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Sure, a tequila shot is a fun party starter (and maybe gives you some liquid courage before stepping onto that karaoke stage), but artists rapping about “shots of Patrón” have given tequila an undeservedly bad (and, ahem, cheap) rep.
These days, some of the best tequilas in the world are more comparable to a fine bourbon or robust glass of wine than Jell-o shots and beer pong. In fact, Patrón, one of the most well-known and respected tequila brands in the world, offers a diverse portfolio of authentic, carefully crafted tequilas that you won’t find in nightclubs or seedy bars. Despite Patrón’s hard-partying reputation (blame it on lyrical shout-outs by everyone from Lil Jon to Bruno Mars), the company is making some interesting, flavorful and expensive tequila these days, with bottles of its Patrón En Lalique: Serie 2 going for almost $10,000.
From its distillery just outside Guadalajara, Patrón produces more than 20 different tequila expressions, and it’s serious business. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about the best tequila, from the history of this Mexican spirit to the best bottles of tequila in the world. We’ll also give you a peek inside Patrón’s historic distillery in Jalisco, Mexico.
How Is Tequila Produced?
Making the best tequila is a long and detailed process that requires a mix of craftsmanship, patience and a little bit of luck. Patrón employs a seven-step approach that could take up to three years before the tequila is ready.
To start, agave plants are harvested by hand in the Jalisco Highlands, using farms that pass the strict standards of the Mexican Tequila Regulatory Council (TRC). The agave (essentially a plump, cactus-like plant) can only be harvested at a precise time to give off the optimal amount of sweetness without being too tart, bitter or bland. If the agave is cut from the ground too early or too late, it will compromise the quality of the tequila produced. The ideal “ripeness” of agave is somewhere between six to eight years; that’s when the plant has optimal sugar content.
After the agave is selected and harvested, it is taken to the distillery, where it is slowly cooked. The hearts of the agave plant, or piñas, are put in brick ovens and steamed to bring out the plant’s natural sugars (see this process in Patrón’s distillery below). After baking for 79 hours, Patrón uses two different methods to crush the agave. The time-honored “tahona” process is used for the Roca lineup, where a large volcanic rock wheel crushes the roasted agave to extract the juice. For the core expressions, a roller mill is used to shred and crush the agave.
The juice is then fermented for up to three days. This is then distilled in copper pot stills, during which the heads and tails are removed, and only the hearts are kept, which is the purest and most flavorful spirit. After distillation, the silver expression is bottled as is, while the aged expressions enter a variety of cask types, including French oak, Hungarian oak and American oak ex-bourbon barrels. The reposado spends at least two months in barrels, the best anejo tequila at least a year and the extra anejo at least three years. After that, the tequila is finally ready to be bottled, sealed and sent out for shipping. Patrón says every batch is touched by hand at every point of the distilling process.
From the very beginning, Patrón’s handcrafted method has included 100% Weber Blue Agave and the centuries-old “tahona” process, where a sizable volcanic stone wheel slowly crushes agave fibers. The company’s master distiller and blender, Francisco Alcaraz, still creates tequila from this process as well as tequila from the more modern “roller mill” process, blending them to create Patrón.
Tequila 101: What You Need to Know About the World’s Best Tequila
If you’re looking for the best tequila to buy, here’s what you need to know:
1. It’s Not Tequila If It’s Not Produced in Specific Mexican States
Tequila is actually a sub-category of mezcal, and it can only be made from Blue Weber agave in five states in Mexico. Most tequila is produced in Jalisco, but it can also be made in some municipalities in Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit and Tamaulipas.
Another thing to look for aside from region of origin: a four-digit number that represents each distillery’s unique code. The Mexican government assigns the Norma Oficial Mexicana number (or “NOM”) and certifies that the bottle you’re holding is authentic tequila produced in Mexico. It also tells you which tequila producer it comes from. Tequila Patrón, for example, has a NOM of 1492.
If your bottle doesn’t have a NOM, that means it’s not certified by the TRC, and therefore it’s not authentic tequila.
2. There Are Different Types of Tequila
Tequila blanco, also known as silver tequila, is probably the most well-known, and it typically appears colorless in the bottle. This best blanco tequila is generally un-aged; although it can be put into barrels or stainless steel vats for a few weeks, it doesn’t have time to develop the color and characteristics of a longer aging process. Blanco tequila is excellent to drink on its own, but it’s also a key component in mixed drinks. It will typically taste sweeter and more refreshing, with a smooth, silky finish.
The best reposado tequila is also aged, but the aging process can be anywhere from two months to a year. It has more vanilla and oak notes from the time it spends in barrels but still captures the grass and earthy flavors of the agave.
The best añejo tequila can often be recognized for its rich, caramel color, and it is aged for one to three years. Añejo tequila is complex, full-bodied and is recommended for sipping. But Añejo tequila also works great for tequila-oriented takes on classic drinks like an Old Fashioned or Manhattan.
Extra añejo is aged for more than three years and often brings to mind whiskey due to its complex mix of caramel, brown sugar and oak flavors on the palate.
Don’t be fooled by the “gold” label on gold tequila. These are often called a “Mixto,” where colors and flavors are added before bottling. These are only required to contain 51 percent agave, with the rest sugar water. They are less expensive and typically used in bars and restaurants for making mixed drinks.
3. Not All Tequilas Are Created Equal (aka Beware the Diffuser…)
Producers can legally add a small amount of coloring and flavoring to tequila, and you can often taste this as intense vanilla or sweet candy notes. Some brands are certified as “additive-free,” however, meaning they eschew this process. Patrón is one of these, and you can find a list of others online.
