Blanco, Reposado, Añejo and Extra Añejo: Distinguishing Tequila Expressions

There are four primary expressions of tequila, each varying in color, mouthfeel, aroma and taste. Our guide to tequila expressions will help you better understand how each is made, as well as how to identify one from the others.

The Cierto Tequila range includes eight pure agave expressions that are widely considered some of the finest tequilas that have ever been created. Cierto’s Private Collection and Reserve Collection contain one of each of the expressions below.

The Four Primary Tequila Expressions

There are four main types of tequila, most of which are made in Jalisco, Mexico (which Cierto calls home):

  • Blanco

  • Reposado

  • Añejo

  • Extra añejo

While there are other designations (including cristalino and joven), the ones above comprise the vast majority of tequilas produced and sold. Each one is defined by several factors that affect its distinct flavor and appearance.

Different tequila expressions undergo different aging processes. For example, blanco tequila is either not barrel-aged at all or aged for less than 60 days. Extra añejo tequilas, by contrast, are barrel-aged for at least three years.

Here’s a quick look at what makes each of the four tequila expressions unique, along with some tips on how to best enjoy each one.

What Is Blanco Tequila?

Also called plata, or silver tequila, blanco is tequila in its purest form.

  • Color: Clear or transparent.

  • Taste: The most agave-forward of the tequila expressions, a well-made blanco is crisp, fresh and bright with agave notes informed by where and how the plants were grown. Cierto Private Collection Blanco includes floral, fresh agave, citrus and white peppercorn notes.

  • Aging Process: Not barrel-aged at all, or aged no longer than a maximum of 60 days. Most blancos are bottled immediately after distillation. The less time a tequila spends in a barrel, the more prevalent its pure agave flavor. Cierto’s blanco tequilas are rested in stainless steel prior to bottling, a unique process that softens and stabilizes the tequila and allows more complex flavors to emerge.

Well-made blanco tequilas make for wonderful sippers, and tequila connoisseurs who enjoy rich agave flavor will often sip neat or on the rocks.

One of our favorite drinking experiences is to sip a blanco alongside a house-made sangrita, a traditional tomato-based drink originating in Jalisco.

Because of the fresh agave and citrus notes, blancos work exceptionally well in elevated craft cocktails such as palomas (using fresh grapefruit juice) and margaritas (using fresh lime juice and agave nectar).

A blanco tequila serves as a perfect accompaniment to a wide variety of lighter foods, such as young gourmet cheeses, seafood, sushi, shellfish ceviche and even caviar – making for an ideal pre-dinner drink.

What Is Reposado Tequila?

The next expression of tequila is known as reposado, a Spanish term which translates to “rested” in English.

  • Color: Pale amber or pale gold. If a reposado is too dark or brown, that may be a sign the tequila employs the use of additives or artificial coloring.

  • Taste: The barrel begins to impart its flavors onto the spirit, depending upon how long it’s been aged, the type of barrel and the aging environment. Cierto Private Collection Reposado is smooth with refined notes of cooked agave, cinnamon spice, caramel and butterscotch.

  • Aging Process: 2 to 11 months. Cierto’s reposado tequilas are aged for 11 months in French Limousin oak casks.

Reposados make excellent choices for sipping neat or with ice. They also work in a variety of dry cocktails (balancing with sweeter notes) or citrus cocktails (accentuating with spice notes).

A well-made reposado tequila pairs nicely with rich, umami-centric or charred dishes, such as flame-broiled vegetables, cured meats, empanadas, moqeuca and roasted hen – making it perfect to enjoy with the first course of a meal.

What Is Añejo Tequila?

Añejo translates to “old” or “vintage,” and it describes a tequila that has been aged for a significant length of time.

  • Color: Amber to deep gold.

  • Taste: Añejos tend to feature notes of oak, vanilla and chocolate. Because añejo is aged longer than reposado tequila, and therefore spends more time interacting with the barrel’s charred surface, it retains more flavor and color from the barrel itself and any liquids that were previously stored in it. Cierto Private Collection Añejo retains elegant notes of burgundy, French oak and coffee while retaining a cooked agave backbone.

