Blanco vs. Reposado vs. Añejo: Distinguishing Types of Tequila

Cierto Tequila

Tequila cocktails are among the world’s most popular mixed drinks. 

But different types of tequila (also known as “expressions”) work better in some cocktails than others. Do you know what type of tequila is in your favorite mixed drink?

There are four different expressions of tequila. Each one varies in color, mouthfeel, aroma, and taste. 

Our guide to tequila expressions will help you better understand how each type of tequila is made, as well as how to identify one from the next.

The Four Different Types of Tequila

There are four main types of tequila, 90% of which are made in Jalisco, Mexico:

  • Blanco
  • Reposado
  • Añejo
  • Extra-Añejo

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 aged at all or aged for less than 60 days. Extra-añejo tequilas, by contrast, are aged for at least three years.

Here’s a 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, blanco has a sharper bite.
  • Aging Process:Not aged at all, or aged no longer than a maximum of 60 days.

Most blancos are bottled immediately after distillation, with little to no aging. The less a tequila is aged, the stronger its pure agave flavor. 

Because blanco tequilas are more agave-forward, many people prefer it in tequila cocktails like palomas (which use grapefruit juice) and (which use lime juice).

Tequila connoisseurs who enjoy the rich agave flavor of a blanco will often sip it straight.

What is Reposado Tequila?

The next expression of tequila is known as reposado, which translates to “rested.”

  • Color:Pale yellow or pale gold.
  • Taste: Smooth with subtle notes of vanilla, cinnamon, caramel, or butterscotch.
  • Aging Process: 2 to 11 months.

Reposado tequila is smoother than blanco tequila. You can still taste the flavor of agave, but it’s a bit less intense. 

Reposado makes an excellent choice for sipping neat or with ice. It can also work in a variety of dry or citrus cocktails.

Reposado pairs well with dishes that are sweet, barbecued, or charred flavors, such as flame-broiled vegetables and pulled pork. 

It can be a beautiful complement to chocolate, as well. Another way to enjoy reposado is to take it as a shot before drinking a sangrita.

Read About: Cierto Tequila Named Best in Show at the 2023 Tequila Mezcal Challenge 

What is Añejo Tequila?

Añejo translates to old or vintage. It describes any tequila that has been aged for a significant length of time.  

  • Color:Light amber to deep gold.
  • Taste:One of the smoothest tequila expressions, it features notes of oak, vanilla, brown sugar, or coffee.
  • Aging Process:1 to 3 years, usually in oak barrels.

Because añejo is aged longer than reposado tequila, it retains more of the flavors of the barrel. By most standards, it’s the best tequila to sip neat.

When mixing añejo tequila, it’s best to use it in cocktails that typically use other aged spirits, such as bourbon or whiskey. For example, you can turn a classic Old Fashioned (which calls for bourbon and simple syrup) into an Añejo Old Fashioned by swapping the bourbon with añejo and the simple syrup with agave nectar.  

What is Extra-Añejo Tequila?

Extra-añejo tequilas undergo the longest aging period. Because they take longer to produce, they are often considered the most premium expression of tequila.

  • Color:Dark amber.
  • Taste:Highly complex flavor profile. Notes of spice, caramel, or dark chocolate are common.
  • Aging Process:3 years or longer.

Extra-añejos have the most complex flavors because their long aging times mean they have more contact with barrel woods, such as oak. They are best enjoyed as sipping tequilas. 

Of course, like añejo tequilas, they can still be used in a variety of cocktails that otherwise call for aged spirits.

Check Out: Drinkhacker Names Cierto a “Top Tequila” of 2023

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How to Find Your Favorite Tequila Expression

The only way to know which tequila expression you like best is to try each one. 

Keep in mind that not all blancos, reposados, añejos, and extra-añejos will taste the same. Just because you enjoy one brand’s reposado does not mean you’ll enjoy every version of reposado you come across. You may even find that you like blanco tequilas from a particular distillery or region, but prefer añejos from somewhere else. 

Flavor profiles can vary significantly from brand to brand. They can also vary from collection to collection within a brand. The harvesting, fermentation, distillation, and aging processes will always impact the final product. 

