Tequila’s got a funny old reputation within country music. Joe Nichols suggests it “makes her clothes fall off”, Darius Rucker made an alcoholic anthem out of “one tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor”, and Kenny Chesney went so far as to propose “one is one too many” (of course, “one more is,” inevitably, “never enough”).

And, sure, there are plenty of tequilas on the market that make easy work out of messy nights (and their inevitable hangovers), but those aren’t the ones we’re here to talk about. Instead, GQ is here to sing the praises of the very best tequilas you can buy in 2024; the ones you want to sip, savour and – if you’re so inclined – shot (without wincing).

How is tequila made?

Tequila is made from agave, a cactus-like plant native to the state of Jalisco in Mexico (which also happens to be home to – you guessed it – the town of Tequila). While there are 166 different species of agave, only one legally counts as tequila: the ‘Weber Azul’ (AKA blue agave). This plant, once properly processed, juiced and fermented/distilled, produces the spirit we all know and love.

The process itself involves harvesting, cooking, distilling and sometimes ageing – depending on the type of tequila. If you’re after a premium tequila, you’ll want to look out for those that are made from 100 per cent blue agave, rather than those that substitute other agaves (these are normally called ‘mixtos’).

What types of tequila are there?

While tequila itself is technically a form of mezcal (the wider term for Mexican spirits distilled from the fermented juice of the agave plant), there are three key types of tequila that you ought to familiarise yourself with before you delve into the world of blue agave-based spirits: blanco, reposado and añejo. Essentially these terms refer to how long the tequila has been aged, and can also be described as unaged, rested and aged.

Blanco tequila (a.k.a. silver tequila) is unaged, meaning that after the distilling process the tequila will be bottled pretty much immediately or aged very briefly. In mezcal, it’s often referred to as joven mezcal. Reposado tequila is normally aged for a period of two months to a year in barrels (most often made from oak). These tend to have a more intense flavour. As for añejo tequila? It’s aged for much longer – often at least three years. It tends to have a much richer, more amber colour and a stronger flavour.

Truth be told, any tequila worth its salt should taste just as good sipped straight as it does in a margarita. Tequila types are actually far less important than the processes employed by the brands making them.

What is the difference between tequila and mezcal?

We understand the confusion; technically all tequila is mezcal, but all mezcal is not tequila. Definition-wise, ‘mezcal’ refers to spirits made from the agave plant, while tequila’s regulations mean it can only be made from the Blue Weber agave plant. The reason mezcal is often referred to as “smoky tequila” is because mescaleros roast the core of the agave plant (the “piña”) inside conical pits in the ground, which tends to give it a smokier, barbacoa-like taste. It is, broadly, an artisanal product that can vary enormously based on the agave used.

Alternatively, tequila distillers prefer to steam the Blue Weber piña in brick ovens or autoclaves. Neither is “better” (as the quality of the finished spirit is dependent on many factors, including the preferences of the people making it), but tequila methodology lends itself more easily to industrial production.

The Lost Explorer Mezcal Salmiana

The Lost Explorer’s beautifully handcrafted mezcals are some of the best expressions of tequila available across the board, and Salmiana (which is harvested after 12 years of growth) is the brand’s most unique. Sweet and spicy, this small-batch mezcal is more herbaceous than you might expect, making it the perfect gift for the tequila lover who’s tried everything. Best enjoyed sipped at room temp.

Read the full article at GQ-Magazine.co.uk HERE.