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Tequila Defined

Types of Tequila


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Tequila sips:

The part of the plant that is used for tequila is the heart (root), or piña (also called the head, or cabeza), which looks like a large pineapple or pinecone. It starts underground, but soon pushes its way into the light. A mature piña usually weighs 80 to more than 300 pounds (although most are under 200 pounds). Even 500-lb. piñas have been cultivated in the highlands, although they are rare today.


Updated June 27, 2007

Labels - hidden clues and directions

Learn to read the label so you at least know what you are buying. There are many legal requirements for information to be displayed on a tequila label but none of them necessarily mean the contents live up to anything more than minimum standards. But once you learn to decipher the label, a lot of the mysteries become revealed.


Labels may also show off the creative and artistic styles of the producer, with work by talented artists and designers.


There are several elements you should be able to recognize on any tequila bottle label:


  1. The type (tipo) or category of tequila (blanco, añejo, reposado, etc.); *
  2. The purity (only 100% agave is labelled as such and if it doesn't say it is 100% agave on the label then it is a mixto). Note that since the shortage in 1999-2000, several companies have changed their 100% agave products into mixto to keep prices low. Terms like “100% natural,” “100% Mexican,” “100% natural product,” “100% aged” or other similar statements are prohibited;
  3. The NOM (distiller registration number). Take a NOM list with you - there are more than 700 brands produced by about 100 distillers. The brand (name) is not any real indication of who makes the product, so a good NOM list is an absolute necessity to know who the players are;
  4. The distiller's name and address (not always shown in full on the front and sometimes only indicating a town and state). This may be the parent company's or corporation's address, or the administration office;
  5. CRT - indication the Tequila Regulatory Council has certified the product - not a guarantee of quality, however - simply that the CRT has approved the process at the company's site and it meets the legal requirements;
  6. Hecho en Mexico - Made in Mexico. All 100% agave tequilas can only be made and bottled in Mexico. It can also say "producto de Mexico" or "elaborado en Mexico." Hecho a mano means 'handmade' and is not an official term but usually indicates traditional or artesanal production processes;
  7. DOT - denomination of origin (tequila) number, indicating compliance with Mexican regulations regarding where the product was made. This is not on all labels;
  8. The brand name. Usually accompanied by a graphic or a logo and a trademark identifier such as ® or “MR” ™. This doesn't indicate who makes the product (see NOM);
  9. The alcohol content. Tequilas in Mexico are usually 38-40% alcohol, but legally may be higher, up to 50%; *
  10. Any additives such as flavour or aroma; *
  11. The volume of the contents in milliliters (i.e. 200, 375, 500 or 750 ml) or litres; *
  12. Lot or batch: each bottle must be engraved or stamped with the coded identification of the lot to which it belongs (see image, below); 
  13. Any warning statements set forth in health legislation or any information required by other legal provisions applicable to alcoholic beverages;
  14. Of course it should also say "tequila" on the label - otherwise it could be anything inside the bottle. But the word 'tequila' alone without 100% agave also means it is a mixto.*
  15. Some bottles may have a number to indicate the batch size and the bottle's number in that batch. This is not a requirement, but it may also indicate the size of any particular production.

Those items marked with an asterisk (*) are required on the main panel. Bottles made for consumption mostly in Mexico will probably have labels in Spanish only, but those made for export will have both, or may even be entirely in English.


Various lot and batch numbers on tequila bottlesA new addition can be found on 4 Copas' bottles (La Quemada distillery): certified organic. As of spring, 2007, they were the only tequila company certified as organic to meet US and European standards.


Another seal on some bottles is "Envasado de Origen" - bottled at the origin. Some producers lease space in distilleries to make their tequila, and sometimes take it away to age and bottle in another location.


Some labels will also have words like "natural" or "estate bottled." Neither of these have any official meaning under the CRT regulations.


Hand painting labels at Don ValenteWhat you won't see on a tequila label is a vintage such as a season or a year. Tequila does not depend on a seasonal harvest, since the agave is harvest year round. And with few exceptions, tequilas are blended (and may contain tequila from older or younger barrels), rather than single-barrel products (in part because barrels are 600l or less, although a few single-barrel añejos have been produced). Update: Casa Noble recently released a single-barrel reposado!


Fancy bottles also provide a design challenge: how can producers fit all the required content onto a bottle designed to present an attractive, sophisticated and generally uncluttered look? Digital printing, and laser-etching have been partial solutions. others have gone to artistic - even hand-painted - labels on the front, with the necessary information crammed on the back. Items like the NOM identifier are sometimes reproduced in tiny print to reduce the visual impact of the printing on the bottle or label.






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