What makes one tequila better than another and why are some so expensive?
A better question is when the heck did tequila go from a morning-after regret to getting shout-outs in rap songs and commanding single malt whisky-style prices? Back in my day, tequila was more of a joke than a serious contender for liquor supremacy. Something you’d drink on a dare with a lick of salt and a wedge of lime. Today it’s literally liquid gold with the likes of Justin Timberlake and George Clooney pushing their own luxury brands and fueling this current state of tequilamania.
What makes one tequila better than another? Well, let’s start with some background. It can only be made in certain areas of Mexico, primarily in and around the city of Tequila in the state of Jalisco which is midway down the spine of the country. It has to be made from at least 51 percent blue agave, a large, spiky plant that can take up to 10 years to mature. The best are made with 100 percent blue agave, so if the bottle in your hand isn’t bragging that fact, it’s a blend of agave and other sugars that’s been nicknamed a mixtos.
Of the 100 percent varieties, age plays a big part in quality and cost. A blanco (or white tequila) sees no age and is actually the best to use in a margarita. A joven is a blanco that’s been flavoured with caramel or other colouring source, while a repasoda has aged for at least two months (but less than a year) in oak barrels to gain its colour, and an añejo ages a minimum of a year (but not over three years) in small barrels. An extra añejo is aged for no less than three years.
Body, flavour intensity and overall sophistication increase (along with the value) as the quality level rises. If you like sipping your tequila as you would a fine brandy, you’ll be able to tell the difference. If, on the other hand, you’re going to bury it underneath lime juice and orange liqueur, let your budget be your guide.