As with all things in life, not all tequilas are created equal. Some are perfect for Margaritas while others are meant for sipping. While a handful of brands have continued to dominate the sector, celebrity influence has dramatically altered the top-shelf tequila scene. The popularity of the agave-based liquor has exploded in recent years, as the spirit has evolved into a sophisticated product worthy of high praise from critics and connoisseurs alike.
With an abundance of labels available on shelves, tequila drinkers have no shortage of options to choose from. To see where the market stands, Drinks International recently rounded up the top 10 best-selling tequila brands in the world’s top bars. Check out the list below to see if your favorite made the cut.
1. Don Julio
Founded by Don Julio Gonzalez-Frausto Estrada in 1942, the company touts itself as the world’s first premium luxury tequila. The label has become one of the most popular brands worldwide, topping the best-seller list for the sixth consecutive year. Available in Blanco, Reposado, Añejo, 70 Añejo Claro, 1942, and Real, Don Julio’s special releases include Double Cask, Private Cask, and Double Cask Lagavulin editions.
This best-selling brand was the first to introduce the concept of terroir to tequila, noting production year and agave selection location on each label, showing each batch is unique. Crafted in the old-fashioned, slower style method of producing tequila, Ocho is recognized for its premium tequilas. Available in Plata, Reposado, Añejo, Extra Añejo, Añejo Single Barrel, and Extra Añejo Single Barrel.
One of the most popular tequila brands on the market, the original Patrón began production at one of Mexico’s oldest distilleries, Casa 7 Leguas. Strict quality control standards are the foundation of the label’s success, as only the highest quality agave plants are sourced from a small network of family growers and carefully selected for production. The tequila giant now offers Silver, Reposado, Añejo, Extra Añejo, in addition to its super-premium Gran Patrón Smoky, Platinum, Piedra, and Burdeos selections. Complex flavors are presented in the Roca Patrón line: Silver, Reposado, and Añejo. The brand has also released liqueur, including its coffee-blended Patrón XO Cafe and fruit-forward Patrón Citrónge offerings.
4. Olmeca Altos
Created by bartenders Henry Besant and Dre Masso in partnership with Maestro Tequilero Jesús Hernandez, Olmeca Altos produces Plata, Reposado, and Añejo tequilas in the Destilería Colonial de Jalisco in Los Altos. While Hernandez handles everything from agave selection to aging (a position he’s held for upwards of 17 years), his son Jesús leads tours at the distillery.
5. Jose Cuervo
Jose Cuervo is owned and operated by the Beckmann family, who are relatives of Don Jose Antonio de Cuervo himself. The brand began its U.S. ascent in the 1940s after Prohibition, when tequila smuggling from Mexico became popular in the American Southwest. Jose Cuervo is offered in lower-end mixto varieties, in addition to traditional Plata, Reposado, and Añejo, and a premium Reserva de la Familia line includes Platino, Reposado, and Extra Añejo. For super-premium aficionados, the brand released Aniversario.
Tequila Fortaleza launched in 2005, but its owners say five generations of tequila-making history back the brand. Fortaleza uses “old-world machinery and processes,” such as slow-cooking agave for 36 hours in an old stone oven, stone-crushing agave fibers in a tahona, and fermenting in open-air wooden tanks. While the sixth best-selling tequila in 2020, it was the trendiest of the year and is looking to cement its place among the perennial best-sellers. Fortaleza bottles Blanco, Reposado, and Añejo, in addition to a still-strength Blanco offering.
Situated in the Los Altos region of Jalisco, Espolòn is a multi-award-winning brand, with a somewhat unique approach to making tequila: cutting agave hearts into four pieces instead of two, playing rock music during the fermentation process, and aging in smaller than average oak barrels. Espolòn is available in Blanco, Reposado, Añejo, and Añejo X.
8. Calle 23
Calle 23 tequila’s website doesn’t have a homepage, instead it has “Soul,” and one of the company’s mottos is “Agave you my heart.” Clearly speaking to emotional connections, Calle 23 is founded on passionate principles focused on quality and the art of tequila production. The label can be found in Blanco, Reposado, and Añejo bottlings.
9. El Jimador
El Jimador is named after the tequila farmers that have worked the soils of Jalisco for generations. The label’s agave fields are situated in Amatitán, and the spirits are distilled twice and 100% estate bottled. The brand can be found in Silver, Reposado, and Añejo offerings.
Rounding out the top 10 best-selling tequila brands is Casamigos, a name that roughly translates to ‘house of friends’. Once affiliated with George Clooney, the Diageo-owned brand is marketed as a small-batch, ultra-premium tequila. The label has racked up wins in no less than a dozen prestigious spirits competitions, and varieties include Blanco, Reposado, and Añejo, in addition to a Mezcal.