How To Order Tequila At The Bar Like You Know What You're Doing

Tequila, Mexico's beloved local spirit, can be complex to order at a bar. Ordering it with prowess can mean the difference between a fiesta and a siesta for your palate. We're here to arm you with the know-how necessary to order tequila you not only understand, but truly enjoy.

The key is to know what you're ordering. So, what is tequila? Essentially, the sugars expelled from roasted agave hearts are fermented and distilled into a spirit. For centuries, it was produced in what is now the state of Jalisco in the municipalities of Amatitán and Tequila — hence the name — but due to increased popularity and demand for tequila, it's now produced in five Mexican states: Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas.

While tequila's sister spirit mezcal can be made from any one of the over 200 types of agave plants out there, tequila is only made from Weber blue agave. Authenticity comes into question when other ingredients, such as methanol, esters, and aldehydes, are added to and chemically manipulate the spirit. For this reason, there's even a Tequila Regulatory Council that approves or seizes the production of certain tequilas. Depending on the bar you go to, your bartender or mixologist may be able to tell you which of the tequilas they carry are premium and lack any additives. In the end, bartender guidance and well-informed choices can ensure you savor the true tequila experience.

What to know about age and tequila

When it comes to ordering tequila for taste, it's largely about the spirit's age. The categories you're typically going to see at the bar are blanco, joven, reposado, añejo, and extra añejo. Each type offers distinct flavors and characteristics.

Blanco or silver tequila is freshly distilled, clear, and unaged. Joven tequila, often referred to as gold tequila, is a blend of blanco and aged tequila. It is ideal for mixed drinks and cocktails and has a slightly sweeter profile. Reposado tequila is aged in oak barrels for a minimum of two months, resulting in a smooth and complex flavor. Añejo tequila is aged for a minimum of one year, developing deeper flavors and a velvety smoothness. It often exhibits hints of caramel, vanilla, and spices. Extra añejo tequila is aged for a minimum of three years. It offers unparalleled richness, complexity, and elegance. It's a luxurious choice for those whose preference is to sip on something with intense depth of flavor.

Tequila newbies may be wondering how to even get started. Think about the sensations you prefer in other spirits. Lovers of whiskey or full-bodied wines may prefer the complexity of añejo tequila; those who gravitate towards botanical gins could enjoy the crisp, earthy, and smooth profile of reposado; and vodka fans could find blanco tequila's clarity right up their alley. Of course, these aren't hard and fast rules. Talk to your bartender — trial and error is often essential ... and part of the fun!

How to order and enjoy tequila

To fully appreciate tequila, engage your senses. Admire its color, from blanco's crystal clarity to añejo's rich amber hue. Inhale the aromas, allowing the bouquet of roasted marshmallow (the cooked agave) and earthy undertones to prepare your palate. If you've ordered it "straight" or "neat," it will come in a small (or shot) glass. You can choose to take small sips, allowing the spirit to dance on your palate and its complex flavors to slowly reveal themselves, or give yourself a sensational spike and take the entire shot at once. Ordering your tequila "on the rocks" will bring its temperature down, mellow out the flavors, and can make the tasting experience even smoother. Often, tequila is served with lime and salt, and the typical shot routine starts by taking a dash of salt directly on the tongue followed by the tequila and chased with a bite of lime. 

Sipping tequila neat or on the rocks offers the purest expression of its character, but you can also explore mixing it with soda water and a squeeze of lime or enjoying it in cocktails like the classic margarita or the sophisticated tequila old fashioned. Tequila is meant to be enjoyed and its history and production process appreciated, but neither overthought. Get creative with your mixed drink orders and don't be afraid to experiment with the tequilas you try.