5 Different Types of Tequila, Explained

Tequila has fast become one of the most popular spirits in America. Not only is it the base of a margarita, which is currently the country’s favorite cocktail, but aged versions of the spirit are also winning over whiskey fanatics.

If you’re an agave amateur looking for a bottle to suit your tastes, know this: There are many types of tequila. Depending on the type, the spirit can taste minty, peppery and vegetal or have smooth, rich butterscotch and caramel flavors. Read on to learn all about the five main types of tequila and what to know when you’re looking for bottles to add to your home bar.

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What Are the Different Types of Tequila?

When it comes to different types of tequila, some criteria that define them are color and flavor (which is often driven by aging), says Robert Chin, head of spirits of Combs Global and DeLeón Tequila. While it's not always the case, tequilas that have been aged longer, like reposados and añejos, usually cost more than an unaged spirit, like blanco tequila, he explains.

For premium types like reposado, añejos, and extra añejos, try sipping the liquid neat (in a brandy snifter, white wine glass, rocks glass) or on the rocks. Blancos, on the other hand, tend to be great for popular tequila cocktails, though some fans of the expression drink it neat to taste the flavor of ripe agave.

How to Shop For Tequilas

While you might see descriptors like “smooth” to advertise tequila, you actually want a bottle that has bold flavors, says Gabe Sanchez, an award-winning cocktail expert at Midnight Rambler in Dallas.

The Norma Oficial Mexicana number, or NOM number, denotes that the bottle is authentic tequila produced in Mexico, Sanchez says. It also tells you which tequila producer it comes from.

Tequila lovers should know there are different tequila-making methods.

Some of Sanchez’s favorite tequilas come from the Tahona method, which uses a volcanic stone wheel to crush roasted agave. He notices that these types of tequilas have more earthy and vegetal notes.

Meanwhile, the Roller Mill method—a highly efficient, continuous process—runs the agave through rollers and rinses it with water to release fermentable sugars. These tequilas have sharper and more citrus and floral forward flavors that make them well suited for a cocktail like the Paloma, Sanchez says.

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Here’s what to know about the core three types of tequila as well as a couple more popular expressions:

Types of Tequila

Blanco

You might also see labels that refer to blanco tequilas as a “plata” or “silver,” and this refers to the spirit being unaged or aged for less than two months, explains Nick Vetter, general manager of The Islander in San Diego whose worked as a professional bartender and spirits educator.

Blancos are great for citrus-forward cocktails like margaritas and palomas, he says.

But if you sip a blanco tequila, you’ll pick up on some interesting notes that can vary based on where in Jalisco the tequila was produced.

Tequila from the highlands tends to be sweeter with notes of ripe agave, says tequila expert Pepe Barajas, the owner of La Josie, a Michelin Bib Gourmand recipient and Solazo. Meanwhile, tequila from the lowlands tends to have minerality, and spicier flavors due to the influences in the volcanic soil.

Reposado

Reposados are aged anywhere between two months to a year, and the aging process takes place in American or French oak barrels, usually which previously held whiskey, explains Marshall Emerson, a tequila enthusiast and bartender at Johnny Wahoo Golf Bar in San Diego, California.

“The barrel adds the coloration to the spirit, releasing the resins inside the wood into the spirit which shapes the taste profile the same way it shapes that of whiskey,” he says.

He suggests drinking reposado neat or with a single cube, but it’s also fantastic to use as a substitute for whiskey in any of your favorite whiskey-based cocktails. Look for notes of oak, pepper, leather, caramel and vanilla. Some will even have a citrus blossom smell.

When it comes to reposados, keep your eyes peeled for creative collaborations, too, says Barajas.

“Occasionally, tequila producers will collaborate with whisky, rum or cognac producers to age tequila in previously used barrels,” Barajas says. “These collaborations produce very unique, rare flavor profiles in small, limited production.”

Añejo

Añejos are aged between one to three years, which is what adds the amber color to the liquid, explains Resa Mueller, bartender at R&D in Philadelphia. Añejos are another expression that appeals to whisky lovers, and the agave spirit can be sipped neat or served in cocktails.

“Look for delicate notes of vanilla, caramel, toasted oak with hints of cooked agave as well as hints of citrus and pepper,” Mueller says. “It’s a really beautiful expression of tequila that’s accented by the characteristic flavor notes that a whiskey drinker looks for.”

As a bartender, Vetter says he’s used añejos the same way he would use many scotches and whiskies, occasionally subbing one in for a Manhattan.

Extra Añejo

Extra añejos spend at least three years aging in a barrel. Usually, sipping a bottle of this liquid gold is reserved for special occasions. Emerson says it pairs beautifully with desserts like flan, tres leches and donut bites. It has notes of caramel, butterscotch and honey but the oak notes are more pronounced.

Interestingly, extra añejo is a relatively new expression as it has only been a defined category since 2006, Vetter points out. Known as hyper premium, the continued aging adds more intense flavor profiles and boasts a level of intensity and sharpness not found in younger agave spirits.

Joven

Joven means "young," and as its name suggests, it has age, but not much, says Vetter.

“Joven tequilas are a mixture of blanco tequila with a blend of aged tequila mixed in,” he says. “It's kind of in between a blanco and a reposado.”

While Joven tequilas are meant to be sipped, they can be used in cocktails as well, he says. These will have the brightness of a blanco with the slightly aged qualities of a reposado.

Meanwhile, joven rosa is a relatively new style of tequila that marries blanco tequila with red wine barrels.

“The addition of the wine barrels gives it a delicate rosé color and a unique flavor profile, combining the agave's purity with fruity and floral elements,” says José Beckmann, CEO of Celosa Rosé Tequila.

Cristalino

Cristalino is another very new expression that’s been gaining popularity as distilleries are experimenting with different production methods, Vetter says.

“This process involves a filtration process, often charcoal, that removes a lot of the color and intense wood flavors imparted by the aging process,” he explains. “They typically start as a reposado or añejo and end up bright, clear and incredibly smooth, making them quite pleasant to sip on.”

While filtration removes those rich, intense flavors of oak, it doesn't take away from the nuance imparted by the barrel, like vanilla and lemongrass notes, he says.

“I really like to sip on these as well as use them in cocktails so this varietal is quite versatile,” Vetter says.

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