Life’s too short for cheap tequila. Here’s to setting the bar (extremely) high.Tequila 101
Let’s start with the basics, tequila is ONLY made in Mexico and can ONLY come from the Blue Weber Agave plant. Blue agave is easy to farm but it’s worth noting that it takes around 7-9 years to fully mature. Tequila is only produced inside the Mexican state of Jalisco and in some neighboring municipalities. Therefore, any agave-based distilled spirit outside those regions is considered a "mezcal." Other subtypes of mezcal are Sotol, Pulque, and Raicilla. To recap, all tequilas are mezcals, but not all mezcals are tequila. Just like all bourbons are whiskeys but not all whiskeys are bourbons.
Fun fact: Did you know that the agave plant is closer to a succulent than a cactus?
How It’s Made
Once the agave plants are fully matured, the leaves are chopped off, then it’s dug up from the ground to expose the juicy piña which resembles a pale pineapple. The Jimador/a (tequila farmer and harvester) roasts the agave piñas in brick ovens or stainless steel autoclaves then are crushed to extract the juice. The goal is to convert the raw agave piña's carbs and starches into sugars to ferment them later. At this phase, the cooked concentrated agave nectar tastes like honeyed apricots.
Then the sweet juices are put in fermentation tanks to convert the sugar into alcohol. Similar to the roasting process, distillers can choose to ferment in wooden tanks or stainless steel vessels. The final process is running the liquid (not yet tequila) through the stills twice. Tequila houses can choose which vessels they use, how many times they distill the tequila, whether they add sugar or additives (called mixed, or mixto in Spanish), the pace at which they cook, and whether or not to age the tequila.
What’s the difference between a Silver, Gold, Reposado, Añejo, and Extra Añejo Tequila?
Silver Tequila: Silver tequila is a clear spirit that can be either 100% agave or mixto. These tequilas are at most "aged" for 60 days or less in stainless steel tanks. This tequila is for dumping it into a margarita pitcher. For higher quality blanco/silver, look for the 100% agave on the label to avoid mixing.
Gold Tequila: These tequilas are often unaged and can be “mixtos”. Mixto means it’s been colored or flavored by adding additives such as caramel, oak extract, or syrup. We would also consider this tequila to be best served with large batch cocktails, especially for parties. Pro tip: Gold tequilas tend to have as much sugar as agave which is the reason they tend to give you a hangover!
Reposado Tequila: Reposado (translates to “rested”) tequilas are aged in wood casks for a minimum of 2 to 9 months. Reposado is perfect for small batch cocktails.
Añejo Tequila: Añejos are aged for a minimum of 1 year to produce a robust spirit that takes on the character from the oak aging. Some of the best añejos spend between 18 months to 4 years in the barrel. This is where it gets delicious, served neat, and so smooth it could be a dessert with rich flavors of caramel and vanilla. Tequila houses can choose to age their tequilas in American Oak, French Oak, or repurpose old bourbon or whiskey barrels. Each type of wood can impart different flavor profiles to create a unique character.
Extra-Añejo Tequila: Extra-añejo tequilas spend over 3 years in barrels. This is the hard-to-find extra-tasty stuff. It can also be incredibly expensive. Bottles get fancy, the sipping slows down, and prices usually start at $70 up to $400. Then there’s the ultra-luxurious, the crown jewel, extremely rare collectibles such as the Patron Limited Edition En Lalique with only 500 bottles available valued at $7,725. Another exception find is the Clase Azul Ultra available at Total Wine for $1,900. Their website boasts, “Each bottle features a 24k gold label and is hand-painted using pure liquid platinum by Mexico's most talented artisans. Adorned with the signature Clase Azul agave medallion in .925 Ley sterling silver, each bottle is truly one of a kind!”
Our Tequila Picks
We rounded up our favorites and found the prices as listed on Drizly, BevMo, or Total Wine. Prices and taxes will range by region to here’s a ballpark.
- Avión Silver 750mL $40-$55 This 100% agave is peppery, herbaceous, with subtle hints of grapefruit and pineapple. Avion was fictionalized in the 7th season of Entourage. It was mentioned on the show because Avion partner, Kenny Dichter grew up with Doug Ellin the creator of the show. Due to it’s peppery notes we love this in a Bloody Maria.
- Solento Organic Blanco 750 mL $60-$65 Solento is a USDA Certified Organic tequila made in small batches from a single estate. They harvest their 100% blue agave sustainably. Their brand prides itself on taking things slow hence the name which translates to “slow sun”. Solento Organic Blanco is clean, citrus-forward, pepper with notes of vanilla.
- Fortaleza Reposado 750mL $55-$65 Fortaleza takes great pride in making their tequila the traditional way by crushing the cooked agave 100% by stone, the process is known as Tahona, the stone is moved in a circle by a horse. It is aged in a combination of American white oak, used barrels, and bourbon barrels. Flavor notes include citrus, caramel, butter, and vanilla.
- Casamigos Reposado 750 mL $50-$60 Yes, we know this has celebrity founders, but we actually think it’s a lovely product. George Clooney, no intro required, and Rande Gerber who is a restaurant tycoon and Cindy Crawford’s husband. Casamigos Reposado is made from 100% Blue Weber agave and is aged for 7 months in American White oak barrels. We love this for its silky caramel, vanilla, brown butter, and tobacco. We’d serve this chilled or with an oversized piece of ice. It’s just that good.
- Qui Platinum Extra Añejo Tequila 750 mL $60-$70 If you’re looking for something new that will knock your socks off, Qui is it. Qui is aged in American whiskey and French Bordeaux barrels for 3.5 years. Why is it so smooth? It’s their proprietary and extensive filtration and distillation that gives it it’s clear color, smoothness while having the extra añejo characteristics. Qui offers notes of butterscotch, oak, agave, vegetal, and honey.
- Don Julio 70 Añejo 750mL $65-$80 What makes Don Julio 70 special is that it’s a clear añejo but it shares the flavor notes of an amber añejo. This is our favorite value sipping tequila. On the palette, it gives notes of clean vanilla, toasted oak, with an oily texture. We love this served chilled by the pool with a citrus peel.
- Don Julio 1942 Añejo 750 mL $130-$150 Hello gorgeous bottle! 1942 is synonymous with smooth, caramel, vanilla, and luxury. This beloved añejo spends at least 2.5 years aging in oak barrels. Do you why it’s called 1942? It’s the year that Don Julio Gonzalez began his tequila making journey. This tequila should be served neat or on the rocks (the larger the ice the better to avoid diluting this deliciousness).
- Avión Extra Añejo Reserva 44 750mL $120-$140 This gem is aged for 43 months in specially selected petite barrels that are rotated daily. Avión Reserva is full-bodied with vanilla, grass, and roasted agave flavors. It’s a smooth warm vanilla flavor best served neat.
- Mandala Extra Añejo Mexico 1L $150-$160 Sweet and elegant with 7 years of aging in French oak barrels. Delicious flavors of fruits, honey, butterscotch, deep caramel, vanilla, and toasted oak. Smooth and sweet enough for a nightcap. Serve cold and neat.
- Clase Azul Reposado 750mL $140-$160 All of Clase Azul’s bottles are handmade and hand-painted by Mexican artisans from the small town of Santa Maria Canchesda. Each bottle is unique and takes two weeks to create and paint. Clase Azul is smooth, crisp with flavors of fresh agave, mint, vanilla, apricot, honey, cinnamon, apple cider, cream soda, and caramel. The lid is the ultimate party trick, simply lift slightly and give it a ring. DING! As with all our other sipping tequilas, neat or chilled is best.