Once you learn the basics, you can go beyond shots and margaritas.

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Tequila Tonic
Credit: Jonny Valiant

Maybe you only associate tequila with lime and salt or margaritas, but there are so many other ways to enjoy it. Before you sip tequila, learn what makes this agave-based spirit so special, including what it tastes like, what makes it different than mezcal, and how to shake up some of our favorite tequila-based cocktails.

How Is Tequila Made?

Tequila has been produced in Mexico for hundreds of years, but it wasn't until the late 19th century that it started to be made following the process that's used today. Blue agave, a plant containing naturally sweet sap, is typically cooked in above-ground brick ovens before the sap is fermented with yeast. While tequila's smoky cousin mezcal can be made from many different varieties of agave, tequila must be made with blue agave, a variety that reaches maturity after five to ten years of growth. In order for tequila to legally be advertised and sold by name, it must be made in one of five Mexican states—Jalisco, Michoacán, Guanajuato, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. It also has to get the green light from Mexico's Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT), or Tequila Regulatory Council.

Types of Tequila

There are five types of tequila—blanco or silver, reposado, joven, añejo, and extra añego. Blanco tequila, which is clear, is aged in steel tanks instead of oak barrels as other varieties of tequila are. Its young age means it has a clean and grassy flavor. Reposado means rested or aged; legally, reposado tequila must age for a minimum of two months and a maximum of two years in oak barrels, a process that produces a gold hue. Joven is the only type of tequila that is not solely based on age; rather, it is a blend of both blanco and añejo tequilas. Añejo translates to aged and is a tequila that has a rich golden color and even more caramel flavors than younger varieties. Extra añejo is any tequila that is aged for more than three years.

What Does Tequila Taste Like?

Sipping a high-quality aged tequila, you should detect notes of vanilla, caramel, and plenty of earthiness. If tequila is aged in oak barrels, it should taste buttery and oaky, similar to chardonnay wine. However, much like wine, the land and climate can affect the agave crop, creating unique flavor profiles among tequilas from different producers.

Tequila Cocktails

Blanco tequila is, of course, the star ingredient in a margarita, which is also made with triple sec and lime juice. And there are dozens of fruity iterations on this favorite cocktail, including ones made with strawberry purée or plum simple syrup. Another classic tequila cocktail is the citrus-infused Paloma, which is also made with grapefruit soda and lime juice. Other delicious sips include a Tequila Sunrise, which will instantly transport you to summer with its flavors of orange, grenadine, and lime.

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