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Vodka vs. Tequila | Side-by-Side Comparison

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Vodka and tequila both come from plant mash that has fermented before being distilled. But vodka comes from different grains and plants, whereas tequila only comes from the agave plant. Vodka has a neutral taste, regardless of the mash source, but tequila has a range of flavors that stands out. 

The rest of this article will do a side-by-side comparison between these two popular spirits to help you make an informed decision for your next cocktail party or bar outing.   

Glass of vodka and tequila on a table

Tequila and Vodka Nutritional Information 

For our purposes, I have compared the pure expressions of these spirits to give the most accurate nutritional assessment. Remember that distillers and producers may add ingredients post-distillation and don’t list them or their nutrition content on the bottle; therefore, these measurements may vary. 

Nutrients100% Tequila (80–150 Proof)100% Vodka (80–192 Proof)
Calories per 1.5oz96–21296–190
Fat0g0g
Carbohydrates0g0g
Sugar0g0g
Added sugarVaries—unknownVaries—unknown
Additive allowance (% by volume)1%2.5%
%ABV40–75%40–92% 
A nutritional facts comparison between pure tequila and pure vodka (no additives).

Did you notice how the calories increase as proof increases? Because the more concentrated the alcohol, the more calories are consumed. However, this isn’t the entire story. 

The calories for pure spirits differ from unknown calories in brands that use additives to sweeten or enhance flavors unless a brand uses calorie-free additives. 

Since those who use additives in their product before bottling don’t disclose this information (they are secret recipes, after all), we can’t determine the calories or sugar content of non-pure varieties with certainty. 

Is Tequila or Vodka Healthier?

Tequila is healthier than vodka, as it’s made from the agave plant, which has a host of health benefits. However, vodka sits even with tequila healthwise as it contains a similar amount of calories, fat, and sugar. 

For tequila and vodka enthusiasts, this may sound like good news. However, it’s crucial to note that alcohol provides almost no health benefits. Many studies only show the health benefits of alcohol’s pre-distilled ingredients, not the spirit itself. Also, alcohol can cause a big drop in blood sugar, often remedied with a calorie-heavy snack (which is also not the healthiest option.) 

According to a medically-reviewed article in Medical News Today, popular (and convenient) opinion lauds tequila for its supposed myriad health benefits. And while the agave plant itself has several health benefits, the process of distilling mashed and fermented agave removes them. 

Additionally, most distillers add sugar and other sweeteners, colorings, and flavors to these spirits, increasing the unhealthy factor. However, you can still find vodkas and tequilas that don’t have additives, which will be better for you to consume.

Also, suppose you don’t mind the additives but want to keep levels low. In that case, tequila standards allow for lower additive amounts than vodka, which in theory, makes it healthier. 

Do Tequila And Vodka Contain Additives?

Tequila and vodka don’t always contain additives. Producers cannot, by law, add flavorings, colorings, or sugars at the time of distillation. However, many companies mix additives before bottling to customize the flavor. 

Numerous bottles of an unamed alcoholic beverage in factory on conveyor belt

Flavored variants are bound to be produced for both spirits, and almost all of them contain flavorings and/or artificial elements that increase sugar and calorie content. 

Tequila can be “mellowed” unless it is blanco tequila. By definition, blanco tequila is tequila in its purest form; therefore, it cannot contain additives. 

For tequila and vodka, where additives can be used, the law does not require distillers to reveal which mellowing agents (abocantes) and other additives they use, nor do they impose strict standards detailing what additives they can and cannot use. Added sugars and syrups are fair game, so are colorants. 

Up to 1% of the total tequila volume can be additives, which doesn’t sound like much, but can completely change the flavor profile and sugar content from one bottle to the next. For vodka, the additive amount can reach 2.5% and doesn’t have to be disclosed anywhere on the label. 

If producers exceed these limits, they must label their products to reflect this. 

Tequila Matchmaker maintains an updated list of additive-free brands on its website. The company visits tequila makers and runs an audit of their processes and communications, determining whether additives are used. 

What Proof Ranges Are Allowed for Vodka and Tequila?

The proof ranges (how low or high an alcohol percentage can be) for vodka and tequila dot the spectrum between a breeze-gentle 35% tequila and a mouth-jolting 92% vodka.

For both spirits, the lowest alcohol percentage legally allowed in the United States is 40% (80 proof), and it’s up to consumers to set the high end of the limit because the laws don’t address that part.

