What Is Still Strength Tequila? Upping the Alcoholic Ante
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What Is Still Strength Tequila? Upping the Alcoholic Ante

Still Strength Tequila

Still strength tequila is a high-ABV favorite among enthusiasts, but what exactly makes it so strong? (Photo: Tequila Fortaleza)

The vast majority of tequila you’ll find available on retail shelves is sold at 80 proof (40% ABV). But that’s usually not how it comes out the still.

In truth, most distillers cut their tequila with water in order to achieve the U.S. minimum of 40% ABV.

Apart from being cost-friendly (after all, why bottle tequila at anything higher than the required minimum), standardized ABVs help maintain consistency in the eyes of consumers. Most people simply aren’t looking for a throat burn every time they open a bottle of tequila. What’s more, standardized ABVs help maintain a specific alcohol-to-flavor ratio that we associate with the spirit.

Believe it or not, these numbers tend to lean even lower in Mexico. Since its government charges taxes in direct proportion to the alcohol content of distilled spirits,  the majority of tequila available for retail in Mexico hovers around the national minimum of 35%.

Still Strength Tequila

Alcohol ABVs in comparison. (Photo: Sip Tequila)

The bold exception to this rule is still strength tequila.

How is Still Strength Tequila Made?

Still Strength Tequila

To many, still strength tequila is the ultimate form of the spirit. (Photo: Los Muertos Crew/Pexels)

The schtick is in the name — literally, tequila bottled at still strength.

After distillation, producers boast that they bottle directly from the still, forgoing any additives or alcohol-cutting additions.

In practice, this means that the ABV of still strength tequilas can vary wildly.

One of the most popular expressions among enthusiasts, Fortaleza Still Strength Blanco, is bottled at 92 proof (46% ABV). In contrast, El Luchador Blanco reaches all the way up to the legal maximum of 110 Proof (55% ABV).

Other popular expressions include the 45% ABV Codigo 1530 Estate Harvest Blanco and the $500 43% ABV G4 6-Year Extra Añejo.

But not every high-ABV tequila is necessarily bottled at still strength.

The popular Roca Patron line of tahona-crushed tequila is sold at 42%, 45% and 46% ABV respectively, numbers achieved by cutting the spirits with slightly less water than the typical Patron bottlings.

As uninviting as watered-down tequila may sound, it serves an important purpose within the industry.

Delicate flavors of agave don’t always stand up to a higher alcohol content the same way that darkened flavors of grain and oak might taste within a high-ABV bourbon.

It takes a good distillery to pull off a still strength tequila that can balance recognizable flavors with a strong boozy punch. If you’re interested in tasting one of these elusive bottlings for yourself, start searching; still strength tequila is considerably harder to find than the regular stuff and is known to carry a more expensive price tag.

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Pedro Wolfe is the managing editor of Tequila Raiders. With several years of experience writing for the New York Daily News and the Foothills Business Daily under his belt, Pedro aims to combine quality reviews and recipes with incisive articles on the cutting edge of the tequila world. Pedro has traveled to the heartland of the spirits industry in Tequila, Mexico, and has conducted interviews with agave spirits veterans throughout Mexico, South Africa and California. Through this diverse approach, Tequila Raiders aims to celebrate not only tequila but the rich tapestry of agave spirits that spans mezcal, raicilla, bacanora, pulque and so much more.