Don't Shop For Tequila Again Until You Learn These 13 Terms

Perhaps you have, like me, stood in a liquor aisle and gazed at an array of tequilas on sale, wondering which was the best to buy. To the unitiated, any tequila will do after thinking about cost, bottle size, and how you'll drink it. It makes sense to want something tasty for a sipping drink, whereas one might be less discerning about a tequila bound for a blender as part of a margarita.

But there's a lot more that goes into to tequila than those simple initial factors. There's a whole glossary of terms that insiders in the tequila-making industry and serious tequila-lovers use. We spoke with Antonio Rodriguez, who is the production manager for the storied tequila brand Patrón. Its tequila is made from blue agave in the Mexican region of Jalisco, and Antonio spoke to me from their production facilities, where he was on a break from overseeing the company's time-honored process.

This, according to Antonio, is what everyone needs to know before they find themselves wandering in the tequila aisle.

  1. 100% Agave Tequila: To Antonio, this is one of the biggest things to look for. "For good, high-quality, it has to be labeled '100% agave tequila,'" he said. All Patrón is labeled as such.
  2. Tequila: Anything labeled just tequila is based 51% on agave, with the remaining alcoholic sugar coming from different sources. As a result, Antonio said, "the quality is very different." Sometimes this is referred to as "mixto" tequila.
  3. Silver: This refers to pure, unaged tequila coming straight from the distilling process.
  4. Reposado: This tequila is aged in barrels for at least two months.
  5. Joven: This type of tequila is in between silver and reposado; it's been aged for less than two months but includes a bit of aged tequila.
  6. Añejo: Tequila aged for a year.
  7. Extra Añejo: The extra designation is added when tequila is aged for three years.
  8. The NOM Number: This is a number on bottles of Mexican-made tequilas, which allow drinkers to find out more about the production facility in which their product was made.
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  1. Agave: This is the plant from which tequila is made. According to Antonio, it takes seven years to grow before it's ready to be used in the tequila-making process. It's a hardy plant that grows without needing much tending, just rainwater. The market for agave is always in flux depending on global demand for the plant.
  2. Abocado: This tequila has additives, like caramel coloring or glycerin. Current rules for tequila production don't require that brands reveal the additives on their labels, but Patrón is additive free.
  3. Mezcal: Mezcal is another spirit made from agave plants. Antonio explained that mezcal is a great deal smokier than tequila, partially because it's made using volcanic stones. It's usually made in Southern Mexico, whereas tequila is made in the central part of the country.
  4. Proof: The amount of alcohol in a tequila; often, the range is between 70 and 110 proof. The amount of alcohol in a tequila has an impact on the flavor.
  5. The worm: You won't find a worm in a good bottle, like Patrón. "There are some other agave spirits, usually the very low quality ones, which used to put a worm inside the bottle," Antonio explained, referring to mezcal. "Nowadays, if you see a bottle with that I'd highly recommend not to drink it."