Essential Guide to Agave Spirits: Tequila, Mezcal, Raicilla, Sotol, Bacanora & Pulque

You know Tequila and you may have been introduced to its smoky cousin, Mezcal. But there are other spirits in the agave category well worth discovering.

Agave Spirits Tequila Mezcal Raicilla Sotol Bacanora Pulque

We caught up with Alex Gilmour, General Manager of Tio’s Cerveceria in Sydney to bring you an introduction to agave spirits: Tequila, Mezcal, Raicilla, Sotol, Bacanora and Pulque.

Alex “Happy” Gilmour moved to Mexico in 2010 to study in Guadalajara, his choice influenced by its proximity to the town of Tequila. After he returned to Australia, he completed his bachelor degree in Mechanical Engineering at UTS and began a Masters in Brewing and Distilling at Heriot Watt in Edinburgh with the primary focus of investigating the production and structure of agave distillates throughout Mexico. Over the last 5 years, he has spent time in an out of Mexico visiting distilleries and companies to get a better understanding on their methods.

We’ve split the article into 6 pages, one for each distillate. Simply click on the buttons at the bottom of the article to navigate to the next page.

Agave Spirits: Tequila, Mezcal, Raicilla, Sotol, Bacanora & Pulque.


What is Tequila

Tequila is an agave distillate made from the blue weber agave with an ABV between 35-55%.

Agave Type

blue weber agave / agave tequilana weber varietà azul


Tequila can be made only in the Mexican states of Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. Jalisco is the major area accounting for some 97% of Tequila production.

How is Tequila Made

The agave are harvested by a jimador who uses a sharp implement with a flat blade to remove the spikes, leaving the piña, which resembles a large pineapple. The piñas are then cooked mainly in large industrial ovens or autoclaves, though some use brick ovens. The cooked agave is shredded using mechanical rollers or tahonas (a large stone wheel pulled by a donkey) and fermented using wild fermentation or proprietary yeast. Tequila undergoes a minimum of two distillations in stainless steel or copper still though some use column stills.

Tequila Categories

Tequila falls under two categories, 100% agave tequila and mixto tequila.

Tequila Categories

  • Blanco or silver: tequila, unaged or rested in stainless-steel vats for up to two months
  • Joven (young): a blend of blanco with any aged expression
  • Reposado: aged from two months up to 1 year in oak barrels
  • Añejo: aged between one to three years in oak barrels of 600L capacity or less
  • Extra añejo: aged at least three years in oak barrels of 600L capacity or less

Tequila Flavour Profile

In general, blanco tequila tends to be herbaceous with wet cut grass, pungent agave notes and white peppercorn. Highland tequilas are floral with green peppercorn, citrus and fresh lime notes and sweeter due to a higher concentration of sugars in the agave. Lowland tequilas are more earthy with roasted black peppercorns and some citrus notes mainly the flesh and fruit than the citrus oils.

How to Drink Tequila

Aside from sipping neat, blanco is suited to cocktails such as Margarita, Tommy’s Margarita, Paloma and Toreador, goes well in citrus-driven cocktails, gimlets and Old Cuban. Reposado works well in fruit-driven cocktails such as mandarin, Tiki style drinks, a substitute for gold rum. Añejo is well suited to Tequila Old Fashioned, Manhattan and Sazerac style cocktails while the Extra Añejo is best sipped neat like a whisky.

Click to the Next Page for Essential Guide to Mezcal

Essential Guide to Agave Spirits: Tequila, Mezcal, Raicilla, Sotol, Bacanora & Pulque was last modified: July 24th, 2017 by Corinne Mossati
Corinne Mossati

Corinne Mossati is the Founder/Editor of Cocktails & Bars and popular online magazine Gourmantic. She is named in the Australian Bartender Magazine Top 100 Most Influential List since 2013, is a member of The World’s 50 Best Bars Academy who judges the World’s 50 Best Bars. She has also judged the Australasian Whisky Awards and various national cocktail competitions. Read the full bio here.