What is a Tequila Flight?

By: Michael Prentice

A tequila flight is a selection of three to six different tequilas served at the same time in separate glasses. The selected tequilas usually have something in common. The idea is to compare them in relation to each other.

Flights of tequila are a great way for new drinkers to try several different varieties to see what you like best.

For more experienced drinkers, tequila flights let you explore the impact of certain variables like aging, region or fermentation method to further refine your tastes.

In this article I’m going to break down different types of tequila flights and how you might like to approach one. This will give you ideas about to how create your own tequila flight.

Flight of Herradura Tequilas

Why Tequila Flights are so Great

Learn More About What You Like (and Don’t Like)

There’s a lot to discover about tequila: different regions, production methods, aging etc. By trying different tequilas together at the same time, you can start to form your own opinion of what you like or don’t like.

For example you might find you prefer blancos to aged tequila. Once you’ve decided that, you might find you prefer additive free tequila to tequila with additives. Once you’ve decided that you might find you prefer tequila from the Jalisco lowlands to tequila from the highlands. By narrowing down the variables of what you like, buying and drinking tequila becomes much more enjoyable.

Try Something You Never Would Have Otherwise

These days buying tequila can be expensive. So it makes sense to play it safe when ordering a drink at a bar or restaurant. And definitely when committing to an entire bottle. But ordering a flight of tequila is a great way to sample new brands and processes without the same dollar commitment.

Introduce People To Tequila

Tequila flights are great for introducing new drinkers to tequila. Or for introducing people to different kinds of tequila. There is a learning curve to appreciating tequila. People often find what they appreciate at first (overly “smooth”, sweet and vanilla-packed) isn’t what they end up liking.

By trying different tequilas together, you can appreciate the different characteristics of each.

Drinking with Intent

You never need an excuse to sample tequilas but sometimes it’s nice to have one. By arranging a tequila flight you get to experiment and learn far more than if you just stick to what you already know or pick a random new tequila to try.

How to Drink Tequila Flights

When drinking a tequila I first like to customize my mouth to the alcohol taste. After a couple sniffs, I’ll take a breath in, then take a very small sip and move it around my mouth and swallow. Then I’ll breath out through the mouth. Never breath in the mouth just after sipping as you’ll probably choke on the alcohol fumes. The second sip is where I’m better able to appreciate the flavors.

Suggested Way to Taste Tequila

  1. Hold the glass up to the light to observe the color
  2. Sniff to smell through the nose, and out through the mouth
  3. Take a small sip, move it around the mouth
  4. Swallow, then breath out through the mouth – don’t breath in through the mouth
  5. Now that you’re accustomed to the spirit, take another small sip

When drinking a flight of tequilas you should take your time. Take small sips and really think about what you’re drinking. How does it smell? How does it taste? How does it feel? How does the taste and feel change from first sip to the finish? And do you like it?

Make sure to keep a record of your impressions, even if it’s just the brand that you like. It will be easier to find similar tequilas in the future.

The bar or restaurant may have a suggested order to try each tequila. Follow if you like, but make sure not to finish each one before trying the others. You thoughts and opinion may change after going back and forth.

Sometimes tequila flights come with salt, lime or sangrita. The idea is to provide a non-alcoholic “palate cleanser” between each drink. Personally I prefer to avoid these stronger tasting elements. Something more neutral between drinks like a water cracker or glass of water is ok. Just be sure to wait long enough between sips for the taste and sensation to mostly disappear.

Top 5 Tips for Drinking Tequila Flights

  1. Sip, don’t shoot
  2. Think while you drink
  3. Allow enough time between sipping different tequilas
  4. Go back and forth between each one
  5. Keep a record of your thoughts
Mezcal flight with three shots of mezcal

What Kind of Tequila Flights Are There?

The most common types of tequila flights involve trying different tequilas from within the same age category (for example, three reposados) or trying different categories from the same producer (for example, a blanco, a reposado and an añejo from Patrón.)

Horizontal Tequila Flights

Horizontal tequila flights compare different tequilas of the same age by changing one variable, for example producer, production method, or region. Some ideas for different horizontal tequila flights include: 

  • Diffusor vs autoclave vs brick oven
  • Oak aging: American vs French oak
  • Additives vs non-additives
  • Celebrity showdown – which celebrity makes the best tequila?
  • Highlands vs Lowlands tequila
    • Different regions of tequila have different flavor profiles
  • Roller mill vs tahona crushed
  • Open vat, spontaneous fermentation vs commercial yeasts
  • Low proof vs high proof
    • Compare standard proof, 40% ABV with higher proof offerings from the same producer.
    • For example, G4, Arette, Fortaleza and Tapatio all have higher proof versions of their standard blancos (at 48%-55% ABV).
  • Cristalino vs unfiltered

Vertical Tequila Flights

Vertical tequila flights compare tequila from one producer with different aging level or vintage.

