Tequila Guide

Beer & Cocktails, Drink

Tequila Guide

There’s a reason tequila evokes images of sun and sand: it’s the classic pick for warm-weather sipping. Distilled from the blue agave plant — a succulent, not a cactus — tequila can be every bit as varied in style and character as wine. We asked Mike Barrow, beverage director at Mosto Tequila + Botanas Bar and Tacolicious in San Francisco, for a primer on the spirit. Here’s everything you need to know about tequila, from production to tasting notes to cocktail recipes from the Mosto team. Cheers!


How It’s Made

Tequila is made in a 5-step process, beginning with the harvest (agave takes 8 years to mature before it can be harvested, so production is a long process). From there, the agave is cooked to convert its starches to sugars, then crushed to extract the sugar from the fibers. Fermentation comes next, using naturally occurring or added yeast, and then the mixture is distilled to create a liquid. At this point, the tequila is a blanco — it can be bottled as is or barrel aged to create a different style.


Tequila GuideStyles

There are two kinds of tequila: mixto and 100% agave. Mixtos are lesser-quality varieties of tequila, with a minimum of 51% blue agave. Cane sugar, corn, coloring and other sugars make the up the remaining 49%. 100% agave tequila, on the other hand, is exactly what it sounds like: top-quality tequila distilled from the blue agave plant only.


Of the 100% agave tequilas, there are four classes, generally characterized by the amount of time the tequila is aged in oak barrels:

  • Blanco: Aged between zero and 60 days, blanco tequilas show very little oak qualities. They tend to be herbaceous, with flavors of sea salt, citrus, and often spice. As Barrow notes, this is the purest expression of agave : “You can’t cover anything up with a blanco.”
  • Reposado: With a name meaning “rested,” reposado tequilas are aged between 60 days and one year. They have hints of caramel and vanilla on the palate, thanks to the oak, with a bit more body than blanco styles. Small amounts of caramel may actually be added to the tequila before bottling.
  • Añejo: Tequila aged for one to 3 years is classified as añejo, with plenty of oak flavor and a smooth texture. It’s also the most expensive tequila to produce.
  • Extra Añejo: Any tequila aged beyond 3 years is extra añejo, a relatively new class. With so much oak, the flavor becomes more like a bourbon than tequila, with very little true agave flavor.


While tequila is made from blue agave, there are many other varieties of the agave plant, and they can produce different spirits as well. One is mezcal, usually made in Oaxaca, with a strong, smoky flavor.



Just as it exists in the world of wine-making, terroir plays an important role in tequila distillation. As much as 98% of tequila is made in the Mexican state of Jalisco, which is divided into two areas: Guadalajara, or the lowlands, and Los Altos, or the highlands. The lowlands is a volcanic region, which produces a more herbaceous tequila with vegetal notes. The highlands, true to its name, has a higher elevation with more rain. Tequilas from the region have flavors of sugar, citrus, butter and spice.



Barrow learned to taste tequila using a 5-point method: smell it, taste it on your tongue, taste it under your tongue, swish it from side to side, then drink it. It’s the best way to capture all of the distinct flavors of a spirit.


Tequila Guide

Pairing & Cocktails

If you’re pairing tequila with food (think albacore crudo), Barrow recommends serving a blanco style. Aged tequilas are best enjoyed with dessert or simply neat, due to their richer flavors.


All styles, aged or not, can be mixed in delicious cocktails. Barrow shared with us 3 of Mosto’s best recipes — read on to try them yourself!




At Tacolicious, bartenders use blanco tequila to make margaritas, but at Mosto, the house version has reposado. Each style lends its unique character to the finished drink.


2 oz. tequila

1 1/2 oz. fresh lime juice

1 1/2 oz. agave nectar



Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Strain through a cocktail strainer and serve. Serves 1.




Starring fresh grapefruit juice, palomas are classic cocktails in Mexico — light, refreshing, and simple to make at home.


2 oz. blanco tequila

1 oz. fresh grapefruit juice

Squeeze of lime

Dash of agave nectar

1/2 oz. St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur


Grapefruit soda


Combine all ingredients except grapefruit soda in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Strain through a cocktail strainer and top with soda. Serves 1.


Bartender’s Choice


Bartenders at Mosto love to get creative behind the bar. Here’s an original recipe from one of their experts.


1 1/2 oz. añejo tequila

3/4 oz. pineapple juice

3/4 oz. fresh lime juice

1/2 oz. cinnamon-infused agave nectar



Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Strain through a cocktail strainer and serve. Serves 1.




If you like your cocktails with a kick, try this one, which has a perfect mix of fruit and peppery spice.


2 oz. infused habanero tequila

1 1/2 oz. agave nectar

1/2 oz. fresh orange juice

1/2 oz. passion fruit juice

1 oz. fresh lime juice



Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Strain through a cocktail strainer and serve. Serves 1.

3 comments about “Tequila Guide

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  3. Long Island Lou

    Anyone on a diet? Anyone like a tequila sunrise? This one is light, with LESS than half the calories/carbs than regular OJ and It’s fast and simple. Use Trop50 OJ with ONLY 50 Cal, 13 Gr Carbs, 10 Gr Sugar—(INSTEAD OF 110 CAL 26 Gr CARBS, 22 Gr SUGAR) and Trop50 red orange- all you need is 100% blanco tequila, ice, pour mostly Trop50 Of and a drop of Trop50 Red Orange (for the “sunrise” effect- THAT’S IT- TRY IT !!! Long Island Lou tequila https://www.facebook.com/pages/Long-Island-Lou-Tequila/641682619241422


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