillation: After fermentation, the tequila is strained to remove any solid material that can impact purity. Pot stills are fired up. The tequila wash goes through two distillations. In the first, the distillate is collected without separating the heads, hearts, and tails. In the second, the distillate is separated upon collection.
- Collecting the distillate: the distillate is collected and separated. The first 5% of the distillate is discarded (foreshots), the next 30% are discarded (heads), the next 30% is kept (hearts), and the remaining 35% are removed from the wash but kept to use as their own wash in the future.
Aging the tequila: There are various aging timelines for tequila, with no legal requirement for age.
Blancos usually aren’t aged but rest for up to 60 days.
Jovens are blended with aged tequilas.
Reposados are aged from 2 months-364 days.
Añejos are aged for 1-3 years.
Extra añejos are aged longer than 36 months.
How to Drink Tequila – Before Tasting
Tequila tasting isn’t just pouring tequila into a glass and sipping it. There are a few considerations before popping open your bottle.
INTERPRET THE LABEL
Bottles of tequila all have a list of requirements on their label. We’ve compiled a list of these elements required by the CRT or the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (Tequila Regulatory Council). The CRT is a non-profit organization that upholds the standards of tequila.
Here are the requirements found on a bottle of tequila:
- Type (Tipo). This is the category of tequila–or the five types we outlined above: blanco, reposado, joven, añejo, and extra añejo.
- Purity. 100% agave tequila is labeled as “puro” (pure). If it doesn’t say it is 100% agave on the label, then it’s a “mixto” (mixed).*
- NOM. The Norma Oficial Mexicana number, or NOM number denotes that the bottle is authentic tequila produced in Mexico. It also indicates the producer of the tequila. TequilaMatchmaker is a reference to check where the tequila is sourced.
- Distiller’s name and address. It’s not always shown in full on the front of the label. Sometimes only the town and state are indicated. This can be the parent company’s address, corporation’s address, or the administration office.
- CRT. Again, this stands for the Consejo Regulador del Tequila. This means the product is certified. It doesn’t guarantee quality. It only means the CRT approved the production process and that it meets all legal requirements.
- Hecho en Mexico. Made in Mexico. All 100% agave tequilas must be made and bottled in Mexico. It can also say “producto de Mexico” or “elaborado en Mexico.” “Hecho a mano” means handmade. It’s not an official term but indicates traditional or artisanal production.
- DOT. Denomination of Tequila number. This indicates compliance with Mexican regulations regarding where the product was made. Note: This is not featured on all labels.
- Brand name. Also accompanied by a graphic or a logo plus a trademark identifier such as ® or “MR” ™.
- The alcohol content. Tequilas in Mexico are typically 38-40% alcohol, but legally may be higher, up to 50%.
- Any additives like flavor or aroma.
- The volume of the contents (in millimeters or liters).
- Lot or batch number. Each bottle must have a coded identification of the lot it belongs to engraved or stamped on the bottle.
- Warning statements put in place by health legislation or any information required by other legal provisions applicable to alcoholic beverages.
- The word “tequila” on the label. I mean, who knows? It could be anything inside of the bottle. Note: the word tequila alone without specifying 100% agave means it’s a mixto.
- Some bottles can have a number indicating batch size and the bottle’s number. This isn’t a requirement. It can also indicate the size of any particular production.
In order to drink tequila, you’re going to need a vessel to aid in drinking (aka what normal people call a glass). Before you reach for any old glass, you need to decide how you enjoy your tequila and what type of tequila you want to drink. Do you like to take shots? Do you savor it slowly like a fine wine? Do you prefer it neat? On the rocks? What type of tequila do you want? Do you prefer a crystal clear blanco, a finely aged añajo or cask-finished tequila infused with flavors from the barrel? You’re probably not going to find yourself sipping on a blanco tequila. Likewise, you’re not going to want to pound down an extra añejo tequila. Your choices dictate what kind of glass you reach for and how much you’ll enjoy your drink.
If you prefer to slam down a shot of young tequila, there are plenty of shot glass styles. But if you want to savor the complexity of the tequila, you’ll want a tulip-shaped glass to concentrate the aromas. If you prefer tequila on the rocks, a lowball glass or single or double rocks glass will suffice.
FOR TEQUILA SAVORERS
If you are a savorer and prefer to slowly sip the tequila, you’re going to want a copita or tulip-shaped glass like a wine tumbler. The large middle narrow the aromas while the narrow top concentrates them. If you prefer a stemmed glass, there are copita-style tequila glasses (they look like champagne glasses).
For even finer tequila, we recommend Glencairn glasses. Glencairns are designed for whiskey, but work well for fine tequilas. The classic tulip shape is sturdy, machine washable, and was ergonomically designed for holding it in your hand with its broad middle and sturdy base.
