The main two types of Tequila are first split into two categories, 100% Blue Agave, and Tequila Mixto (Mixed). Mixto Tequila contains a minimum of 51% Blue Agave, and the remaining 49% from other sugars (cane alcohol). The additional products allowed in Mixto Tequilas are caramel color, oak extract flavoring, glycerin, and sugar based syrup. Mixto Tequila can now be bottled outside of the Tequila territory, including other countries, which started January 6, 2006.
By reading the label on the bottle you can tell which clasification it is in, as all Tequila that is made from 100% Blue Agave will say "Tequila 100% de agave" or "Tequila 100% puro de agave". All other Mixto Tequila labels will only read "Tequila"
After this, the first category, 100% Blue Agave is divided into subcategories based on aging. These are:
Tequila Blanco - Silver - Plata - White
This is the Blue Agave in its purest form. It is clear and typically un-aged, where the true flavors and the intensity of the Agave are present, as well as the natural sweetness. It can be bottled directly after distillation, or stored in stainless steel tanks to settle for up to 4 weeks. There are some Blanco products that are aged for up to 2 months to provide a smoother or "Suave" spirit.
Tequila Joven Abocado - Gold
This type is typical to Tequila Mixto, where colorants and flavorings have been added prior to bottling. These "young and adulterated" Tequilas are less expensive and used in many bars and restaurants for "mixed drinks".
A Reposado Tequila is the first stage of "rested and aged". The Tequila is aged in wood barrels or storage tanks between 2 months and 11 months. The spirit takes on a golden hue and the taste becomes a good balance between the Agave and wood flavors. Many different types of wood barrels are used for aging, with the most common being American or French oak. Some Tequilas are aged in used bourbon / whiskey, cognac, or wine barrels, and will inherit unique flavors from the previous spirit.
After aging for at least one to three years, Tequila can then be classified as an "Añejo". The distillers are required to age Añejo Tequila in barrels that do not exceed 600 liters. This aging process darkens the Tequila to an Amber color, and the flavor can become smoother, richer, and more complex.
Tequila Extra Añejo
A new classification added in the summer of 2006, labeling any Tequila aged more than 3 years, an "Extra Añejo". Following the same rule as an "Añejo", the distillers must age the spirit in barrels or containers with a maximum capacity of 600 liters. With this extended amount of aging, the Tequila becomes much darker, more of a Mahogany color, and is so rich that it becomes difficult to distinguish it from other quality aged spirits. After the aging process, the alcohol content must be diluted by adding distilled water. These Extra Añejo’s are extremely smooth and complex.
The rules and regulations that govern the production and packaging of Tequila do not apply to agave spirits produced outside of the designated Tequila areas in Mexico. Some Mezcal distilleries are very primitive and very small. The best known mezcal come from the southern state of Oaxaca (wuh-HA-kuh), although it is produced in a number of other states. Eight varieties of agave are approved for Mezcal production, but the chief variety used is the espadin agave (agave angustifolia Haw).
The famous "worm" that is found in some bottles of Mezcal (con gusano -- "with worm") is actually the larva of one of two moths that live on the agave plant. The reason for adding the worm to the bottle of Mezcal is obscure. But one story, that at least has the appeal of logic to back it up, is that the worm serves as proof of high proof, which is to say that if the worm remains intact in the bottle, the percentage of alcohol in the spirit is high enough to preserve the pickled worm. Consuming the worm, which can be done without harm, has served as a rite of passage for generations of fraternity boys. As a rule, top-quality mezcals do not include a worm in the bottle. Like tequila, Mezcal also has classifications.
Añejo ("aged") – aged for at least a year in barrels no larger than 350 litres.
Reposado ("rested") – aged two months to a year.
Joven or blanco ("young" or "white", often marketed as "silver" in English)
– colorless mezcal, aged less than two months.