Is Tequila the New Vodka?
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How to Describe Tequila

Let's say that you are bringing a new brand of tequila to market and want to tell people what's in the bottle. Here are the basic questions that a brand should be able to answer.

  • Distillery
    • What is the NOM number of the distillery?
    • Where is it located, and is this in the highlands, lowlands, elsewhere?
    • Does the brand own the distillery or is it a custom product? 
  • Agave fields plantss  Agave
    • The product is 100% agave, right?
    • Is the agave estate-grown, purchased on the market, or a combination?
    • Is the agave all from the highlands, lowlands, another region, or a mix?
  • Partida ovenss  Agave processing
    •  In what is the agave baked? Stone/clay/brick ovens? Autoclaves? 
    • How is the agave shredded? Tahona, typical shredder, one of those new high-tech ones like at Herradura?
    • Is the fermentation with only natural yeast or is yeast added? 
  • El tesoro tahonas  Distillation
    • Is it pot-distilled, column-distilled, or a combination of both?
    • How many times is it distilled in each type of still? 
  • Aging
    • For each of blanco, reposado, anejo, and extra anejo:
      • In what type of wood(s) is it aged? (Ex-bourbon, ex-cognac, new French oak, etc.)
      • For how long (or how long on average)?  

There are many other ways a brand can differentiate itself (filtration/oxidation/processing/barrel age/etc,), but these I would consider the basic descriptors of tequila. I feel that I need to know this to know what's in the bottle. 

Pinass  I think some brands managers/PR folks get hung up and withhold information based on what they think American consumers want to hear; that highlands are superior to lowlands, that more distillations makes a better tequila, that having a tahona improves the quality, that longer aging means better tequila. None of these things are true (if they were, Partida wouldn't be good at all) and I don't think enough Americans know enough about tequila to place value judgements on most of this vocabulary. 

Barrelss I would like the brands to lay it all out like this, and also let us taste it. Ultimately that's all that matters, but I guess I take some offense when brands try to put a glossy coating over something that is understandable. If you won't say what's the bottle, why should we drink it? 

What do you think? Are all those questions actually important or am I being ridiculous?  Did I miss anything?


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Josh Durr

Yes all of these questions are very important. This is a good list of questions you should ask yourself when analyzing a tequila brand.

Each part of the process is a piece of the puzzle in the final distillate's profile. I feel in tequila and mezcal it is even more important to look at each step.

In an agave spirit by nature its easier to pinpoint the subtle differences in production on your pallate.

One thing to add is to constantly be checking the NOM numbers even on established brands. They will change on you without warning.

I feel that the yeast conversion and fermentation process is one of the most over-looked and important parts of the process. That has a direct link to the final product taste profile in tequila.

Yes agave selection and area of growth, as well as the type of starch conversion methods is important. Yet it seems that the brands don't talk much about there fermentation and yeast process. Its generally skimmed over.

This is an important part of the tequila's identity. That is just as geographical as the agave field.

Jared Hirsch

Camper, thank you for bringing light to this problem. At Colibri in Union Square we feature over 300 tequilas. The answers to these questions are what I use to both educate patrons and to help sell different brands. I am far more successful in helping to break the many misconceptions about Agave spirits as well as selling a particular tequila or mezcal if the company or distributor provides me with those answers. Sadly, only about 20% of the brands we carry have offered this information. Fittingly, those 20% make up a majority of my sales. The rest sit on the shelf as dressing unless someone asks for it by name. I have no doubt that If I had access to more information I would be able to sell a broader selection, but sadly, even the websites that purport to help distinguish the variances in bottles don't provide even the most basic of answers to the questions you listed beyond NOM and location.

Camper English

I agree that yeast is largely over-looked, but this could partly be because it's not something that easily translates to a mental picture. "We use yeast strain px-7alpha" probably won't mean much to most people. But on the other hand when you go to a place like Herradura that adds no yeast and maintains the plants on the property to ensure that the natural yeasts are consistent you can really see how special that is.

Or maybe I just need to learn more about yeast so that I can better describe it in posts.

