A Clear-Cut Guide to a New Type of Tequila

GJ67AC Blue agave fields near Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico.
Blue agave fields in Mexico/Photo by Brian Overcast for Alamy

For those already familiar with Tequila, a relatively new offshoot of the agave spirit is gaining attention: cristalino.

What is cristalino Tequila?

Cristalino, which means “crystalline” in Spanish, is oak-aged Tequila that’s filtered with charcoal. It’s generally crystal clear, as the name suggests, although some have faint tinges of color. The process is akin to many white rums, which can also be barrel-aged and have the color filtered out.

That matured Tequila may be classified anywhere from a reposado to an extra-añejo. This means it may spend as little as two months in a barrel, or it may be multiple years old. Cristalino just can’t be a blanco, which is aged fewer than two months. Some bottlings have sweeteners, usually agave nectar.

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Why haven’t I heard of this before?

First, it’s a relatively new category. The first commercial cristalino was launched in 2012 by Don Julio.

“I began experimenting with and developing Tequila Don Julio 70 from 2006–2008, and officially launched the variant in 2012 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the year that Don Julio González began his Tequila-making journey,” says Enrique de Colsa, master distiller of Tequila Don Julio. “It was the first of its kind, and it’s been amazing to see that it has become one of the best performing variants in Mexico.”

The product launched as “Don Julio 70 Añejo Claro.” Recently, it was renamed as Don Julio Añejo Cristalino.

“At the time when we introduced the variant, this term was not widely used across Tequila,” says de Colsa.

While a small yet steadily growing number of Tequila producers have rolled out cristalino bottlings, many use terms that may not include “cristalino” in the name, which makes the category a bit harder to recognize.

Examples include Herradura Ultra, Qui Platinum and Dobel Diamante. Platinum is also frequently used. It means platinum, but it’s not to be confused with plata, or silver, a synonym for blanco Tequila.

Three glasses depicting cristalino tequila
Photo by James Pintar for Alamy

Why aren’t these names standardized?

The Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT), the government entity that regulates the spirit in Mexico, hasn’t established cristalino as an official class or category, so producers have leeway.

“While not an official category, to be considered a cristalino, producers must demonstrate that Tequila actually went through a state of maturation in oak barrels and specify the color removal process, demonstrating that the product after this process maintains maturation characteristics,” says Karinna Enriquez Hurtado, master taster for Tequila Herradura.

This ensures that cristalino is different from blanco/silver/plata Tequila, which may look similar in the glass, but hasn’t been aged in barrels.

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What does it taste like?

Cristalino may look like a blanco, but it tastes like a reposado or añejo Tequila. It has subtle honey, almond or coconut tones, often with a long finish and a less peppery or citrusy bite than a typical blanco. Many will have a light sweetness. In general, they tend to be smooth and easy-sipping.

In the U.S., bartenders mix cristalino into in martini-like cocktails, or dessert drinks that skew on the sweeter side.

While Tequila producers continue to roll out new cristalino bottlings, not everyone is enamored with the category.

Hurtado understands why critics might disapprove.

“Tequila is a very traditional spirit,” she says. “We find some traditional Tequila drinkers who maybe only drink blanco or reposado do not like cristalinos because producers are utilizing modern practices to create a new category.

“We want to create premium Tequilas that can be enjoyed by all audiences, both traditional and modern.”

Published on April 14, 2020
Topics: Drinks