Tequila: Mixto and 100% Agave. What’s the difference?
Tequila. We’ve all tried it at one point or another and regretted it the next day right? I know I did. And I never touched the stuff again. And to this day, even though I drink Tequila often, I can honestly say I’ve never gone back. As contradictory as that sounds, it makes perfect sense when you know there is more than one type of tequila…
Of course, I’m referring to mixto and 100% agave tequila…
Both are tequila, in both name and nature, and both contain alcohol distilled from the Blue Weber Agave [the only agave species allowed in the production of tequila]. The difference, and it is a significant one, lies in the amount of Agave each one contains:
By law, all mixto tequila has to have a minimum of 51% agave and all 100% agave tequila to have, well, 100% agave.
There are strict rules that govern the production of tequila; including the specific species of agave used, the processes of the production line, and bottling/labelling of the finished product.
It sounds exhausting but it’s a set of regulations in place for good reason. According to the rules laid out by the Mexican government, Tequila can only be made within a certain geographical area in Mexico [See here] and this includes both types mentioned above. However, one little detail affects how both are allowed to be produced. See here for details about the regulations set out by the Mexican government. Or read below for some highlights…
Mixto Tequila has the infamous responsibility for all those tequila-induced hangovers from your drinking days. It’s also the reason why you probably don’t like tequila.
But what would you think if I were to tell you that all those hangovers could have been avoided, at least in part, by drinking a different kind of tequila? Well, believe it because Mixto tequila (brands like Sierra, Sauza, and Jose Cuervo) are stripping you of having a wonderful drinking experience. Ask any random person about tequila and chances are you’ll get the same response: a disgruntled face. This is because of one small issue: Purity…
Mixto tequila, by law, has to contain at least 51% Agave. The other 49% of the ingredients can be anything from sugar cane, caramel, and other flavourings to colours, and additives. Even if the 49% is made up from just sugar cane, the distillation process still distils agave and sugar cane into two different alcohols. It’s the equivalent of drinking two very different spirits at the same time. And we all know mixing your drinks is never a good idea.
Add other distillates into the mix and your drink mixing turns into a horrific hangover potion of nightmarish proportions. However, that’s not what happens with the other, more sophisticated side of tequila…
100% Agave Tequila:
Tequila labelled with the phrase ‘100% de Agave’, in English or Spanish, is by law a pure product. It’s a tequila made from one distillate and not a single ingredient more. That ingredient is the Blue Weber Agave plant. It’s the same plant that makes up the required 51% of mixto tequilas but, importantly, 100% tequilas are literally 100% agave distillate. That means, before it even enters your glass, it’s as pure as tequila comes.
Because this tequila only has the one distillate, it becomes a lot easier for your body to break down. That means you don’t have your head feeling like a split log in the morning. It also means you can sip, mix, and enjoy tequila without fear of its horrific repercussions*.
But it doesn’t stop there…
100% agave tequila is not simply a purer form of tequila than you’re used to. It also tastes better, feels smoother, has less of a burn, and makes any cocktail taste superbly better than before.
Add to that the unique flavours each brand creates with their own 100% tequila, and you end up with a spirit with as much variety as whisky. Whilst that seems a bit of an over statement, its quite commonly known that sipping tequilas are becoming better by the year.
Whether you’re after a spicy, earthy tequila from the mountainous regions, or a floral, light tequila from the agave fields in the valleys, there’s a tequila out there for every taste.
Tequila is a varied spirit, more so than some realise. But to assume that it is restricted to being mixto or 100% agave is naïve. There are more varieties within these two categories and they range from the colouring induced mixto ‘gold’ tequila to the aged anejo and reposado’s of 100% agave tequila.
It’s also important to note that whilst I am not fond of mixto tequila, it deserves respect in so much as that it led to the rise of the industry. From the global acceptance of ‘this is how tequila tastes’ to the more recent days of quality over quantity. With the market expanding to allow such a thing as sipping tequila, mixto tequila laid the foundation for such a boom in the industry and has, almost, directly led to the current swathe of premium quality brands.
I have to admit that until recent years I’d kept well away from the Mexican spirit, but after discovering a real gem of a brand [El Jimador] at my local Sainsbury’s, I’ve been on a mission to learn more and understand the stigma and how brands are fighting it with their 100% agave products.
I want to end on a summary note, a round up if you will…
Mixto tequila does have its place, it will probably always have its place as cheap shots and cheap margaritas. It will always be the spirit that awakened the world to the possibilities of tequila. But once you grow out of the cheap shots and tiresome hangovers, you begin to look for something a little more sophisticated. And that is where 100% agave brands, such as El Jimador and Patron come in.
I would say this though: If you don’t mind a pounding headache and the rest of a hangover that comes with it: Cheap Mixto Tequila is your thing. But if you want a spirit to sip, to savour, and to enjoy then 100% agave tequila is most certainly the product you’re after. You do have to pay more for the 100% agave tequila but the taste and experience is more than worth it.
So, I hope you enjoyed this rather informative post, it was a little long, and I won’t make them too much of a habit. But several people have asked me in recent weeks about tequila and the difference between 100% agave and mixto. Hopefully this post, along with the links (references) below will alleviate any confusion and help you choose a better bottle in future.
Do you have any experiences with Tequila you’d like to share? Why not let us know in the comments? I’m sure there’s some tales you could all tell…