  • Aging Process: 1 to 3 years. Cierto’s añejo tequilas are aged for a minimum of 18 months in French Limousin oak and contain portions of tequila that have been aged for much longer.

Añejos are most often sipped neat, as connoisseurs enjoy the ability to appreciate the full range of complex aromas and flavors unadulterated. When mixing añejo tequila, it’s best to use it in cocktails that typically include other aged spirits, such as bourbon.

You might turn a classic old fashioned into an añejo old fashioned by swapping the bourbon with añejo and the simple syrup with pure agave nectar.

Añejo tequila, much like a fine red wine, works well as an accompaniment to a meal’s main course – including short rib, wagyu, mole, hearty pasta dishes, halibut and black cod.

What Is Extra Añejo Tequila?

Extra añejo tequilas undergo the longest aging period and are often considered the most premium expressions.

  • Color: Deep, dark amber.

  • Taste: Highly complex flavor profile due to the lengthy aging period and extent of contact with the barrel. Cierto Private Collection Extra Añejo is absolutely luxurious, with layered notes of dark chocolate, cherries and cognac thanks to its gentle maturation in French Limousin oak casks which previously contained fine wines and distillates.

  • Aging Process: 3 years or longer. Our extra añejos are aged for a minimum of 48 months and are blended with much older, rarer tequilas from our Master Distillers’ private tequila library.

How you enjoy your tequila is up to you, but we think extra añejos are best enjoyed neat and in the company of those closest to you, celebrating life.

Extra añejo is a classic after-dinner drink, pairing beautifully with dark chocolate, gourmet dried fruits and fine, full-flavored cigars.

Learn More: The Best Ways to Enjoy Authentic Tequila

How to Find Your Favorite Tequila Expression

The only way to discern the differences between each expression and know which ones you like best is to sample each one, ideally neat. The process of learning which expressions you enjoy is one of the first steps you can take to elevate your tequila-drinking experience.

Keep in mind that not all blancos, reposados, añejos and extra añejos will taste the same. Flavor profiles can vary significantly from brand to brand, and from collection to collection within a single brand. The variety of cultivation, distillation and maturation processes will always play a role in the final product.

It’s easier to understand the complexities of tequila flavors, aromas and colors if you know how the tequila-making process works. Below is an overview of the steps involved in the creation of this authentic and beloved Mexican spirit.

Step 1: Growing the Blue Weber Agave Plant

Unlike mezcal, which is a spirit that can be made from several species of agave, a spirit is not a tequila unless it’s made solely from the blue Weber agave plant. It takes patience to cultivate the blue Weber agave plant and expertise to understand the indicators of maturation.

Generally, the plant doesn’t approach full maturity for at least five years, often seven years and as long as twelve or more – only when it has reached the optimal sugar content and internal fermentation state for tequila-making.

Cierto’s agave plants are grown sustainably in Jalisco on the Highland estates of our Master Distillers, Enrique Fonseca and Sergio Mendoza, fourth and fifth generation agaveros (agave farmers). They oversee the world’s premier agave supply across incredibly diverse terroir.

Step 2: Harvesting the Agave

Once the agave has matured, it’s ready to harvest. The leaves are removed by skilled jimadors and the piña (heart) of the plant is taken from the ground.

The piña is the only part of the agave plant that’s used in the tequila-making process, while the leaves are left in the orchards to compost and return nutrients to the soil. Mature piñas range in size from approximately 80 to 200 pounds and it takes roughly 11.5 pounds of agave to produce one 750ml bottle of tequila.

Cierto harvests only fully mature agave, one-by-one, and transports them from the Highlands to the distillery in the town of Tequila, several hours away.

When using fully mature, lovingly-grown agave, the impact on the quality and purity of the tequila cannot be overstated.

Step 3: Cooking the Agave

There are several ways to cook agave, a process which converts the complex sugars in the raw plant to more easily fermentable simple sugars.

