I love tequila. But there’s a serious glut in the marketplace. We’ve mentioned this before, but there are thousands of tequilas (literally). And our inbox and mailroom are inundated weekly with new brands and new expressions, all of which often end up residing in the “meh” category. They’re fine, usually. And that’s about it.
“There’s 190 new brands every year for the past three years and a half, four years,” Loco Tequila Co-founder Juan Pablo Torres Padilla told us earlier this fall. “That means every two days, there’s a new brand that just pops up. The industry has gone to a high-volume, low-quality model.”
When compiling a list of the best tequilas of the year — which is ongoing until the end of December and certainly doesn’t include a few things I’m desperate to try (looking at you, Tequila Ocho Plata Puntas 2023) — executive decisions were made. I had to have tried the expression, obviously. The brand and/or the bottle had to offer something distinctive within a category where a certain sameness has taken place. And, obviously, it had to taste good.
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However, we’re not sticklers. Some of these tequilas certainly debuted before 2023, even if it was just regionally or as a limited release. The criteria for inclusion was something that was “new-ish” to market that I was able to taste in this calendar year. And we didn’t care if the tequila had a celebrity connection, if it was a blanco or añejo, cheap, luxury, whatever. Interestingly, though, we still haven’t fallen in love with cristalinos.
Don’t see a bottle you love? Let us know — we’ll clear out some space in the overstocked tequila cabinet and sample some more.
Felipe Camarena’s family has been crafting tequila in Los Altos de Jalisco since 1937. G4 uses estate-grown agave and its water source is a mix of collected rainwater and spring water from their own farm. The liquid undergoes a natural fermentation process and the distillery works with a multigenerational yeast that Felipe’s grandfather started. For this release, G4 aged its tequila for six years in Dickel Tennessee whiskey barrels and bottled at barrel strength (86 proof). This special release maintains full agave flavor, with plenty of citrus and pepper, while adding a bit of the expected tobacco, leather and baking spice notes from the ex-whiskey barrels. Bright and earthy, this is a sipping tequila for people who want the actual tequila character.
Sold out online after its Aug. 7 launch — but available in some stores now — these 1,530 bottles honor the Norma Oficial Mexicana (NOM) of Suerte, which is, natch NOM 1530. This 104-proof release (no water was added to proof it down) comes from a brand that uses a traditional tahona to crush the pinas while also being from a dedicated distillery, two rare feats in the modern tequila world. As for the taste? The vegetal and roasted agave notes are strong here, with a hint of citrus and white pepper on the finish.
A unique limited-edition bottle that references an old and currently rarely used Hispanic-Peruvian production method of distilling the fermented aguamiel while the yeast is still living. Coming in at 95 proof with no water dilution, the Exclusivo is wonderfully sweet, silky, fruity and peppery, while still maintaining its cooked agave flavor and a nice minerality.
Drink a Margarita, save an endangered species. That’s the idea behind Alma Del Jaguar, a new 100% Blue Weber agave blanco and reposado tequilas (both additive-free). The juice was created, in part, by spirits entrepreneur McCauley Williams, who was inspired by his uncle’s commitment to wild jaguar preservation in northern Mexico (a portion of the sales proceeds go to conservation organizations). We tried the blanco, made using Los Altos agave, brick ovens, roller mill extraction, well water and copper pot stills. Most of the tequila is fermented from natural wild yeast, while a portion is fermented from Champagne yeast imported from France. It’s a nice melange of citrus, black pepper, grapefruit and orange, with an underlying grassiness and minerality.
An organic, additive-free tequila, this reposado was finished in both ex-bourbon barrels and barrels seasoned with coffee from Chiapas, Mexico. The cooked agave aroma and flavor still stand out here, with the barrels adding hints of vanilla, chocolate, oak and roasted coffee.
Inspired by Mediterranean winemaking and presented in ceramic bottles, these tequilas are aged in wine barrels and aerated to finish. Available in four expressions (Reposado Rosa, Añejo Cristalino, Añejo Reserva and Extra Añejo), the Extra Añejo actually scored the first 100-point score ever by The Tasting Panel. Our favorite is the Reserva — aged in French oak wine barrels, bourbon barrels and sherry casks, it achieves a wonderful and sweet jamminess with hints of cocoa and the earthy agave notes intact.
It’s rare for a tequila to be distilled four times. Thankfully, the process on Patrón’s latest doesn’t strip out the agave flavor, though now there’s a slight note of melon and a bit more sweetness (and yes, smoothness) than Patrón’s Silver bottle. Speaking of bottles, this glass vessel is outfitted with gold designs inspired by the volcanic tahona stone used to produce Patrón’s tequila, with other elements inspired by the agave fields.
OK, the Café release is technically not a tequila but the brand’s overall portfolio is excellent. While the family has been making tequila for more than 40 years, Cantera Negra is relatively new new to the U.S. market — it was partially acquired by Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits near the end of 2022. Available in Silver, Reposado, Añejo, Extra Añejo and Café expressions, the last one is the most fascinating. Much like the new Cafe release from Cazadores, this is an agave-based coffee liqueur that should make up for the surprising discontinuation of Patron XO. (As for the tequila itself, the Silver is a bit sweeter than other blancos to balance its earthier notes, it’s a crowd-pleaser.)
Hailing from the Valle del Arenal, Loco owns and farms over 200 acres of agave fields surrounding the town of El Arenal. They’ve also recently restored a nearby 200-year-old hacienda that was abandoned in the 1950s. Maestro Tequilero Alberto Navarro uses a selection of proprietary methods–historical native yeasts, a three-part fermentation process, blending techniques (even for the blanco) borrowed from Scotland—to craft a herbaceous blanco and, most interestingly, a reposado that’s a complex and elegant wonder, thanks to aging in an array of casks (Irish whiskey that also held stout beer, plus French oak and ex-Sherry and Port barrels).
One of our favorite tequila brands, this woman-led, certified B Corp distillery recently released a limited-edition añejo aged approximately 18 months in four types of hand-selected casks: American white oak, French oak, acacia and cherry. The final result is a luscious mix of cooked agave, cacao, butterscotch and dried fruits.
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