Tequila, Mezcal and Pulque Terminology

100% agave
One of the two official variations of tequila, made exclusively from only sugars from the "Agave Tequilana Weber, Variedad Azul" (Agave Tequilana Weber, blue variety). Premium tequilas are made with "100% de Agave," and can only be bottled in Mexico, not bulk-shipped for bottling outside. See mixto.

A granel
Low-quality mezcal or tequila, usually only distilled once, sometimes fermented with the help of chemicals.

Unaged tequila, mixto, often called gold (oro). See joven abocado.

Long-necked tool (traditionally a gourd) for siphoning aguamiel from scooped out section of maguey, to make pulque.

Land preparation: to gather the dried undergrowth into small piles along the furrows to be burned after clearing.

A family of succulents distantly related to the lily family, but not related to any cactus. Also called a maguey. The plants grow in the southwestern United States, Mexico and Central America. Agave is poisonous when raw, but has a sweet, mild flavour when baked or made into a syrup. The juice of the blue agave, cultivated primarily in the state of Jalisco, is used to make tequila; other agave species are used to make mezcal, bacanora, sotol, and pulque. There are more than 300 agave species. An agave plant takes eight to 12 years to mature. The plant has a bulbous body called a pina. The thick, spiny blue-green leaves extend six-eight feet at all angles like spears. Mexican law (see normas) state a product must contains al least 51% blue agave sugars to be called tequila. Because of the shape of the agave leaves are similar to the outstretched fingers of a human hand, prehispanic Mexican Indians called the plant "maitl" or "metl" which means "hand."

Agave sazon
Ripened or mature agave - takes between eight and 12 years.

Agave Deserti
Small agave used in Baja California for the regional beverage.

Agave Potatorium
Used to make bacanora, the regional mezcal of Sonora.

Agave Tequilana Weber Azul
The only agave allowed for use in tequila, and only when grown in specified regions according to the normas. Grown mostly in Jalisco, as well as limited areas in neighbouring states.

Agave farmer.

Spirit or liquor, usually made from cane sugars.

The sweet sap extracted from the piña (heart) of the agave plant. It is fermented for several days and then distilled to make tequila and mezcal, or fermented alone to make pulque. Aguamiel is sold as a regional drink in the states of Zacatecas, San Luis Potosi, Hidalgo (where sellers generally add chile).

A traditional copper pot still for the distillation of tequila.

Slow distillation.

Altos, Los
The Highlands: tequila growing area in the upper plateau east of Guadalajara, in Jalisco state. Not to be confused wth Altos de Jalisco (Jalisco Heights), the generic term for the uplands area of Jalisco.

Aged tequila. Aged at least one year in medium-sized oak barrels. Añejos may also be aged between three and seven years, but generally aficionados say it does not improve after five years. Añejo mezcals follow the same guidelines for aging. One of the four officially recognized types (tipos).

Reducing the new leaf growth on the agave plant when it begins to ripen.

Appellation de Origin Controllee. See Denomination of Origin.

A pressure cooker. Large autoclaves are used by many producers because the steam speeds the cooking of piñas; the agave is cooked in a few of hours instead of days in a traditional hornos.

The pulp after the piñas have been mashed or shredded. Also called bagasse and bagaso.

A type of mezcal prepared from wild maguey in the state of Sonora. Can be legally produced since 1992.

Pruning or cutting the points from the agave leaves (pencas) to make the head (cabeza) grow better. Literally means ploughing.

Barbeo de escopeta
Shotgun ploughing. Pruning to induce premature ripening and growth.

Barrel. Tequila is aged in white oak barrels. Normally a barrel has a 200 liter capacity (approx. 60 gallons). Often purchased from cognac or bourbon producers. Sometimes other woods are used.

Beater in the traditional process of making tequila. A naked worker gets into the wooden tubs with the must (mosto). He uses his hands and feet to beat the fibers from the mashed piñas to aid fermentation.

