Often written off as a party spirit, tequila has a serious side that’s crying out to be explored. So forget tequila slammers and let us introduce you to some quality bottles that deserve a place in any home drinks cabinet…
All tequila is made from the agave plant, which is closely related to the lily family of plants. Like grapes, there are many different varieties of agave: 166 to be exact. But producers can only use one varietal – known as Blue Weber – to make tequila.
Premium tequilas are made from 100% Blue Weber agave. But cheaper tequilas are made from a mix of agave (at least 51% but sometimes higher) and other sugars such as molasses or corn syrup. These are known as mixto tequilas.
How is tequila made?
Agave plants take between five and 12 years to reach maturity. When they are mature, the plant produces a single flower then dies. To make tequila, the flower stalk is cut off just before flowering, which directs the sap into the heart of the plant.
These hearts – known as piñas – are harvested by skilled jimadors, who cut off the spiky agave leaves. The piñas are then cooked. They can either be roasted in traditional ovens known as hornos for 24-48 hours. Or they are baked in faster steam ovens called autoclaves for seven hours. Cooking converts the plant’s starch into fermentable sugar.
After cooking the piñas are pressed and shredded to release the sugary juice, which is left to ferment for 24-96 hours. It is then distilled to produce tequila.
What is blanco tequila?
After distillation, the spirit can either be bottled immediately or aged. Blanco tequilas – which may also be labelled plata or silver – are classified as aged for less than two months in stainless steel or oak barrels.
Other types of tequila include reposado (rested). This must be aged in oak barrels for a minimum of two months and up to a maximum of 12 months.
Añejo tequila must be aged in oak casks with a maximum capacity of 600 litres for at least one year, or between one and three years. Meanwhile Extra Añejo must be aged at least three years in oak barrels.
Because oak influence is kept to a bare minimum, the qualities of the agave plant are fully expressed in blanco tequilas. They taste lighter and brighter than aged styles, making them a great place to begin your tequila exploration.
How to drink blanco tequila
Because blancos are a light style of tequila, you can sip them neat and savour their bright, grassy agave flavour. Alternatively, pair them with a mixer to make a refreshing long drink, such as a Tequila & Tonic. Blancos are also used to make classic tequilas cocktails such as the Margarita and Paloma.
However you choose to drink them, here are a few great bottles to get you started…
The best blanco tequilas: 12 to try
Tasting notes by Laura Foster & Julie Sheppard
Calle 23 Blanco
The Calle 23 brand was created by Sophie Decobecq, a French biochemist. She fell in love with Mexico and tequila when she went to the country on a work placement to research yeasts and lactic acid. The Blanco is an excellent all-round mixing tequila, boasting notes of cooked agave, black pepper, spearmint, orchard fruits and pineapple. Alcohol 40%
This small-batch tequila from a tiny distillery in Amatitán is made with mature agave grown for over seven years before being harvested. An unaged expression that’s made only from first-press juice, the nose is earthy and vegetal, combining freshness with smoky notes. The smooth and creamy palate is packed with agave character. Also look out for Código’s aged expressions, produced using Napa Cabernet barrels. Alc 38%
While the majority of tequila is produced in the state of Jalisco, some municipalities in other states are also allowed to make this spirit. One of these other states is Guanajuato, and this is where Corralejo is based. Its Blanco is a creamy, citrusy tequila with flavours of lime zest, agave syrup, zippy white pepper, pencil shavings and vanilla, which accentuate the lime and agave flavours in a Margarita. Alc 38%
Don Fulano Blanco
Produced by the Fonseca family, Don Fulano is made entirely from agave grown on the family’s estate. This blanco is rested for 60 days in stainless steel tanks. A refined Tequila with a distinct herbal hit of mint and rosemary, some floral honeysuckle, sweet butterscotch and a creamy mouthfeel. Alc 40%
Don Julio Blanco
Don Julio is named after the brand’s founder, Don Julio Gonzalez, who started making Tequila in 1942 when he was 17 years old. The flavour profile of Don Julio Blanco is hailed as a classic, balancing creamy and peppery characters with a vegetal note, some lemon, pastry and a clear minerality. Alc 40%
G4 Tequila Blanco
Made by Felipe Camarena, G4 is a testament to the mad scientist approach he takes in producing his tequilas. From modifying steamrollers to crush his agave, through to collecting and using rainwater in this tequila, he doesn’t take any shortcuts. The result is an expressive, floral nose and an oily, viscous palate with incredible minerality, cream, agave and spicy white pepper. Alc 40%
Ocho Blanco Las Presas 2018
Made by legendary distiller Carlos Camarena, Ocho made waves when it was launched because it was the first-ever single-field Tequila to be produced. These single-field vintage releases are limited – once they’re gone, they’re gone, to be replaced by a new vintage from a different field later. This particular Tequila, from the field Las Presas, or The Dams, is all tropical characters of guava, melon and pineapple, mingling with the unmistakable agave and pepper character that come with Ocho products. Alc 40%
The beautiful hacienda of Herradura now boasts an almighty distillery to produce enough spirit to meet the demand for its Tequilas. The Plata is aged for 45 days in American oak barrels. A nose of marzipan, cooked agave, orange, lime and pine sap leads onto a palate full of vanilla, orange oils, honeyed agave and pencil shavings. Alc 40%
Olmeca Altos Plata
Created in partnership between Olmeca master distiller Jesús Hernández and two top bartenders from the UK, this 100% agave tequila hailing from the Highland region of Jalisco boasts a nose full of agave character, alongside grass, citrus and spring blossom. These characters continue onto the palate, accompanied by a chalky hint and a cocoa finish. Alc 38%
Patron may be a big producer of Tequila, but its production process and the small sizes of its numerous stills mean that it is still able to make its product in relatively small batches. This is a smooth, soft liquid with base notes of toffee and fudge overlaid with a greener vegetal note, lemon peel, some pepper and numbing anise. Alc 40%
Another Tequila brand produced by Carlos Camarena at his La Alteña distillery, Tapatio Blanco is an affordable masterclass of a classic agave-forward Tequila, which is perfect for sipping neat or using in cocktails. Mineral, vegetal and peppery, with a hit of lemon and grapefruit, plus further cinnamon spice. Alc 40%
Tequila Fortaleza Blanco
The tiny Fortaleza distillery is situated in Tequila town. The distillery maintains the traditional practices of making the spirit, producing it by hand in tiny batches. Taking a tour here is like entering a time capsule. A distinctive grassiness with fresh lemon zest and mint mingle with rich agave and drying sea salt characters. Alc 40%