Categories of Tequila
The description “tequila” is a protected name. Just as Bordeaux, Cognac or Champagne, tequila has an Appellation de Origine which is recognized virtually all over the world.
A distilled spirit may only be called tequila if the fermented sugars come from the Blue Weber agave plant and that the distillation takes place in selected states of Mexico, but mainly Jalisco.
There are two categories of tequila, the 100% Blue Agave, and Tequila Mixto (Mixed).
100% Agave Category
The 100% Agave category of tequila may only contain the fermented sugars of the Blue Weber Agave and MAY NOT be blended with other sugars. Furthermore, a 100% Agave tequila MUST be bottled at the distillery.
Mixto Tequila, or “Tequila” contains a minimum of 51% Blue Agave, and the remaining 49% of the fermented juice will come from other sugars (typically cane sugars). In the “Tequila” mixto category, it is also permitted to add caramel color, oak extract flavoring, glycerin, and sugar based syrup. This process to soften the mixto tequila flavor is called “Abocado”, which is oddly enough also the Spanish word for “doomed”. Mixto Tequila may also be shipped all over the world in bulk liquid containers and bottled locally, well outside of the tequila territory.
On a tequila bottle label, you can easily distinguish between the two categories. A 100% Blue Agave tequila bottle will say "Tequila 100% de agave" or "Tequila 100% puro de agave". All other Mixto Tequila labels will only read "Tequila".
Why are there two categories of tequila?
To answer this, we have to go back to the days before the 1960’s when all tequila was 100% agave. Tequila 100% Agave meant that all the fermented sugars that are distilled to become tequila come from the Blue Weber agave plant. It was a pure spirit where the addition of any other ingredient (color, flavor, etc.) was not allowed.
Back then, the US consumer had discovered 100% agave tequila and was demanding more and more of the spirit. The problem was, agaves need 8-12 years to grow and mature, so the Mexican Tequileros simply did not have enough mature agave plants to meet the increasing demand. The tequila association made a decision, which in our opinion is regrettable, to allow a new category, Mixto Tequila.
Today, most of the popular Tequila brands like Cuervo, Sauza and Sierra are Mixto Tequilas. These labels are not allowed to carry the 100% agave words on them, and are even shipped all over the world in bulk to be bottled in local bottling facilities to make then as cheap as possible.
The 100% agave tequilas on the other hand must be bottled at the distillery, much like Champaign, cognacs and other spirits with a denomination of origin. Nothing artificial may ever be added to a 100% agave tequila, the flavor profiles are created by nature and the craftsmanship of the Tequilero only.
We at Tequila Unlimited have been working hard for years to educate the European consumer that a better category of tequila exists, namely the real, 100% Agave Tequila. So remember, those with a distinguished and sophisticated pallet will always look for the 100% Agave tequila and enjoy the spirit the way is should be, pure.
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