A Beginner’s Guide to Drinking Tequila

Tequila can be polarizing: While some people enjoy a good margarita, others have one too many on their 21st birthday and never touch the stuff again. But frankly, there's more to this drink than these clichés—and you don't have to be a bartender or an expert to appreciate it.

If you've had a particularly bad experience with Mexican spirits, you might be a little hesitant to start your tequila journey all over again. But if you choose the right bottle, those two days of post-GNO recovery will be a thing of the past. If this sounds familiar, you're probably drinking a blend of tequila, not real tequila, says Lauren Mote, director of global trade excellence at Patrón. The way to know you're drinking something good is to recognize what you're really looking for.

"Whenever someone smells and tastes tequila for the first time, they should realize that it's supposed to smell like cooked agave," Mott said. "If you're not familiar with the flavor [of cooked agave], it's probably like [the flavor of] cooked sweet potato — like caramelized cooked sweet potato. That's really the most typical note." Except In addition to cooked agave, white pepper and green pepper are also flavor components present in real tequila.

You can learn a lot about the contents of a tequila bottle by reading its label. Is it a mixer or real tequila? Has it aged? What additives does it contain? Once you choose one that's right for you, there are many ways to enjoy it. Here's everything beginners should know about tequila, including how it's made, how to pair it and how to make next-day headaches a thing of the past.

What is tequila made of?

Agave is the king of tequila products, and more specifically, Blue Weber agave is the ingredient used in legal tequila. The plants must be grown in one of five regions in Mexico (Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit or Tamaulipas) where the dry climate is ideal growth of these plants. After the agave takes 8 to 10 years to grow, trained Guimadores hand-pick it when it reaches its peak sweetness.

While each brand of tequila is produced differently, the tequila is then processed, cooked in an oven, and ground and mixed with water and yeast to begin the fermentation process.

What are the different types of tequila?

"Mixto is one of the largest and most produced products in the agave spirits category, but by law they are only 51 percent agave," Mote tells Bustle. “More than 49 percent can be made up of just about anything. It doesn’t even have to be agave [tequila’s main ingredient]. I think a lot of people think tequila is mixto, but in fact, mixto is just A style of tequila." These concoctions may be responsible for your hangover for days, but they don't represent everything the tequila industry produces.

The Tequila Regulatory Commission (TRC) is a governing body that requires tequila producers to comply with regulations governing how the alcohol is produced, from how the agave plant is grown to how it is labeled and distributed. According to its standards, there are five main types of tequila - blanco, mixto/joven, reposado, añejo and extra añejo - all of which are distinguished by their aging process.

Blanco: unaged tequila

Mixto (often called joven): unaged tequila mixed with a small amount of aged tequila

Reposado: Aged for at least two months to a year

Añejo: Aged for at least one year

Extra añejo: Aged for at least three years

The TRC only allows a total of 1% of four specific additives in tequila (glycerin, caramel color, oak extract and sugar syrup), so the tequila is still considered 100% tequila and Specify this on the label. This is why if you buy "flavored tequila" you won't see 100% tequila on the bottle. Bottles like Patrón, on the other hand , always contain no additives.

What is the difference between mezcal and tequila?

Tequila is made exclusively from blue Weber agave. Mezcal, on the other hand, is made from any variety of agave - by this definition, tequila is technically a mezcal, although the reverse is not accurate. You've also probably tasted mezcal before and noticed its characteristic "smoky" flavor; when piña (the core of the agave plant) is cooked in an underground pit, it's similar to the industry used for the core of the agave This is what happens when you cook it together in the oven (it's destined to be tequila). Mezcal usually has about 15% more alcohol than typical tequila (40% alcohol by volume), so it's a stronger spirit overall.

What should tequila be mixed with?

Typically made with white tequila, orange liqueur and fresh lime juice, the margarita is the most popular tequila drink on the planet. Made with tequila, lime juice, grapefruit juice, and club soda (or grapefruit soda), the Paloma is another classic cocktail known for its fruity and refreshing taste. Another staple is ranch water made with tequila, lime and soda water.

But Mott and the Patrón team want tequila lovers to think and drink outside the box. "We've been waiting for people to catch up with us and say 'We're totally ready to try what's possible besides margaritas,'" she said.

For example, an espresso martini can be made with aged tequila (such as Patrón Añejo) instead of the typical vodka. Aged tequila has a more complex flavor than white tequila because it draws flavors from the oak barrels it was aged in. While the Tequila Old Fashioned and Negroni are typically made with bourbon and gin respectively, aged tequila can also be used instead for a lighter take on the classic cocktail. At La Casona, Patrón's invitation-only guesthouse in Jalisco where every bottle of tequila is produced, they even make a tequila martini with a slice of cucumber, reflecting last year's The martini trend is taking the beverage industry by storm.