In Mexico (the only legal location anyone can produce and label alcohol as ‘tequila’), the lowest alcohol tequila sits at 35% or 70 proof. The E.U. allows vodka percentages as low as 37.5%.

For aged products, proof at the time of distilling differs from final aged proof. For most, the proof at the time of distilling is higher than the final product’s proof. Companies mix the distilled product with water to reduce alcohol heat and create consistent products across batches. 

Is Tequila or Vodka More Versatile?

Vodka is more versatile than tequila, as it is a neutral spirit that can be consumed in mixed drinks, shots, or even drank on the rocks. However, tequila can also be considered a versatile option, preferably blanco tequila. 

A neutral spirit will mix well with both sweet and savory elements. It can taste floral or fruity, or herbal or smoky. 

Flavored vodkas fit into their own category and can mix with anything as long as the mixers don’t conflict with the vodka’s flavor profile. 

Blanco tequila claims the most neutral spot in the tequila family as it doesn’t rest long enough in any wood (or steel, which neither ages nor flavors the tequila) to take on strong characteristics. 

All tequilas share a common fermented-agave-ish flavor, meaning even in a mixed drink, you can still recognize if the bartender used tequila to make the drink. I enjoy noticing the main component of a drink, but not everyone likes the taste of tequila. Therefore, vodka is considered a more versatile choice. 

Are Vodka and Tequila Aged in Barrels?

Tequila, by law, almost always ages in barrels, whereas vodka traditionally does not age in anything at all. Additionally, different kinds of tequila have different aging requirements. 

Barrel-aging imparts flavors, colors, smells, and textures. Aging also reduces the alcohol content because alcohol vapor escapes through the wood. 

Distillers often rest blanco tequilas in new oak barrels or steel tanks for a couple of months to mitigate the tongue-punishing heat, but not all blancos receive this treatment.

If we age vodka, we cannot technically call it vodka; however, this has started to change as more bars, individuals, and producers embrace the aging practice. 

Similar to how bourbon cannot legally be considered bourbon if it enters into a used barrel for aging or finishing. The label can still say “bourbon,” but it will also say what kind of secondary barrel the producer used.

Barrel-aged vodkas and tequilas have labels stating how long they aged. In many cases, the type of wood also appears on the label. Used wine and whiskey barrels change alcohol flavor profiles dramatically, and crafty makers can add staves from other barrels for even richer and bolder tasting notes.

What Are the Tequila Aging Requirements?

Each main category of tequila (blanco, reposado, añejo, and extra-añejo) has its own aging requirements. The longer the tequila’s age, the more contact with wood they receive and, thus more flavors. 

  • Blanco (white) can rest for up to two months before bottling. 
  • Reposado (rested) ages anywhere from two months to a day short of one year.
  • Añejo (aged) ages from one year to a day short of three years.
  • Extra-añejo (extra-aged) tequilas require longer stints in the rickhouse, from three years all the way up to a dozen or more, though most stay in the sub-10-year range.

The color of the tequila deepens the longer it ages because the alcohol pulls components from the wood, turning clear blanco into a dark red-brown. 

In What Kinds of Wood Does Tequila Age?

Official tequila requirements state that tequila must age in “oak.” This leaves ample room for producers to avail themselves of near-endless possibilities to impart different colors, scents, and flavors depending on the oak type. 

  • New, charred American Oak
  • New, charred French Oak
  • New, uncharred oak barrels 
  • Used wine casks
  • Used whiskey or rum barrels 
  • Re-charred used barrels

Charred oak gives aged spirits their lovely dark reds and browns as well as their delicious, creamy vanillas and warm caramels. This goes double for the used barrels—as the seasons change, the spirits pull these flavors from the wood and then re-infuse the flavors back into it. 

The aging process acts as a mellowing agent by taking some heat off the clear distillate and rounding out the sharper notes into fuller flavors. Adding water also removes heat but to a much greater extent and for uniform dilution. 

Is Tequila or Vodka Better for Drinking Neat?

When you drink a spirit neat, you don’t dilute it with ice or water (though sometimes a drop or three of distilled water can unlock more aromas and flavors). Unlike taking a shot, however, tasting requires slow, observant sipping. 