Camper English

Jared- I think your comment as a tequila seller should be the strongest statement that these brands could hear. If you can't distinguish it, you can't sell it. Thanks for writing!

Jared Hirsch

I think what's most interesting about yeast is whether the yeast is naturally occurring in the air around the fermentation tanks, or whether they speed up the process by adding their own. Many companies are successful in cultivating their own strains, but since so much of quality tequila is based on artesian methods, the more local and natural the process, the better.

Jared Hirsch

Perhaps working in concert we can help to educate those hoping to educate us. My favorite example was a recent new brand that will go unnamed with a very interesting bottle design, fascinating flavor profile, but a sales rep who only knew how to talk about brand image. He barely understood the process. By tasting the tequila, I was able to give him some ideas about what their process might be, namely the oak and supposed aging times. He thanked me and came back a few days later with more information that both supported and discredited my assumptions. (Right oak, wrong aging time.) Now we are both better able to market it.


I think Jared's comment really starts to clarify things here. For some reason the marketing of these tequila brands is backwards - they are trying to sell to the uneducated drinkers who grab pretty bottles, but usually stick one bottle of what they know - after all, in these times, most of us don't have $40 or more to try a tequila that may be disappointing.

Instead, those marketers should be selling to the bars, bartenders, and store owners who not only go through countless bottles for every single consumer's one, but help to sell the good products as a part of their work. As a single consumer, I walk into my bar and talk to the designated "tequila man" if I want a good tequila. I trust him to know all the details and be able to point out differences between products. But if he doesn't have all the details to work with, he won't be as likely to push a product forward since he can't explain why it's good. In my field (engineering), we call that a black box, and try not to use something if we don't understand it. Sure, the majority of bartenders may not work that way, but the ones who do are the ones who are selling to people like me, who will go out and buy the exciting new quality products and start spreading the word.

Sean Stangle

All the larger distilleries - all the oldest (NOMs starting around 1102) such as Sauza, Cuervo, and such, employ all their own on-sight labs where they culture all their own yeast for consistency between lots, as a product that well known I think they are meeting what the demand desires, yet at the same time it brings with it a "romance" as you put it for the newer "boutique" distilleries to vary each lot from the next (combining and forwarding yeasts). I feel they both fall into their said category's. With that said I feel both worlds are necessary and with out each other will falter to a certain extent.

I'll defiantly admit that the market is saturated at the moment, and although a large number of the newest tequilas fall under a small amount of NOMs, I do see the market thinning out, the question is, who will last and why. Seeing as how some newer products to the market all come from the same NOM, does that mean its the same agave? Should that be what it means? if it does or does not, are we looking at another agave shortage? And on top of all that, what about agave nectar? From everything I understand, agave nectar is not regulated at all, meaning it can be gathered from any genus of agave?
But if not, that means a percentage of the agave owned by the distillery is already committed to agave nectar rather than tequila?

Carl Essert

As a blogger could you not take the “basic questions” you discussed and put them on a spread sheet? Obviously not for all brands but just the ones you feel are superior or are commenting about. Those “basic questions” will of course vary on the type of spirit. They would also vary on there importance on certain spirits. This would help all and give creditability to the areas you feel are the minimum knowledge needed to recommend or comment on that particular brand. So many writers of spirits rate or rank like they do on the Wine Spectator not relying on the basic questions you described to distinguish the brands, at the least both the writers opinion and the “basic questions” should be present

Camper English

Carl I've thought about doing that- I love spreadsheets- but it would be a huge amount of work. Maybe one day when I have the time....



I actually made some animated videos regarding tequila education. It explains how tequila is produced, the classifications and its origins. I also made another one that describes the labels. Currently I am finishing up on a video on the steps to tequila tasting. Right now they are hosted on my portfolio site

Hi all
So I will start by telling you that I love your web page….
If someday. You want to come to SAUZA distillery, let me know. I´m the mixologyst and head chef from LA QUINTA SAUZA our heritage center.

It would be so cool to have you here and show you our heritage, quality and the f&b experience....
contact me¡

Love all your articles

Camper English

Thanks Victor - I have been to Sauza just once last year and had a great time.

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