If there’s one thing that unifies American revelers during Cinco de Mayo, that gaudily appropriated holiday, it’s tequila.
The Mexican spirit, distilled from the fermented juice of the blue agave plant, pours like water, be it in lime-chased shots, fruity margaritas or straight out of the bottle, frat-style.
But popular as it may be, tequila often is as misunderstood as Cinco de Mayo itself. Contrary to what jello-shot carousers might believe, it’s not Mexican Independence Day, but rather a minor holiday that marks the Mexican army’s triumph in the 1862 Battle of Puebla, during the Franco-American War.
Despite tequila’s wild popularity in Cinco de Mayo bashes, it’s a spirit taken quite seriously in the handful of Mexican regions with Appellation of Origin designations by the closely regulated industry.
The upshot: more reason to sip, not shoot, that reposado. Just as lagers differ from porters and chardonnay differs from merlot, tequila has its delicious varieties:
White tequila – Also known as blanco or silver tequila, it’s versatile. It’s great for mixing in cocktails or sipping. Straight up, it offers the purest expression of agave flavor.
Gold tequila – Also known as joven, it is the ubiquitous, additive-laced liquor that’s responsible for many a hangover. This is not a sipping tequila, but one to shake up in cocktails.
Reposado – These are aged (reposado means “rested” or “reposed”) for anywhere from two to 12 months, so the flavor is more balanced. These are quite sippable and also nicely dress up cocktails.
Añejo – These tequilas (añejo means “old”) linger in oak for at least a year and up to four years. These are your velvety sipping tequilas.
Extra-Añejo – Aged for more than four years, these are nice to swirl in a snifter.