Blanco tequila is the luminous mirror of the blue agave. Unlike the reposado or the añejo, it’s not aged; just pure distillation of the plant. Well, that’s the ideal, anyway. Not all blanco tequila is crafted with care, which is why it helps to know what to look for when you’re picking out a bottle.
“Everyone’s taste is different, but I judge a great blanco tequila by aroma, clarity, taste, and aftertaste,” says Casa Dragones Tequila co-founder and CEO Bertha González Nieves -- who just happens to be the first-ever female maestra tequilera. And while an aged tequila shines through layers and smoky flavors, blanco is all about showcasing the flavors of the blue agave plant itself.
But not all blanco tequilas deliver on this potential. As you’re staring down a row of silver bottles at the store, or when a bartender asks you which tequila you want to try, how do you pick? We talked with four tequila experts to uncover their favorite labels and -- perhaps more importantly -- to find out from them what makes a great blanco, and how to find one.
According to the governing body of the tequila industry, the Consejo Regulardor de Tequila, a spirit needs only to be composed of 51 percent agave to be labeled as tequila. “The rest can be mystery booze,” says Ivy Mix, James Beard award-winning bartender, owner of Brooklyn’s Leyenda, and author of the forthcoming book, Spirits of Latin America. “But I believe a good tequila should be made entirely from the plant.”
Another key to quality blanco tequila, Mix says, is that it comes from agave plants that were allowed to mature fully (8 to 12 years), just like a peak season peach. This will lend the tequila a sense of terroir, every bit as important for tequila as it is for wine. “The really cool thing about tequila is that it’s made from something grown for 10 years. Nothing else is like that, and you really want to be able to taste that when you drink a tequila.”
And the processing matters. Some distillers inject agave with chemicals and speed up the process with pressure cooking. The alchemy of the slower, traditional roasting allows the flavors to develop into a truly great tequila.