White tequila, an official type (tipo) for tequila bottled fresh from the still, or allowed to rest in stainless steel tanks for up to sixty days before bottling. It is never aged in wooden barrels. Also known as plata, plato, and silver tequila. Usually the most robust, strong-flavoured of the tequila types.

Blanco suave
An unofficial term to indicate blanco tequila with extra aging or additives to smoothen its sharp taste.

Warehouse or storage facility.

Traditional round, earthen jug with a narrow and short neck. Seven botijas are equivalent to one barrel for measuring.

Mid-quality mezcal, often for retail sale. Often purchased in bulk by companies for bottling.

"Little horse" – the traditional tall drinking/shot glass for tequila, also called a tequillita. Has a flat bottom and wider mouth. Also the name for a cocktail using white tequila, grenadine syrup, orange juice, orange or lemon blossom water and crushed ice, consumed in the Federal District (Mexico City).

Head. The first part of the distillate to come through the still, usually discarded (sometimes used in a granel mezcals). Also called punta. Also another name for piña, the core of the agave.

Camara Regional de la Industria Tequila
Regional Chamber of the Tequila Industry, formed in 1990 to strengthen and develop the tequila industry. It works with the Mexican government to protect and strengthen agricultural, industrial, and commercial activities related to tequila, protects and guards the management of the agave plantations in order to ensure future supply. The CRT also takes legal action against companies adultering their product., Composed of industry members, and based in Guadalajara. Its current president is Carlos Orendain.

Farmer, or peasant.

Campos de agave
Cultivated orchards of agave plants, also called potreros, or pastures (and huertas, or groves, in the Los Altos region).

Cured, black clay ceramic jug used in traditional process of aging mezcal.

Little carnival. A cocktail of tequila, orange juice and cinnamon from the state of Hidalgo.


Aged, sweet pulque, with added red chili and toasted corn leaves, then fermented over a low fire. It is consumed as a domestic and ritual beverage in Tlaxcala.

Mezcal from the Chichihualco de los Bravos in the state of Guerrero.

Whip plant; an agave plant that does not look strong, but appears old and tired.

Chilocle, chiloctli
Pulque fermented with chile ancho, epazote (an aromatic plant), salt and garlic. Consumed both as a domestic and ritual beverage in the state of Guerrero. It is also the traditional beverage of Puebla, Tlaxcala and Mexico.

Spirits (aguadrientes) made from sugar cane or mezcal in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Cien por ciento
One hundred per cent; tequila or mezcal made with only agave sugars (blue agave for tequila).

Coa, coa de jima
Sharp, round-ended tool used by the jimador (harvester) to cut the leaves (pencas) off the piña or cabeza (head) of the agave. A similar tool with a triangular point is used to clear weeds.

A small appendage found in the upper part of the piña.

Tail; the last parts of the distillate to come through the still, usually recycled into a subsequent distillation.

Regional drink made form distilled aguamiel.

Conch; bubble that appears on stirred or shaken tequila. See perla.

The coiled, metal condenser that cools the steam during distillation.

Heart: the main portion of the distillate that is used to make tequila. Also describes the middle part of the distillate, the most preferred portion.

Pulque mixed with brown honey and palo de timbre, from Puebla.

Consejo Regulado de Tequila: Tequila Regulatory Counci). A non-profit organization, founded in 1994, that verifies the performance and the fulfillment of Mexican standards (normas) concerning tequila. It also guarantees the tequila's authenticity and quality, and protects the Denomination Appelation of Origin (see AOC) worldwide. Members of the Council include the Mexican government, agave farmers, tequila producers, bottlers and distributors.

Curado de fresa
Beverage made from pulque mixed with strawberries or strawberry juice.

Demijohn; commercial glass holder for retail measurement. Contains 32 liters.