At La Tequileña distillery (NOM 1146), Cierto uses low-pressure autoclaves for a slower and more traditional cooking process that results in deeper, more complex flavors. Industrial tequila brands attempt to speed up the conversion process by using high pressure ovens or skip cooking altogether with a machine called a diffuser (more on that below).

Step 4: Extracting the Agave Juice

Traditionally, the cooked agave is manually crushed using a large stone wheel called a tahona or modified equipment to maximize the amount of agave juice (mosto) extracted.

However, many mass-produced brands have resorted to the use of diffusers, which extract juice by spraying hot, high-pressure water at the mechanically-shredded plants and adding enzymes and chemicals to accelerate sugar conversion.

Unfortunately, this approach strips much of the agave’s natural agave character and necessitates the use of additives at the end of the process to flavor the tequila.

Step 5: Fermentation

Next, the juice is fermented inside of vats with yeast and hot water, which aids the start of the fermentation process. The yeast converts the simple sugars of the mosto into alcohol over time.

Different distilleries use different strains of yeast, which can result in a wide variety of flavors that present themselves in the glass. Cierto uses proprietary yeast cultivated from agave, in addition to wild yeast that lands in the open-air fermentation vats that contributes to a wonderful sense of terroir that persists through the entire tequila-making process.

Step 6: Distillation

This is where the fermented agave juice becomes tequila. Once fermentation is complete, the juice is distilled to separate and concentrate the alcohol into a higher-proof spirit.

Distilleries will often distill multiple times in order to create as pure a spirit as possible. If the distillate is destined to become a blanco tequila, it will either be brought to the desired proof with water and bottled, or entered into vats for resting.

Cierto’s Master Distillers utilize two types of stills, a copper alembic pot still (which creates a more viscous, intensely flavored distillate) and a Coffey column still (which creates a lighter, more delicate distillate), a unique combination informed by Enrique’s distilling apprenticeship under Scotch whisky-makers.

Step 7: Barrel Aging

If a distillate is destined to become a reposado, añejo or extra añejo, it will be put into barrels and left to mature until it reaches the desired age or flavor profile. The longer the tequila spends in a barrel and the more interaction the spirit has with its charred inner surface, the deeper the color of the tequila and the more pronounced the flavors imparted by the barrel.

The type of barrels used can also vastly shape the final product. Most tequilas are aged inside of oak, most commonly American white oak barrels that were previously used to age bourbon, which impart more assertive wood, vanilla and whiskey notes onto the tequila.

By contrast, Cierto ages its tequilas in rare French Limousin oak barrels which previously held fine wines, cognacs and Armagnac, a more expensive choice and a gentler maturation process that imparts subtler, more complex and refined flavors.

Step 8: Blending and Bottling

Some tequilas are taken directly from the barrel, brought down to the desired proof with water and bottled. Many industrial tequilas will take the extra step of adding artificial ingredients or additives (such as sugar or caramel coloring) to manipulate the flavor, color and aroma of the tequila to mimic the effects of higher quality agave, more traditional distillation or longer aging periods.

However, Cierto is a “True” tequila – we never use additives, artificial ingredients or other shortcuts. (Read our article about “True,” additive-free tequila to learn why it’s the preferred choice of an increasing number of tequila drinkers.)

So Enrique and Sergio leverage their exceptional skill at blending and draw upon the treasure trove of rare tequila from their family’s private tequila library, one of the largest and most valuable collections of aged tequila in the world, to marry tequilas from various batches for the final Cierto bottlings.

Step 9: Enjoy!

Start your journey of tequila discovery now with Cierto, the Most Awarded Tequila in History.

About the Author

Jim Ruane is the Chief Growth Officer of Elevated Spirits and Cierto Tequila. During his 20-year beverage career, Jim has led some of the world’s most respected brands, has studied and taught the engineering, chemistry and cultural significance of spirits distillation and is one of the industry’s most dynamic leaders.

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