The 30 Best Bottles of Tequila for Cinco de Mayo
We tested entirely too much tequila to identify the ideal bottles for sipping, shots and cocktails, including a few surprises
There are thousands — yes, thousands — of tequila brands. And for good reason. Even a fraught 2020 brought double-digit growth to the category, and interest in the agave spirit from consumers is up 28% year-to-year.
Basically, everyone likes tequila.
So if you’re going out this year for Cinco de Mayo (or ordering in), tequila will be on the menu. Below, we’ve highlighted 30 of those thousands of tequila brands that are worth your time and money, all of which we’ve sampled and tested in recent months to identify the very best emerging labels and bottles on the market, along with some old standbys that never get old.
Note: This year we’re putting the focus on a lot of newer or under-the-radar brands and some lesser-known expressions, or at least trying to spotlight releases that go beyond the now-standard “100% Blue Weber agave” pitch. So you may not see your favorites here — sorry, Casamigos, Riazul, Avión and Herradura — but undoubtedly they’re represented in another one of our fine lists (best tequila for margaritas, best tequila under $30, etc.).
Think of this Cinco de Mayo as a time to explore. After all, you have been stuck in the house for a while.
These estate-grown organic tequilas, the brainchild of Maestro Tequilero Jose “Pepe” Hermosillo, have recently gone through a pretty big relaunch, with new bottles and a slight reformulation — all three expressions are ideal for sipping. You can read our in-depth review here.
Eduardo “Lalo” González is the co-founder of his brand and the grandson of Don Julio González (of Don Julio tequila fame). So we have family legacy and zero cultural appropriation here, a rarity in the modern tequila realm. The agave here hails from the Jalisco Highlands, and during fermentation, a proprietary yeast used in Champagne is introduced. Available as a blanco only, there is a bit of a wine note on the nose, while the taste is clean, a bit fruity and even delivers notes of sweet potato.
Are cristalino tequila bullshit? It’s aged tequila that’s been filtered so it looks clear and achieves a smoother, lighter mouthfeel. Not sure why we’re stripping away potential flavor here, but Maestro Dobel is a leader in the category and their new-ish 50 release — which blends aged tequilas from both Eastern European and American oak barrels — is an extra añejo that’s as flavorful, almost like butterscotch and dates. (For something that maintains more of the agave flavor, try their much more inexpensive Diamante release)
These tequilas are finished in Pedro Ximenez (PX) wine barrels from Spain, which makes the releases more interesting than your average celebrity-backed tequila … oh, did we mention LeBron James is a partner? Go for the reposado: Those oak barrels provide some caramel/vanilla notes, which occur on both the nose and the palate. As for the finish? Crème brûlée came to mind. Read our full review here.
The blanco and añejo here generally excel in their respective categories — the blanco is bright and grassy, the añejo is a worthy replacement for your bourbons and darker spirits. They’re good on their own, but I see these as elevated spirits for mixing (I tried the blanco infused with Hibiscus tea, then shaken with agave nectar and lime juice, and it was divine … h/t Liquor Lab for the recipe).
I usually shy away from descriptors like “smooth and flavorful,” so I wasn’t expecting much with this new brand. But there’s a real sweetness here and a powerful citrus note in the Silvera (blanco) release, which uses a fresh wine yeast in the fermentation and stainless steel tanks, leaving a really clean, agave-centric winner. Bonus: If you like it enough, you can be part of a crowdfunding campaign via StartEngine.
It’s hard not to find a tequila on this list that’s not 100% Blue Weber agave. And while the world of mixtos is not always great, El Tequileño is a 71 percent agave and 29 percent piloncillo tequila that’s cheap and yet good enough to serve as the base for the batanga at La Capilla, a frequent “World’s 50 Best Bars” entry. On the other end of the spectrum: the distillery also has several premium, limited-edition, 100% blue weber agave releases, like their recent limited-edition Añejo Gran Reserva, a collaboration with Master Winemaker Randy Ullom.
Aged to six months in a blend of American white oak, French oak and French acacia casks — an alternative to oak that adds body and texture — this is one of most complex reposados I’ve ever tasted. A lot of vanilla here, but also orange and chocolate, with a delectable mouthfeel.
