To the lay-drinker, whiskey has long reigned supreme as the sipping spirit of choice. Listening to seasoned professionals wax poetic about the drink — its variety, its flexibility — you'd be forgiven for thinking that whiskey and its derivatives have more in common with wine than their hard-charging, high-proof cousins like rum or vodka.
But a recent trip to Caló Kitchen + Tequila, a new spot in El Segundo that stocks more than 100 tequilas, has us convinced that their namesake is equally deserving of your palate. There, we rendezvoused with owner and tequila savant Clemente Heredia, who gave us a veritable crash course in sipping our southern neighbor's greatest export.
Below, you’ll find seven tequilas that are worth getting to know on a first-name basis, and the best practices for tippling each. It’s not only a who’s who of the best tequila you’ve probably never had the good fortune of passing through your lips, but a how-to as well.
For Patrón Lovers: Siete Leguas
The shapely silhouette of Siete Leguas’ bottle should remind you of Patrón, and for good reason. Siete Leguas was the original producer of Patrón, but when given the opportunity to go mass market, they chose instead to stick with their artisanal sensibilities and launch a new brand. We’re talking donkey-pulling, stone-wheel-crushing tradition, including a giant cement barrel that’s never been washed. Think of it like your favorite cast-iron skillet, then add 65+ years of care and dedication to the mix. The result is all the best parts of Patrón Silver, along with added complexity and variation from their age-old distilling methods. In the case of tequila, father indeed knows best.
For Margaritas: Arette
Arette is named after the horse of the larger-than-life General Humberto Mariles, who rode Arette to a gold medal in the 1948 Olympic Games in equestrian jumping. The horse and tequila don’t just share a name, but a pedigree as well, as the reposado is the perfect spirit for the most famous tequila cocktail in the world: the margarita. Arette provides balance, providing the margarita with a liquor whose taste will cut through the lime and agave without overpowering it. You’ll never forget that this is a tequila drink with Arette, but it won’t smash you over the head in the process.
For Sipping: Fortaleza
Although Fortaleza relaunched in 2005, the roots of this tequila maker are perhaps the oldest in Mexico, dating back more than 140 years. The secret to their undeniable caramelized flavor — one that pairs perfectly with flan or crème brûlée — are the two copper pot stills that have been producing their small batches since the very beginning. The family-owned and operated Fortaleza Añejo is the ultimate dessert tequila, and a must-try for anyone looking to expand their tequila repertoire.
For Cocktails: La Gritona
La Gritona is unique to the list, as it only makes one kind of tequila. This blue agave reposado is specifically for making cocktails, as the raw agave stands out, enhanced by the use of whiskey barrels that provide a distinct heat to the taste. Whether your poison preference is a paloma, tequila sunrise or south-of-the-border negroni, La Gritona and their Instagram-worthy hand-blown bottles will get you where you need to go.
For Whiskey Lovers: Partida Elegante or Herradura Selección Suprema
For those who like a drink that’ll put some hair on your chest — and a dent in your pocket — extra añejo is the tequila for you. Fortunately, Partida and Herradura provide two sides of the same coin, depending on your personal preference. For a surprisingly smooth kick with strong hints of vanilla and butterscotch, the Partida Elegante is the perfect vehicle. In fact, they label provides high quality across the board, from blanco to extra añejo. They’re the little black dress of tequila.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for something that pulls no punches, master distiller Maria Teresa Lara’s Selección Suprema pulls back on the sweetness by using American white oak whiskey barrels. Suprema was the first extra añejo in existence, introducing the line in 1995 after 49 months of aging.
For Your Bar Cart (or Your Father in Law's): Casa Dragones
We’ve entered the pricier range on the shelf, and while a tag north of $200 might cause a double take, the taste of this tequila is worth the price of admission. Currently Clemente’s drink of choice, Casa Dragones Tequila Joven is a blend of blanco and añejo. The drink gives off a fresh spring scent (it's literally redolent of roses) and gives you that warm feeling in your chest without the rude bite emblematic of lesser tequilas. This is purely a sipping tequila — muddying the waters with anything else is nothing short of sacreligious. Find a good friend or movie, and sit with this at your side.