Synonymous with the simple but always satisfying Margarita, tequila shines in many cocktails, from the tart, citrus-forward Paloma, to the sweet fruity layers of a Tequila Sunrise. Meanwhile, any purist will say that sipping the spirit neat, or with ice, is the best way to truly enjoy its range of complex flavors.
As tequila’s popularity in the U.S. continues to grow, so too does the overwhelming selection and spectrum of styles available on the market. To help weed through the options, VinePair sought the advice of beverage professionals around the country to find out which bottles offer the best value, both tasting great without breaking the bank.
Given that many bars and restaurants are currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic at the time of publishing, VinePair also asked the bartenders and beverage professionals below to provide links to Venmo accounts, GoFundMe campaigns, or other fundraising opportunities to help support them and the businesses with which they are (or were) affiliated.
To learn more about helping the hospitality industry at this time, please visit VinePair’s Live Blog: How to Give Back to Hospitality Professionals Impacted by Covid-19.
“Olmeca Altos blanco. Created by two well-known bartenders and Maestro Tequilero Jesus Hernandez, this tequila over-shows in every aspect of the phrase. After the agave is picked from high-altitude volcanic soils, it is then slow-cooked in the traditional brick oven method. We appreciate this because we tend to turn our cheek to ‘diffuser’ or mechanically processed tequilas. After it is cooked it is distilled in copper stills, which helps harness some serious aromatic compounds. For $25 a bottle this is a great sipper and killer cocktail mixer. Serious notes of sweet roasted agave, citrus, and cinnamon.” — Brett Helke, beverage director/wine director, Toast & Perro Blanco, Norfolk, Va.
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“Carrying on traditions passed down from generations of tequila distillers, the men and women at Fortaleza distillery are producing what I consider one of the best tequilas out there — and the good news is, it won’t break the bank. The blanco tequila is clean and grassy with underlying notes of sweet fruit that make for a fantastic pour on its own or in a cocktail.” — Garth Poe, bar manager, Easy Bistro & Bar, Chattanooga, Tenn.
“Pueblo Viejo blanco is an excellent tequila for cocktails. It is well balanced with peppery notes, lime, and a slight spicy vegetal flavor. For this price range, it definitely delivers.” — Christine Kang, beverage director, The Breslin, NYC
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“The best bang for your buck, as far as tequila goes, is definitely Espolón Blanco. It’s actually a personal favorite of mine when I go out with friends because it’s just so easy to drink (…drink responsibly, people!) I find it to be smoother than Patrón Blanco with just as much flavor and complexity. We also have it at a really great price point right now online on our Quarantine Liquor Store.” — Thomas Nesselhauf, bar manager, Datz, St. Petersburg, Fla.
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“Clase Azul Reposado is one of the tequilas that I have the pleasure to enjoy and introduce to all my guests. The tequila is from the [Blue Weber agave and is] crafted in the classical traditions of a brick oven for a minimum of 72 hours. The tequila comes in handcrafted and hand-painted bottles. I would say that Clase Azul Reposados is one the best sipping tequilas that I have come across over the years of tasting tequila.” — Richard Romanowski, food and beverage director, Pier House Restaurant, La Mer Beachfront Resort, Cape May, N.J.
“Casamigos Blanco is a great choice when it comes to a smooth sipping tequila under $50. It has a delicate vanilla and oak palate with a peppery finish.” — Charles Govan, director of food and beverage, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Atlantic City, N.J.
“[Tequila] Mi Campo is best for the money, and it’s a bit on the sweet side due to the fact the agave is pressed in lieu of ground. [Think of it as] the more affordable Casamigos. The juice is also rested in wine barrels, so it has an interesting complexity that makes it dangerously easy to drink.” — Michell Boyd, beverage manager, Hampton + Hudson, Atlanta
“Ocho Plata, hands down. Ocho is an estate tequila and is a little different every year. I love tasting the difference in the soil every year, but each expression is always clean and smooth. A true desert island bottle for me. Best enjoyed with a dry glass of rosé on the side!” — Graham Courter, bar manager, Main Street Meats, Chattanooga, Tenn.
“Lunazul Blanco. You can spend way more on a blanco tequila and never hit the quality of Lunazul. Small-batch tequilas are the way to go, not just for the craft in the bottle but also for the more sustainable practices used in their harvesting. The world is running out of agave, so being careful and thoughtful with how you deal with your lands and your farmers is incredibly important to keeping the industry alive for decades to come.” — Adrian Diersen, beverage operator, Holmes, Alpharetta, Ga.
“My favorite tequila has been Tapatio Silver for a long time. The label looks budget and bottom shelf-y, and it’s almost always sold in the larger one-liter size. But it’s made by Carlos Camarena at the same distillery as the Ocho tequilas. While it’s not exactly cheap, it’s miles ahead of anything else in the same price range, and better than most in more expensive price points. Full flavor, green and fruity, and vegetal and sweet at the same time, for people that want to really taste the tequila. There also is a 110 proof version of Tapatio out there, though I haven’t seen it in the wild for a minute. That’s a treat, but be careful. Like many good things, it could be dangerous in the wrong hands.” — Jeremy Allen, general manager/head bartender, MiniBar, Los Angeles
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