Sammy Hagar’s follow-up to Cabo Wabo — with the help of friend and celebrity chef Guy Fieri — is approachable and really brings out all the agave goodness. That’s the blanco. The mezquila (blanco + Espadin mezcal) is pretty much just a spicy tequila, and it’s good, name aside. The reposado, however, is a standout. Resting just four or five months, this isn’t an expression that’s wanting to be an añejo. Instead, it’s the best of the blanco (fruity, agave-forward) with just the slightest hint of oak and vanilla. Your batanga will never be better. (Read our interview with Hagar on his tequila here).
The first tequila I actually loved (and still do), Don Julio also has the best Cinco de Mayo tie-in this year. They recently started the Tequila Don Julio Fund, a commitment of $1 million in aid over the next four years to charities such as No Us Without You LA and Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, and the brand is also giving away a bunch of “cincos,” which are basically physical and digital vouchers to spend on drinks this week — including some via an ATM (Automatic Tequila Machine) in Los Angeles — and donating funds from the digital auction of an “NFTequila” (lol) to their new fund. Use it as an excuse to go premium and drink 1942, your sipping tequila for doing some good today.
There’s nothing unique about this new tequila brand — sans the involvement of a Boston-based company (Latitude Beverage), which is a bit strange on the surface — except the price. To find a blanco that with real character (earthy, a slight minerality, spicy) at $25 is a steal.
Yes, you have an alcohol-free option, and it’s crafted by a master distiller. The Smokey is gentle and flavorful, and can work as a tequila or mezcal base for a cocktail. For more booze-free options for any day of the year, read our story here.
Blanco tequila infused — and that’s a rarity — with grapefruit and hibiscus (they also offer Valencia Orange and Cucumber Jalapeño flavors). Also female-owned, also a rarity. The fruit on the nose here is exquisite. It’s not a sipper, but rather your ideal base for a paloma.
Chances are the bar you’re going to this week will have Patrón. You may have to pay extra for it — that’s fine. Even if you’re very familiar with this premium tequila, it’s nice to have around (and it’s additive-free, which isn’t as common as you think). We’ll stick with the silver (citrus, agave, pepper … it’s a nice, bright combo of flavors and aromas), but Gran Patrón Smoky is an interesting tequila take on mezcal. Or, hey, if you have a few thousand dollars, hunt down that collaborative bottle they did with Guillermo del Toro a few years ago.
Not all extra-aged tequilas lack character. Here, El Tesoro blends four- and five-year tequilas in old bourbon barrels to realize a delicate sipping tequila that delivers sweet and smoky notes in perfect lockstep. It works equally well as a pre-dinner palate cleanser or the perfect pairing with dessert, and at $99, represents great value.
A respectable and inexpensive tequila — their Plata (blanco) isn’t for deep contemplation, but it’ll be a crowd pleaser for your mixed drinks or shots. And that versatility (and good price) is key here — it’ll work just fine for margaritas, palomas and, as we learned earlier this winter, spiked hot chocolate (it’s 42 degrees in NYC as I type this, I may want a hot drink). Bonus: Their new line of tequila seltzers is light and refreshing.
Spending 12-18 months in virgin white oak barrels, this strangely named spirit — perhaps a nod to the company’s origins as an infused tequila — took home the best añejo at the 2020 San Francisco World Spirits Competition (in spite of its surprising Colorado backstory, the tequila now works with a fourth-generation, female-owned distillery that’s the second-oldest tequila distillery in the world). Not as heavy or sweet as other aged tequilas, this is a refined take on agave that veers more toward Cognac or wine.
Owned by a co-op of agave farmers and featuring a workforce that’s 80-percent female? That’s great, but you still have to make an interesting product … and Tanteo does. Loosely inspired by a cocktail from Death & Co., the founders of Tanteo decided to make their tequila products infused … with the idea that you can use it as an instant base for spicy drinks. The jalapeño is a standout, and interestingly, their non-infused blanco is about as good as you can get in the category. A full overview of their history, along with recipes, can be found here.