With a vertical tequila flight, the variable is the usually the aging. How long, if at all, has the tequila been aged? Most brands produce at least a blanco, reposado and añejo. You could compare each of these. Some also produce an extra añejo and/or cristalino which you could add to your flight.

Blanco vs Reposado Tequila

Reposado vs Añejo Tequila

Another type of vertical tequila flight is for different vintages. Most commercial tequila brands control their production methods to ensure consistent flavor profiles so the tequila tastes the same every year. The biggest impact on consistency is the use of commercial yeasts for fermentation instead of spontaneous fermentation from wild yeasts. Larger batches also tend to limit variation.

Smaller producers that use more traditional techniques have more variation between batches which can affect the finished product. For example, each year Fortaleza produces a Winter Blend which you could use in a vertical tasting. Tequila Ocho also labels its vintages from different estates.

Some true tequila nuts will look for tequilas from a particular year or batch like wine drinkers search out a particular vintage.

Agave Spirits Flights

Agave spirits extend far beyond tequila and even beyond Mexico. Try a flight showcasing different agave spirits. An agave spirit flight could include:

  1. Blanco tequila
  2. Unaged mezcal (joven)
  3. Raicilla
  4. Bacanora

You can even try agave spirits from around the world if you can get your hands on them. Agave spirits are also made in Australia, South Africa, India and the USA among others.

Sotol is another common drink included in flights of agave spirits although it’s technically not made from agave.

Mixed Drinks and Tequila Cocktail Flights

The margarita is the most popular cocktail in the US. Using your favorite margarita recipe try a flight of margaritas with different tequilas as mixers. For example:

  1. Bottom shelf
  2. Mid-range
  3. Premium
  4. Ultra-premium
  1. Blanco
  2. Reposado
  3. Añejo
  4. Extra añejo
  5. Cristalino
  1. Classic recipe with generic triple sec
  2. Cointreau instead of triple sec
  3. Gran Marnier instead of triple sec
  4. Agave nectar instead of triple sec (aka Tommy’s Margarita)
Tequila flight tasting

How to Try Tequila Flights?

Many restaurants and some bars offer tequila flights, especially Mexican restaurants. If a tequila flight isn’t on the menu, ask if you can design your own. Some places will let you choose a range of tequilas in half-sized pours and charge accordingly.

Alternatively you can make your own. You could do this on your own but it’s more fun with friends. You could have each person bring a bottle of tequila or one person could buy the tequilas and share the costs around. Use the categories above to put a theme behind the tasting.

Why is it called a tequila flight?

The term tequila flight borrows from the more common beer and wine flights. In this context the expression “flight” has been used at least since a New York Times article in 1978. There are two, possibly overlapping, reasons why flight is used:

1. Deriving from a flight of stairs, with each different drink occupying a different step
2. Deriving from a collective name for a group of related things flying through the air, for example a flight of geese.

See history of the term flight from Merriam-Webster.

How are tequila flights served?

Tequila flights are commonly served as three to six glasses of different tequilas, often in shot glasses on a wooden board or paddle.

How many shots in a tequila flight?

Tequila flights are typically made up of three to six different tequilas. Most restaurants and bars offer three or four tequilas per flight.

The volume of each tequila served is usually between 0.5 ounces and 1 ounce (15 ml to 30 ml). For reference, a standard shot is 1.5 ounces in the US (45 ml).

A standard tequila flight has two shots worth of tequila (3x tequilas at 1 once each).

Different restaurants serve different amounts of tequila in their flights. The most common tequila flights have three different tequilas. The most common pours for tequila flights are ¾ ounce or one ounce for each tequila.

How much alcohol in a tequila flight?

A standard tequila flight contains 3 ounces of alcohol which is the same as two standard shots in the US. The total amount of pure alcohol in a standard flight is 1.2 ounces based on the standard 40% alcohol volume of tequila.

The total alcohol quantity can vary by bar or restaurant depending on how many ounces they give you per pour and how many different tequilas they include per flight. 

Is a tequila flight different to a tequila tasting?

Tequila flights are a kind of tequila tasting, but not all tequila tastings are tequila flights. A tequila flight has some common thread between each tequila.

For example, a flight may be based on blanco tequilas from three different regions, or reposado tequilas aged in four different barrel types.

Tequila tastings that aren’t flights may have more random selections.

What’s the difference between horizontal and vertical tequila tasting flights?

Vertical tequila flights compare tequilas from the same producer but with different ages or vintages. Horizontal tequila flights compare tequilas based on any other variable, such as between producers, regions or production methods. 

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