It’s easier to understand the complexities of tequila if you know how the tequila-making process works. Below is an overview of the steps involved in the creation of this beloved Mexican liquor.  


Step 1: Growing the Blue Agave Plant 

Unlike mezcal, which is a liquor that can be made from one of several species of agave, a liquor is not a tequila unless it’s made from the blue weber agave plant.

It takes patience to grow the blue weber agave plant. It needs at least five years to fully mature. In some cases, it can take as long as 12 years to grow.


Step 2: Harvesting the Agave

Once the agave has matured, it’s ready to harvest. The leaves are removed and the piña (heart) of the agave plant is removed. The piña is the only part of the agave plant that’s used in the tequila-making process.

Piñas range in size from approximately 80 to 200 pounds. It takes roughly 11.5 pounds of piña to produce one 750ml bottle of tequila.


Step 3: Baking the Agave 

There are many ways to bake agave. Premium tequila brands like Cierto use low-pressure ovens for a slower and more traditional baking process. Commercial brands of tequila sometimes speed up the baking process by using an autoclave, which is a sealed metal container that steams the agave hearts.


Step 4: Extracting the Agave Juice

Traditionally, a large stone wheel called a tahona is used to crush the baked agave hearts and extract the juice. However, many mass-produced tequila brands use a mechanical process known as “diffusion” instead.

Commercial distilleries sometimes use diffusion to extract more juice from each piña. This allows them to make more tequila from fewer piñas. The result is a lower-quality spirit that does not follow the authentic and traditional standards of tequila production. 


Step 5: Fermentation

Next, the agave juice (mosto) is fermented inside of vats with water and yeast. The yeast converts the sugars of the mosto into alcohol over time. This is how agave spirits become tequila.

Different distilleries may use different qualities of yeast and water to ferment the agave juice. Cierto uses natural spring water and proprietary yeast to produce the best tequila possible. 


Step 6: Distillation

Once fermentation is complete, the tequila is distilled. Commercial brands usually distill their tequila only twice, because fermented agave juice must be distilled twice to be legally sold as a tequila product. 

By contrast, master distillers who make small-batch or artisanal tequila products often distill their tequila more than twice. This can pave the way for a higher-quality spirit.

During distillation, some brands use extra ingredients called additives (such as sugar or caramel coloring) to change the flavor, color, and aroma of the tequila. Additives are often used to mimic the color and flavors of longer-aged tequilas.

Top brands like Cierto do not use additives, and there are many reasons why. Read our article about additive-free tequila to learn why it’s the preferred choice of tequila connoisseurs.


Step 7: Barrel Aging

Aging is the last step before a tequila is bottled. With the exception of some blanco tequilas, most tequilas are aged inside of wood barrelsor casks. Premium distillers use French oak barrels, while many mass-produced tequilas are aged in American oak casks.

Cierto uses only French Limousin Oak casks. These casks previously held fine wines, burgundies, cognacs, and Armagnac brandies, and impart those flavors to the tequila as it ages. The barrels used to age tequila can vastly shape the final product.

The longer you barrel-age a tequila, the deeper the color of the tequila. It’s ready to bottle as soon as it has been aged for the desired length of time.

Tequila is a spirit that is best sipped neat to enjoy its complex spectrum of flavors. It can also be a beautiful addition to a variety of classic cocktails. 

How you consume your tequila is up to you. Learning which tequila expression you enjoy most is one of the first steps you can take to elevate your tequila-drinking experience.  

To discover your favorite expression of tequila, we recommend sampling each type. This will teach you how to discern the differences between tequila blanco, reposado, añejo, and extra-añejo. 

Start your tequila-tasting journey now with Cierto, the most awarded tequila in history. 

Up Next: Cierto Tequila Wins Six Gold Medals at the 2023 San Diego Spirits Festival

Author: Jim Ruane is the Chief Growth Officer of Elevated Spirits and Cierto Tequila. During his 12-year career in spirits, 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 spirits industry’s most dynamic leaders.

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