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Some tequilas are made for sipping, not shooting. (A shocker, we know.)

Kimberly Holland
June 11, 2018

There comes a time in every adult’s life when you realize tequila is for more than just shooting back on Saturday nights. It makes a mighty fine margarita, of course, but connoisseurs of the spirit will attest to the fact that tequila can be as refined and sophisticated as bourbon, brandy, even cognac. 

All tequilas are made by distilling the juice of the blue agave plant. The longer you age them, the more mellow and sweet they become. Aged tequilas demand time, but in return you get a truly special spirit that’s mellow, spicy, and rich. New tequilas, or the ones that are aged the least, are bright, grassy, and green. They retain the most true agave flavor.

Learn more about the five types of tequila and which you should use for your various sipping (or shooting) habits.

What Is Silver Tequila?

Silver tequila, also known as blanco, white, or platinum tequila, is the first spirit producers make with the distilled agave juices. It’s often bottled directly from the distilling process, but some producers age it for a few weeks (no more than 60 days), often in stainless-steel containers, which maintains the wild agave flavor you expect from a silver tequila.

Silver tequila is typically the most budget-friendly option because it requires the least amount of effort on the distiller’s part. It’s considered the best type for mixed drinks, such as a Tequila Sunrise, for its price tag and for its flavor. The bright essence of agave shines through sweet or tangy mixes and doesn’t dampen other flavors. The more complex the tequila gets (i.e. the more aged), the less well it partners with other cocktail ingredients.

What Is Gold Tequila?

Despite its color, gold tequila is rarely aged. In fact, you might call gold tequila an impostor, a marketing gimmick even. In many cases, gold tequila is the result of caramel coloring added to agave juices before fermentation to give the spirit a more “refined” look. Aged tequilas, which are deepers shades of amber and brown, are often costly because of the amount of time they require; the metallic hue of gold tequila could imply to the lay purchaser this product is a better option. But if the bottle does not say 100% agave, check the ingredients. You’ll likely see caramel coloring and sugar.

That being said, you can buy 100% agave gold tequila. Two different techniques can render a solidly gold spirit: The first, producers can mix cheaper blanco or silver tequila with a more aged tequila, such as reposado, to get the golden hue. Second, they can age the tequila (up to 60 days) in barrels to let the liquor absorb some color before bottling.

Gold tequila is often used for shots. The smoother, slightly sweet taste (a result of additives or brief aging) is less harsh than fresh tequila. Because of the hint of sweetness, many bartenders will use gold tequila in margaritas to complement the mixed drink’s fruity flavors.

WATCH: How to Make Three Amazing Margaritas

What Is Reposado Tequila?

Once agave juices are fermented and distilled, they can be bottled right away (silver tequila) or poured into barrels for aging. Reposado, which means “rested,” tequila is aged between 60 days and one year, often in large American, French, or Canadian oak barrels. Some companies will age their spirits in barrels that have been used for other alcohols, like whiskey, wine, or scotch. 

Reposado tequila, which typically boasts a brilliant amber hue, absorbs those sweeter spirits, which creates a distinct flavor and color. The aging process mellows the sometimes-harsh, fresh tequila spice but leaves behind plenty of the blue agave flavor. The resulting spirit retains agave funk but has rounder edges and less bite.

What Is Añejo Tequila?

This brown tequila is aged (“añejo”) one to three years in small barrels that often come from bourbon or whiskey distilleries. Añejo is considered the best tequila for sipping because the long aging process renders it very smooth, with subtle hints of vanilla and caramel. 

What Is Extra Añejo Tequila?

This type of tequila hasn’t been on the market as long as the others; it was only given an official classification in 2005, though distillers had been making their own batches of this extra special spirit long before the world knew about it.

Extra añejo is aged more than three years, and it is the most expensive tequila option. The flavor, which is spicy and warm like incense, continues to improve with age, but only small batches of tequila are reserved for this purpose. That means most distillers make very limited supplies each year. Sip and savor each drop of this precious liquor.

Which Tequila Is Best for Drinks?

Best for Mixed Drinks: Silver tequila

Best for Shots: Gold tequila

Best for Sipping: Reposado, Añejo, and Extra Añejo

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