For a less expensive option, consider a brandy glass. They also have the copita or tulip-shaped bowl to concentrate aromas, sending them upwards into your nose.
FOR TEQUILA SLAMMERS
If you’d rather have a down-in-one approach to tequila, shot glasses are the best choice for you. Any style of shot glass will do, so, hit me with your best shot (glass). Tall, short, columnar, or square. There are beautiful recycled glasses or even Himalayan salt glasses. You won’t need to salt the rim and you can’t wash them in a dishwasher. Unfortunately, they eventually wear out. But they’re cool to look at.
FOR THE ON-THE-ROCKS CROWD
Any tumbler will work if you prefer your tequila on the rocks. These tumblers add a little luxury while these are pretty basic.
And now the moment in the article we’ve all been waiting for, how to taste tequila.
Note: as a general rule, blanco and joven tequilas are best enjoyed in cocktails while reposados, añejos, and añejos are best as sipping tequilas.
TASTER’S TIPS FOR HOW TO DRINK TEQUILA
- Start with your tequila glass of choice. We suggest a champagne flute, or copita-style glass.
- Pour 1-2 ounces of tequila in the glass.
- Observe the color. Each type of tequila has a corresponding color associated with it. Blanco and joven tequilas are clear, whereas reposado and anejo vary from golden tawny to caramel. Extra añejo is dark and golden.
- Sniff the tequila. This is an important part of tasting as the senses of smell and taste use the same types of receptors.Ideally, you want to get the maximum amount of surface area. Turn the glass on its side so the tequila is as close to the rim as possible. Lower your nose to the bottom rim so that it’s nearly touching the bottom of the glass, and take a sniff. Only take tiny sniffs as you don’t want to inhale deeply to oversaturate your nose.
- After noting the initial aromas, continue to take in the aromas, now from the middle of the glass. What do you identify? Is it citrusy? Fruity? Floral?
- Now it’s time to taste! Take a tiny sip. Then, notice what you’re smelling initially. We recommend inhaling before you take your first sip. Once you have the tequila in your mouth, inhale through your nose, swallow it over the tongue, then exhale over your tongue to arouse your taste buds. Then, taste again!
If you’ve only had it at parties in a shot glass, do yourself a favor and go to your local store to purchase a bottle of reposado tequila. Better yet, get yourself a Taster’s Club Tequila of the Month membership. Each month we send you a 750 ml bottle of difficult-to-find tequilas. Learn from experts with tasting, history, and distillery notes.
Choose between our Club and Pro Club memberships. The Club focuses on lesser known tequilas, but our Pro Club focuses on rare tequilas, hard to find without someone like Taster’s Club guiding you. So, what are you doing? Sign up today!
And that’s it! The tried-and-true, simple way to drink tequila. Tequila isn’t just a liquor for your shot glass. Tequila is rife with rich, cultural history and complexity.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
WHAT ARE THE REGULATIONS AROUND TEQUILA?
The Mexican government places strict regulations on tequila to control how it is produced.
It must be made of at least 51% Weber blue agave (azul), allowing the remainder to be made up of a neutral spirit made from cane juice. Those that are 100% blue agave (“puro” or “pure” tequilas) are labeled accordingly while those made with less than 100% are labeled “mixto” (mixed).
All tequilas are required to be aged for at least 14-21 days and must be bottled between 35-55% ABV with 100% natural ingredients.
HOW SHOULD YOU DRINK TEQUILA?
Drink it any way you like: in a shot, on the rocks, or in a cocktail.
We recommend sipping it. Fill a tumbler with 2oz of tequila. Take a small sip straight, and enjoy! To add a little flare, cut up a lime wedge, and get a ramekin of salt. After every sip, dip the wedge into the salt and suck on it.
IS TEQUILA A WHISKEY?
No. Both are distilled spirits, but comprise different ingredients. Whiskeys are made from grains like corn, barley, rye, oat, and wheat. Tequilas are made from the Weber blue agave succulent.
WHY DO SOME TEQUILAS HAVE A WORM?
There’s no worm in the bottom of tequila. The worm belongs in mezcal.
The origin of this is uncertain. Some speculate the worm started as a marketing ploy to get the populace to drink more mezcal in the 1940s and 1950s. Others postulate it was purely marketing aimed at Americans. Mezcal needed to differentiate itself from tequila and its increasing popularity.
The Normas Oficiales Mexicanas (the Mexican Standards Authority) prohibits adding insects or larvae to tequila. You’ll never see a worm at the bottom of a tequila bottle (and if you do then we’re sorry but you’re victim to an obvious prank).
The worm is a moth larvae called a gusano de maguey. When not drowning in booze, these moths turn into a nocturnal butterfly called the Mariposa.