Both tequila and vodka are equally good for drinking neat. Vodka is a neutral spirit and does not have a complex flavor. Tequila, on the other hand, has a distinct flavor from the agave plant, and one can enjoy its richness and flavor neat. 

Mexican woman serving mezcal or tequila neat in artisan glass

If you want to try tequila neat, I recommend a 40–50 proof, 100% agave tequila, but don’t shy away from higher proofs, as they are well worth the heat. Liquor.com has a great piece on drinking expensive tequila that serves as a handy guide to budding sippers of all neat spirits.

For drinking vodka neat, many people consider it ‘flavorless’ because its definition historically entailed the explicit lack of a specific flavor profile or taste. However, this isn’t entirely accurate because alcohol registers differently on different tongues. And though many people perceive vodka as bitter tasting, others like the taste or at least don’t mind it.

Is Vodka Stronger Than Tequila?

Vodka is not stronger than tequila when comparing equal proof. This is because a stronger spirit means a higher alcohol percentage, but two alcohols of the same proof will be similar in strength. 

So, if you grab an 80-proof bottle of tequila and compare it to a 150-proof bottle of vodka, you’ll find out quickly that doubling the proof compounds the effects.

If a proof is higher, it was ‘cut’ (blended) with little or no water, whereas lower-proofed alcohols were cut with much more water. Cutting accomplishes two main things: reducing the alcohol concentration and creating consistent products.

If strength concerns you, I recommend paying closer attention to your drinking pace, not just monitoring the alcohol’s proof. Try sipping once every few minutes, which favors high-proof alcohols served neat. 

Regardless of alcohol percentage, drinking several drinks really fast almost always causes quicker, more intense results, especially if mixed with diet soda or other artificial sweeteners.

Does Tequila Taste Stronger Than Vodka?

Tequila tastes stronger than vodka to most people because vodka tastes more neutral, whereas tequila has a specific flavor profile. This makes detecting tequila in a drink easier than detecting vodka. 

Tequila possesses distinctive and very noticeable (i.e., strong) flavors from the agave plant. Tequilas with additives have their own crafted flavor, so they taste a certain way. 

Vodka has a more neutral alcohol taste that appeals to many for its lack of strong, specific flavor. That said, different grains used to make the mash can influence the overall character of vodka without imparting heavy-tasting notes. Among vodka makers who use additives, their secret recipes differ to create greater differences between them. 

Water and/or ice are the easiest and most ubiquitous ways to dampen a spirit’s overwhelming flavor or unlock more flavors to give it more balance. If you dislike a liquor’s taste, you can always shake it up or stir in other spirits or mixers.

Do Vodka and Tequila Make You Feel Differently?

Vodka and tequila don’t make you feel different because there’s no difference in the alcohol itself. The mood and setting make a real difference in how you feel. 

According to this article by National Drug Institute, what contributes to your behavior when you drink has nothing to do with the kind of alcohol you drink, unless drinking that kind only happens in certain situations and occasions. 

For example, if you prefer to sip fine vodka neat with a friend while relaxing on the veranda, you might say that vodka ‘always makes you feel relaxed.’ Whereas tequila might “always make you wanna dance” when you typically only drink it at a dance club in cocktails or shots.

To tell the difference, you would need to flip the two around. Sip top-shelf tequila with a friend in a hammock but order only vodka tonics at the club. Did you feel any different?

Mood also factors into the equation. If you drink bourbon when you feel sad, chances are that you’ll develop a physical association between bad moods and American whiskey.

Furthermore, additives and mixers may promote different effects if your body handles added sugars a certain way. Added sugars and sweeteners affect your blood sugar levels, which can alter your mood. 

Lastly, the speed with which you consume alcohol—and at what concentrations—can accelerate alcohol’s effects. Not because of the type of liquor but because consuming higher concentrations of alcohol more quickly makes your body process more alcohol in a shorter time than it can handle, making you inebriated.

Conclusion

Tequila and vodka have their similarities and differences. They both can be sipped thoughtfully or mixed into a dizzying array of various concoctions. Their pure expressions register lower calorie counts than brands using sugary additives, so if you want to keep an eye on nutrient intake, drinking them neat makes it easier.

Personal preference dictates likes and dislikes, but don’t count out all versions if you don’t like one: both spirits have aged and flavored categories for just about any palate.

For more, don’t miss The Sugar Content of Alcoholic Drinks | With Detailed Chart.

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