Claiming to be the first tequila to isolate terpenes in raw agave and maintain those properties throughout the distillation — which may contribute to “mood-lifting and energy-boosting attributes” (you’ll have to judge) — El Sativo can still be enjoyed like any other tequila (plus, it’s kosher, organic and vegan). The SFWSC winner for best blanco in 2020 features a peppery, fruity kick of agave, and certainly put me in a good mood.
While you may know the San Diego-based distillery for its ready-to-drink canned cocktails (or as a spinoff from Ballast Point Brewing), their bottled spirits are starting to get some recognition. To wit: this aged tequila, which won a SFWSC award in 2020 for best añejo. The oak, butterscotch and vanilla notes are readily present here — if you want an añejo for cocktails, this might be your best bet for the modest price.
Tequila enthusiasts rave about this agave release. As former Los Angeles bartender Ryan Wainwright (and now Bombay Sapphire brand ambassador) told us a few years back: “The flavors that come out of this tequila are the most interesting and ‘dirty.’ It could be the tahona ground agave, but it’s most likely that the distllers ferment the agave in wood tanks, lending it to flavors like olive brine, citrus peel and fresh herbs. And I love the handwritten batch numbers on the back of every bottle. I suggest you taste different batches and find differences in each one.” So, start drinking.
Adding a sherry oak finish to tequila? Interesting. Making one of those releases a Cristalino Reposado? Definitely a first. So we have a spirit from Mexico aged in bourbon barrels from the U.S. along with Scotland’s single malt barrels, and then finished in Oloroso casks from Jerez de la Frontera. (These are new enough we haven’t tried yet, but Partida’s Cristalino Añejo — part of a different line from the brand — is the rare aged tequila that features notes of oak and vanilla but still maintains its fruity agave character.)
We’ve been big fans of this sipping tequila since InsideHook launched nine years ago — it was part of our first Father’s Day gift guide — though we usually let someone else pick up the tab when we want a sip. No exception for the new Tequila Añejo Barrel Blend, which is matured in new French Oak and new American Oak, then blended together. The wood dominates on the nose, but the agave comes forward as you sip. It’s elegant, fruity and deceptively gentle.
Siete Leguas was the original producer of Patrón, and their own spirit maintains that personality but adds complexity. “Think of it like your favorite cast-iron skillet, then add 65+ years of care and dedication to the mix,” as L.A. restaurateur and tequila aficionado Clemente Heredia told us a little while back.
We praised the ubiquitous (and inexpensive!) Milagro Silver as an ideal base for margaritas; it’s clean, crisp and features some nice peppery notes. The barrel reserve adds just a hint of vanilla and oak — it’s certainly an elevated take, and worthy to drink on its own.
Distilled at a very high (7,200 foot) elevation with custom equipment and utilizing a slow fermentation process, this not-quite-celebrity tequila (the band Midland is a partner) offers some unique taste profiles. The blanco has a vegetal note and some minerality — not for everyone, but something you’ll come back to. The reposado, however, features a wonderful, creamy mouthfeel and notes of butterscotch and baking spices, and should be a crowd-pleaser.
Two millennial entrepreneurs are behind this new tequila release (in collaboration with a fifth-generation distillery), which uses brick-oven roasted, estate-grown agaves and a local, natural yeast. One of the most versatile tequilas we’ve encountered recently — great on its own, but also a wonder in cocktails that normally would have been based in rum and bourbon.
An organic, small-batch, single-estate tequila from a brand founded by filmmaker and surfer Taylor Steele. The blanco is sweet and soft, and one you’d prefer to sip than mix.
If your local bar uses this for shots, you’re in luck: while lacking character, it’s incredibly smooth (even the overproof 104 release).
The best margarita I’ve had in 2021 utilized a very basic recipe (Cointreau, lime juice, tequila, salty rim) and involved this blanco, which is bright and citrus-y with just enough pepper and spice to hold your drink up, but smooth enough to keep you going back for, well, way more than you should. It’s the perfect well mixing tequila for your bar, with a 750ml bottle usually ranging from $20 to $25.
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