See also: mezcal, pulque, sotol

photo of field of agave

©photographer: Carlos Sanchez Pereyra | Agency: dreamstime.com

An alcoholic beverage made in Mexico by distilling roasted bulbs of the blue agave (Agave tequilana Weber, azul variety), a member of the lily family, not a cactus. Each bulb weighs fifty to a hundred pounds.

photo of worker cutting an agave bulb photo of agave bulbs at distillery

The Mexican government has established legal requirements for the production and labeling of tequila. To be called “tequila”, the beverage must have been distilled in the state of Jalisco, Nayarit, Guanajuato, Michoacán or Tamaulipas. “Tequila” is thus a controlled appellation, like “Champagne” or “Kentucky Bourbon”. No more than 49% of the sugar, by weight, can come from any source other than the blue agave. If other sources are used, the tequila must be labeled “mixto”.

The designations describing the aging of tequila have the following meanings¹ (the English names of the classes are those approved by the Mexican NORMA):

blanco, plata, silver Not aged. This is tequila as it comes from the second distillation. It contains no additives other than water. (It is distilled at 100 plus proof, and cut to 86 or 80.) The other designations may legally contain a variety of additives.
joven or oro, gold Same as blanco, but color and flavor added (usually caramel). Blends of blanco with reposado, añejo or extra añejo are considered joven or oro.
reposado, aged Aged at least 2 months in oak (roble or encino). Blends of reposado with añejo or extra añejo are considered reposado.
añejo, extra aged Aged at least 12 months in oak, as above, in containers no larger than 600 liters. Blends of añejo with extra añejo are considered añejo.
extra añejo, ultra aged Aged at least 3 years in oak, as above.

Aging tends to remove the “agave” character of the tequila (fresh, vegetal, herbaceous, citrusy, peppery) and leads toward nutty or toasty overtones. There is no sense in making margueritas from extra añejo tequila; it is meant to be enjoyed the way aged brandy is.

1. NORMA Oficial Mexicana NOM-006-SCFI-2005, Bebidas alcohólicas-Tequila-Especificaciones. 6 January 2006, section 4.34.



Splendid treatment of the subject.

Bob Emmons.
The Book of Tequila.
Chicago: Open Court, 1997.

Park S. Nobel.
Remarkable Agaves and Cacti.
Oxford University Press, 1994.

A. R. Sánchez-Lacy.
Guia del Tequila.
Mexico City: Artes de Mexico, 1998.

Ana Guadalupe Valenzuela-Zapata and Guy Paul Nabhan.
¡Tequila! A Natural and Cultural History.
Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2003.

A beautiful little book, one of a handful of best books on relationships between people and plants. Contains an extensive bibliography.

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