An aromatic herb used in several liqueurs, including some made with tequila and agave, plus other beverages and fruits. The plant grows in arid zones of Sinaloa and Baja California Sur. Denomination of Origin The law that establishes all the specifications required to produce, bottle, distribute and sell tequila, to protect and maintain the

Denomination of Origin
According to the "Appellation de Origin Controllee" (AOC), tequila can only be produced in Mexico. In the wine and spirits industry there are only four drinks recognized with Denomination of Origin: sherry, cognac, champagne and tequila.

Cutting the flower stalk (quiote) from the maturing agave to make the pina grow fatter and richer with carbohydrates. Also called castrating the plant.

Distillation. Heating the fermented must (mosto) to extract the alcohol. Tequilas and most mezcals are distilled twice, although one company promises triple distillation on their tequila label. Mezcal may only be distilled once. After distillation, the alcohol is filtered.

Direccion General de Normas. Before 1978, the term DGN was used to identify tequila made under the government regulations, but this term isn't used any more, except on some mixto tequilas bottled in the USA. The NOM number now indicated a producer's compliance with Mexican regulations.

Elixir de agave
A liqueur made with agave liquor - often tequila - and other liquors made from fruit or flowers, such as damiana

Envasado de origen
An indicator that the mezcal was bottled at the distillery. If it was bottled elsewhere in Mexico, it will say envasado en Mexico.

Erwinia caratavora
Bacterial infection in agave plants that causes "soft rot."

Cultivated maguey most commonly used to produce mezcal.

Excommunication: a mezcal produced in Michoacan.

Factory, another term for a tequila distillery.

Fermentation: using yeast to transform the sugars contained in the aguamiel into ethyl alcohol.

Fusarium oxisporum
Fungal infestaion affecting maguey plants in Jalisco.

Gran reposado
Unofficial term used to indicate a reposado with longer aging time that officially required, but aged using resposado techniques, not those required with añejo.

A regional drink made with sugar or corn cane juice, pulque and honey, from the states of Veracruz and Tabasco.

A butterfly larva (Hipopta Agavis) also called a worm. It lives in the heart or leaves of agave plants. It is sometimes placed in bottles of mezcal, but never in tequila.. There are two kinds of worms: gusano de oro (gold) and the more prized gusano rojo (red). Also called gusano de maguey.

Hecho en Mexico
Made in Mexico. Should be on all labels of 100% tequila.


Shoot or "pup." Young agave plant that grows from the base of the plant. It is uprooted at around one year old for transplanting. The hijeulos are about the size of an orange or large onion at this time. They are also called seeds or mecuates.

A traditional oven used to bake the agave piñas. Palenques are also sometimes referred to as hornos.

Fibre extracted from the agave leaves to produce textiles, cords and paper.

Central-Pacific Mexican state where the town of Tequila is located. It is also where the vast majority of the agave used for tequila is harvested and distilled. It is located roughly 40 miles northwest of its capital, Guadalajara.

Jarrito loco
Crazy little jar: Mexico City beverage prepared with tequila, rum, sweet anisette, orange juice and grapefruit juice, served in a little clay jar.

Harvesting; removing the leaves from the agave, pulling out the piñas from the ground before shipping the piñas to a fabrica for processing into tequila. Also called rajado.

The harvester in the agave fields. The jimador is often one of three generations of farmers in the same field. The skills are passed from father to son. Sometimes called a desvirador.

Young tequila. Similar to white (blanco) tequila, but often with added colour and flavouring.

Joven Abocado
Young and smooth. Tequila to which flavorings and often colouring are added to make it more palatable. Usually referred to as "Gold" (oro) tequila, and most commonly a mixto tequila.

Mezcal made with lechugilla (a wild maguey). Consumed on special occasions as a traditional beverage in Sonora, Chihuahua and Puebla.

Mexican wine and liquor stores, often identified as seeling "vinos y licorias."

Removing weeds from around the agave, and clearing the soil from the foot of each plant. A coa is generally used, to leave an empty space of about 1 metre.

Mother agave plant from which hijuelos are taken.

Mature, another term for reposado.

