America can’t get enough tequila. In 2018, sales of tequila grew more than any other spirits category both on- and off-premise, with on-premise volume sales increasing more than 7 percent overall, according to Nielsen CGA. The U.S. is also, by a long way, the largest tequila export market in the world, currently scooping up more than 80 percent of the bottles that leave Mexico.
A handful of very recognizable tequila brands such as Jose Cuervo, Sauza, Patrón, and Don Julio continue to drive those impressive sales, but by no means are these the only labels that should be on your radar — or your home bar.
To help broaden your (and our) agave horizons, VinePair asked bartenders around the country which bottles and brands aren’t getting the love they deserve. From top-selling workhorses to the most sustainable labels, here are the most underrated tequila brands, according to bartenders.
“Tequila Fortaleza, which means ‘fortitude,’ is one of the greatest products produced in Jalisco, Mexico. This brand was launched in 2005 but has over 140 years of history. Both [its] Blanco and Reposado are on the spicy side compared to tequilas from Los Altos, the Highlands of the Jalisco region. This tequila producer uses a brick oven to cook, and stone to crush, the agave. Those methods make Fortaleza an absolutely authentic and traditional high-quality tequila.” — Slava Borisov, Mixologist, Travelle at The Langham, Chicago, IL
“Tapatio Tequila Reposado is the most underrated tequila. Any lover of agave should have this in their liquor cabinet. It’s great for nightly sipping or as a treat when introducing someone to a fine agave spirit.” — Robert Noyola, Bartender, Bibo Ergo Sum, Los Angeles, CA
“Riazul has really surprised me. [This] small operation that started back in 2008 has made a little splash here in Colorado this past year. Richer than most tequila, Riazul has a velvety finish. The price point makes it easily workable into menu drinks, which is something I value.” — Devin Chapnick, Lead Bartender, Poka Lola, Denver, CO
“Semental is a great product for a great price. The añejo has classic markers [of] good blue agave notes and a gentle framing of wood.” — Lucas Huff, Mixology Director, Bently Heritage Estate Distillery, Minden, NV
“Pueblo Viejo, which is made at Casa San Matias, a family-owned-and-operated [distillery] and one of the oldest in Jalisco. This vegetal, herbaceous tequila is a versatile, cost-effective workhorse. … [It’s] versatile enough to be used in any tequila cocktail, and delicious enough to be sipped on its own. … If you are looking for a special treat, the distillery’s Casa San Matias Tojona line is an entire range of tequilas made the same way the distillery made tequila 130 years ago.” — Jim Kearns, Beverage Director, Golden Age Hospitality, New York, NY
“Fortaleza is my favorite for [the] price — it’s just tasty. Another one is Enemigo. They’re really setting the bar for good agave and not overly expensive.” — Mikey Belasco, Beverage Director, GupShup, New York, NY
“I think Arette tequila is one of the most underrated tequilas on the market. Their production is top-notch, their team is amazing, and they produce an unbelievable product at a very approachable price point. Family owned and honored, they have my support.” — Jeff Rogers, Bar Director, Jester Concepts, Minneapolis, MN
“While Fortaleza is a big name with agave aficionados, I am surprised that it is not more well known outside of that group. It is by far one of my favorites and is oh-so-very unique in flavor. It’s definitely not a bottle that you will find at your average chain restaurant, which is a shame for them, but that just leaves more for those of us that know better.” — Erick Castro, Co-founder, Raised By Wolves and Polite Provisions, San Diego, CA
“One of the most important topics in the world of tequila production is sustainability, both in the farming of agave, and also in the well-being of its natural pollinators. David Suro’s lines of Siembra tequilas are not only exceptionally delicious, but also focus on sustainable agriculture and properly caring for the farmers and families that produce it. The tequila is good value, and user-friendly.” — Shannon Tebay, Head Bartender, Death & Co, New York, NY
“Tears of Llorona is an extra añejo tequila like no other. Its complexity deceives your mind for a minute, making you think it could be Cognac or Scotch. Having the product finished in a Scotch barrel really makes this tequila unique.” — Jose De Jesus Medina Camacho, Lead Bartender, Automatic Seafood & Oysters, Birmingham, AL
“Elvelo is our workhorse that not many people have heard of. It was designed by bartenders for bartenders, so it has a nice peppery quality and isn’t sweet like some of the more popular brands. Great to mix or drink straight.” — Justin Simko, Bar Manager, The Bar at Husk, Charleston, SC
“Tapatio Blanco is one of my all-time favorite blanco tequilas on the market, and unfortunately it has not gotten the attention it deserves. Complex and elegant with notes of pepper, cinnamon, cooked agave, and apple. … Smooth enough to drink neat but also great in Tommy’s Margarita!” — Sondre Kasin, Principal Bartender, Undercote, New York, NY