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Tequila gets a bad rap, mainly because we decide that “SHOTS!” are a good idea and only discover our folly after hugging a toilet for hours. But head-splitting hangovers aside, when a quality tequila is consumed properly it can be a perfectly pleasant experience.

So what is tequila? In order to be certified as tequila, the spirit must contain at least 51% blue agave and be produced in specific regions of Mexico (although it can be shipped to be bottled in the US). There are two basic categories of tequila: Mixtos and 100% agave. Mixtos use no less than 51% agave, with other sugars making up the remainder. 100% agave tequila, as the name suggests, is pure tequila distilled from the blue agave plant.

Tequila is usually bottled in one of five categories:

  • Blanco (“white”) or Plata (“silver”) is white in color, and un-aged.This variety is often bottled or stored immediately after distillation, but can be stored for up to 2 months in stainless steel or neutral oak barrels. It typically has a very strong agave flavor.
  • Joven (“young”) or Oro (“gold”): is a white tequila that is blended with older, aged tequilas and often other additives, such as caramel coloring, sugars, or oak extract. This is done to resemble older, more aged tequilas but also results in tequila that is less harsh than tequila blanco.
  • Reposado (“rested”) is aged in oak barrels for a minimum of 2 months but not over 1 year. The aging in oak barrels mellows the harsh taste of the tequila blanco and it takes on some of the flavor of the oak.
  • Añejo (“aged” or “vintage”) is aged a minimum of 1 year but less than 3 years in small oak barrels. It also mellows through aging and takes on more of the oak flavor the longer it spends in the barrel.
  • • Extra Añejo (“extra aged” or “ultra aged”) is aged a minimum of 3 years in oak barrels with no maximum aged defined. Since it is aged the longest it is typically smoother with stronger flavors of oak.

Mezcal (also spelled Mescal):
Mezcal is defined as the general group of spirits made from the agave plant (of which there are many varieties including the blue agave). Tequila is a specific and regulated form of mezcal. All tequilas are
mezcal but not all mezcals are tequilas.

Why is there a worm in my drink?
The critter in question is not a “worm” at all but usually is one of two types of insect larvae (either a caterpillar of a night butterfly or the larva of the agave snout weevil) that can infest yucca and agave plants. Secondly, and most importantly, tequila never has a worm in it due to strict regulations; the worm is distinctive only to mezcal. So drink up but remember the saying “don’t eat the worm.”