Skilled worker who oversees the cooking of agave hearts when making mezcal. Also called practico or palenquero.

Spanish word for agave. The word originally came from the Antilles. In Nahuatl, the agave was called metl, in Purepecha it was tocamba, and in Guada it was otome. Maguey is used to describe all varieties of agave in general.

Maguey acarrilado
Agave plant ready for desquiote.

Magueros or magueyeros
Maguey growers or harvesters in general are known as maguyeros or as agaveros.

Mano larga
Long or large hand: large agave, usually grown in the highlands. Their leaves stand more erect and the color is greener.

"Son of the Maguey." This chief of the Tecuexes tribe in the highlands of Jalisco led his tribe into an alliance with the Spanish colonizers. Without war between them, the two cultures shared the prehispanic knowledge of cultivating the agave with the European art of distillation. The word is also related to the five fingers of the hand, because of its similarity between the form of a human hand and the maguey plant.

An internationally popular cocktail made with tequila, lime juice, and orange liqueur. Its origin has never been definitively proven, but it was invented sometime between 1930 and 1950, probably in Mexico.

Female pig: the dry bagasse of mezcal.

Traditional, strong beverage made with pulque, corn, banana and unrefined brown sugar. It is consumed during festivities in the state of Queretaro.

The terrain that remains between rows of agave plants, used to cultivate corn and beans when the agaves are still small.

A maker of mezcal.

Another prehispanic name for maguey.

Mezontle, mesontle
The heart of the piña; it has a granular texture. Mezcal, mescal Another name for maguey plant. Also the generic name for all spirits distilled from the agave, as well as the name of a regional beverage, similar to the tequila, but made mostly in Oaxaca state. Technically tequila is a form of mezcal in the same way cognac is a form of brandy and is sometimes called "mezcal de tequila." Mezcal is native to the states of San Luis Potosi, Michoacan, Jalisco, Durango, Morelos, Nuevo Leon, Oaxaca, Tamaulipas and Zacatecas. Cortes called mezcal "the nectar of the (Aztec) gods." Some mezcals are sold with an agave worm (gusano) in the bottle.

Producer of mezcal.

Mixed: tequilas made with only 51% agave sugars (minimum). If the label doesn’t say "100% de agave," or "cien de cientos de agave," then the product is a mixto tequila. Corn or sugar cane are the most common other sugars used to create the alcohol during fermentation. One of the two official variations on tequila. See 100% agave.

Grinding machine to mill the cooked agaves into pulp.

Stone grinding wheel used to crush agave used in making mezcal. See also tahona.

Distillery workers in charge of the tahona and grinding-mashing process.

Must. The juices (aguamiel) and solids of the agave after the grinding stage. This will be fermented to produce alcohol.

Mosto muerto
Dead must. The spent aguamiel after fermentation.

Counties, or districts.

The original native Mexicans who lived in the area now known as Jalisco, before the Spaniards arrived.

A worm or grub that destroys the root of the agave. Not to be confused with the gusano used in mezcal. Nochocle Domestic beverage made with pulque, opuntia and water, consumed Tlaxcala and San Luis Potosi.

Normas Official Mexicana de calidad, the Mexican government standards. Every distillery gets a NOM identification number to show they conform to the laws and standards governing tequila production. Look for this mark on the label to ensure the tequila meets these standards. The number identifies each distiller. Distillers may make many competing products under the same NOM identifier. The NOM number does not guarantee quality, only that the distiller is appropriately licensed. Without the NOM stamp of legitimacy, you can't even be sure it's tequila in the bottle. All 100% agave tequilas must have a NOM identifier on the bottle. See NOM-006-SCFI-1993 and the later NOM-006-SCFI-1994

Stone grinding wheel, similar to a tahona or molino.

The official norms, or standards. Frequently written in all-caps as NORMAS.

On wood
Used to identify time a tequila has spent in contact with wood, usually stored in either a barrel or vat.

Ojo de gallo
Cock's eye: a preparation of white pulque, water, dark boiled honey, pepper, salt, anisette and ancho chiles.

The alcoholic liquid produced from the first distillation.

Gold, used to describe tequila that gains its colour either by aging in oaks vats (100% agave), or through the addition of caramel coloring and other additives (mixto).

Traditional beverage of Puebla, made from sugar or corn cane juice, pulque, unrefined brown sugar and palo de timbre.

Stone pit where mezcal piñas are baked. Usually 12015 feet in diameter and 6-8 feet deep.

Mezcal producer. Named after the pit, or palenque, in which the agave is cooked.

Dove: an infestation that corrodes the leaves (pencas) of the maguey.

The spiky, thick leaves of the agave.

Perla o concha
Pearl or conch. A bubble that remains on the surface of the tequila after serving it or stirring it, said to denote a fine tequila. To see if it is there, close the bottle tightly. Hold it upside down, then turn it right side up: the bubbles should appear and continue to float. If the perla does not appear, the liquor is called tequila cortado, or cut tequila, most likely a mixto.

Agave-based spirit mixed with orange juice and cinnamon. Consumed as a domestic and sometimes ritual drink in the state of Guerrero.

Agave field worker who does the desquiote.

Brown sugar cones used when making mixto tequilas to speed fermentation to be able to use immature and fewer plants.

Literally pineapple. The bulbous centre of the agave containing the sugars and starches used for the production of tequila. The piña is cooked and mashed. This releases the juices (aguamiel) for fermentation and later distillation The center resembles a pineapple. It is also called cabeza (head) and corazon (heart).

Tanker truck used to transport mixto tequila.

Large barrels with a capacity of 80 barrels, or 5,280 liters

Silver, refers to white, or clear, unaged tequila. See Blanco.

Pollas o galleteras
Hens or chickens: a beverage from Jalisco made with fresh milk with the yolk of an egg and a little bit of liquor, which can be tequila, mezcal or cane alcohol.

Ponche de pulque
Pulque punch: a mix of pulque, lemon water, clove and nutmeg from the states of Puebla, Tlaxcala and Hidalgo.

Pasture: agave plantations; also known as a ranch or campo de agave (orchard), and huerta (grove).

The skilled person who oversees the baking of mezcal piñas in the palenque. Also called maestro or palenquero.

A measurement of the amount of alcohol in liquor or spirits. In Canada and the United States, proof is exactly twice the percentage of alcohol.

Pulque is the fermented sap (aguamiel) of the agave. It has been a traditional drink since Mayan times. The Spanish Conquistadors distilled pulque into mezcal wine, which later became today's tequilas and mezcals. When fresh, pulque is white, thick and quite sweet, usually called pulque dulce. Older, sour pulque is called pulque fuerte. Pulque is not distilled. It has been consumed since the era of the Mexicas. In Santa Maria Tejacate, pulque has been industrialized and canned. Pulque curd is the mixture of pulque with various fruits to sweeten the taste, sometimes prepared with walnut, pine nut, guava, celery, orange, cantaloupe, lemon, wild plum, and other ingredients.

Another name for the first part of the distillation, also called the head (cabeza).

Stem or flower stalk that extends from the top of the maguey. It is cut to allow the pina to fatten and ripen. The quiote is sweet and can be boiled or roasted, and eaten. Also called quixotl. To remove the stalk (castrate) is called desquiote.

Spirit distilled from agave in Jalisco, known around Puerto Vallarta. Now can be legally produced.

Rested: tequila aged at least 2 to 12 months in oak barrels The "resting" mellows and refines the tequila. Official type according to the NORMAS.

Reserva de casa
Unofficial term for specially produced tequila products. Usually an añejo, but may be a reposado.

Mess: a liquor of opuntia juice, peel of timbre and mezcal from Puebla, Tlaxcala and San Luis Potosi.

Sal de gusano
Worm salt; sometimes supplied with bottles of mezcal. Contains fried, powdered gusano, salt and chile powder.

Spicy mix of tomato juice, orange juice, chile powder and other ingredients, used as a chaser or co-sip with tequila or mezcal.

Savia de maguey
Maguey sap: a type of non fermented pulque used in some festivities in Jalisco.

Mexican law enforcement age that oversees the tequila industry.

Regional mezcal made in Sonora.

Tavern, also a tequila factory or retail store where spirits are sold

The traditional, large stone wheel turned by donkeys, oxen or tractors. It pivots in a circular space (often a cement well) to mash the pulp of the agave into a coarse paste and extract the juice (aguamiel). This is diluted with water to give it the necessary consistency for fermentation. Also see molina and noria.

Roast: cooking the agave piñas so its sugars concentrate for fermentation

A beverage made from pulque with maguey worms, used in some traditional festivities and special occasions in the state of Oaxaca.

Wort: the fermented pulp and juices of the agave piñas. It is also the name of a native fermented drink similar to pulque, made in a clay pot with agave pulp and juice, clove, and cinnamon. Boiled barley and unrefined brown sugar are added later, then the mix is fermented another two days. It may also be prepared with pulque mixed with honey and boiled with anisette.

A liquor made by fermenting and distilling the aguamiel (sap) of the blue agave plant. It originated around the town of Tequila, in Jalisco state, hence the name. The word has several meanings, including: "wild herb place" (lugar de hierbas silvestres, "Place where people cut" (lugar donde se corta), or " place where people work" (lugar donde se trabaja). Tequila is a Mexican product with Denomination of Origin, which means that no other country is allowed to produce it.

Tequila cortado
Cut tequila, generally a mixto. When the tequila, after being shaken within the bottle, does not produce the pearl or conch on the surface.

Tequila de hornitos
Tequila made using the traditional oven to bake the piñas, and distilled in copper stills (alambiques).

A master tequila maker or tequila producer.

Place where pulque is produced.

Wooden tub used to ferment the juices of the agave after roasting or baking.

Type. According to the Mexican regulations, there are four officially recognized types of tequila:
– Silver (blanco or plata): Bottled immediately after distillation, or within 60 days. May be stored in stainless steel tanks, but never on wood.
– Rested (reposado): Tequila aged in oak barrels for between two and 12 months before bottling.
– Aged (añejo): Tequila stored and aged in oak barrels for more than a year before being bottled.
– Gold (oro, suave, joven, joven abocado): Basically the same as blanco, but with colouring and flavouring ingredients added to make it look aged. Also called gold because of its colouring (usually through added caramel and sometimes oak essence, up to 1% total weight). Generally mixto tequilas.

Worker who collects aguamiel from agaves for pulque. He uses an acocote, or long-necked tool.

Beverage from the blue agave from the state of Hidalgo.

A Mexico City cocktail prepared with tequila, orange juice and grapefruit juice.

A rare type of small, wild maguey, grown in the shade at high altitudes in Oaxaca state, used for making an expensive brand of limited production. super-premium mezcal.

Wooden cask used as a measurement, equivalent to 833 kilos.

Little Bull; A beverage from the state of Guerrero made from mezcal, vinegar, green chili, onion, tomato, and cheese. In Mexico and Morelos, it is tequila or aguardiente mixed with orange juice, onion, and chilis in vinegar.

Tequila fresh from the still, with sweet flavour.

Field workers who cut the piña from its root/stalk and get it ready for transport.

A type of mezcal from Tuxcacuesco, Jalisco.

Green; beverage prepared with aguamiel, mint, lemon and vodka. Served very cold in the state of Tlaxcala.

The residue, or dregs from fermentation.

Worm salt
Sal de gusano, a mix of fired, powdered gusano, chile powder and salt, provided with some types of mezcal.

The original native Mexicans who live in the area now known as Oaxaca, since before the Spaniards arrived.

Beverage prepared with the lower part of the Zotolero maguey in the state of Puebla.