You may have heard of a diffuser, and this modern technology is one of the reasons why some tequila is deemed additive-worthy. Instead of the traditional methods described above, a diffuser extracts the sugars from the raw agave by blasting it with high-pressure streams of water, and sometimes using chemicals to help strip them out. Sometimes the agave is cooked after this and sometimes not. But this results in what many tequila purists call “aga-vodka,” which is basically a flavorless spirit — hence, additives. The process is efficient and results in less expensive tequila, but the product is arguably inferior.
You’ve also probably seen flavored tequila, which is tequila infused with things like coconut, lime, strawberry or jalapeno. While they may be fun for a party or to use in mixed tequila drinks, we recommend skipping these bottles the rest of the time and just drinking tequila straight up. Why mess with a good thing?
4. The Longer a Tequila Is Aged, the More Expensive It Will Be
Just like a fine wine, some tequila also goes through an aging process. And just like wine, tequila can be aged in many different containers. Each aging process will bring out different flavors in your tequila and result in unique flavor profiles that often call to mind whiskey or scotch. The aging process will also change the color of tequila. While we may be used to drinking clear tequila, many expensive tequilas are more copper in color due to being aged in wooden barrels. Our suggestion: Pick up a few different bottles using different aging processes to see which one you like best. (This works as a great party idea too.)
5. You Can Make More Than Just Margaritas With Tequila
While a refreshing margarita goes great with #TacoTuesday, tequila is a versatile spirit when it comes to mixed drinks. If you don’t like the taste of tequila on its own, try one of our favorite tequila cocktails. There are quite a few beverages you can mix it with.
The best tequila mixers are soda or Sprite. Many people like tequila with ginger ale as well. Aside from margaritas, you can also use tequila in a Paloma (served with grapefruit juice) and a Sunrise (served with orange juice). At the Patrón Hacienda, bartenders make versions of classic cocktails like a Negroni and Old Fashioned using Patrón tequila. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
What Is the Best Tequila?
If you’re ready to pick up a couple of bottles of the best tequila out there (and to get rid of the cheap stuff you currently own), here are our favorite bottles to buy. Most of these spirits and more of the best tequila brands — even the best tequila in the world — can usually be found on sites such as Drizly and Reserve Bar, two convenient alcohol delivery sites. We’ve also made suggestions to pair them with specific foods for some of these options, just as you would a fine wine.
1. El Tesoro Anejo Tequila
BEST TEQUILA OVERALL
If you want to discover authentic Mexican tequila with a bold yet traditional flavor, then order a bottle of El Tesoro Tequila. El Tesoro may be owned by Beam Suntory, the Japanese company responsible for Suntory Whisky, but this tequila is still made from traditional methods and Mexican agave plants. Today, the grandson of founder Don Felipe Camarena oversees production. El Tesoro Añejo is aged in American oak bourbon barrels for up to three years, which results in a perfect mix of agave and oak flavors. If you try this tequila neat, you’ll notice sweet maple, vanilla and caramel notes.
2. Casa Noble Reposado Tequila
BEST SIPPING TEQUILA
The entire Casa Noble lineup was recently redesigned, with updated packaging and employing a different blending strategy, eliminating the single barrel expressions. This ranks as the best sipping tequila, produced at the La Cofradía distillery just outside the town of Tequila. The agave is grown onsite, and founder Jose “Pepe” Hermosillo oversees the operation. The reposado is aged for a year in French oak barrels.
3. Patrón Silver Tequila
BEST TEQUILA FOR MARGARITAS
Listen, Patrón has practically built its legacy on giving young adults their wildest nights and most regrettable mornings. This alone makes it a pop culture icon, but more so a go-to for adventurous nights out on the town. For countless bartenders, it’s the tequila of choice for margaritas, and for good reason. With bold citrus notes and a fresh agave flavor, Patrón Silver will give your body an electric rush with every shot, plus it goes perfectly with lime juice and orange liqueur, just in case the aftertaste is too much for you to handle. Best enjoyed chilled, keep a bottle of this tequila in your freezer for a refreshing cocktail.
4. Codigo 1530 Rosa Tequila
MOST UNIQUE TEQUILA
This brand is affiliated with country music star George Strait, but that’s not why we love this tequila. It’s well made, and a unique twist is that California wine barrels are used to mature the aged expressions. This is most pronounced with the Rosa, which spends a month in un-charred Napa Valley Cabernet French white oak barrels, giving it a beautiful pink hue and notes of ripe fruit and cherry on the palate.
5. Tres Agaves Tequila
SMOOTHEST TEQUILA OPTION
Tres Agaves may lack the brand recognition of consumer favorites like Casamigos or Patrón. Still, its selection of high-quality tequilas has an archetypal smoothness that places it among the elite. As much as we enjoy its blanco and reposado offerings, we’re most partial to this añejo, which is one of the most refreshing, natural-tasting tequilas you’ll find. Each batch is aged for a minimum of 18 months in bourbon barrels, producing strong agave notes that remain prominent with every sip. You’ll also notice hints of citrus and vanilla that add to its refreshing aftertaste. Please don’t deprive yourself of this tequila’s full range of flavors by diluting it with ice.
6. Milagro Tequila
BEST TEQUILA FOR SHOTS
Aromatic, cheerful and inexpensive, Milagro has been a staple amongst millennials and the shot of choice for many tequila-loving bar-goers. Silver is the brand’s most popular selection, featuring a mix of earthy and spicy flavors that blend nicely. The nose is agave-heavy, which is both welcoming and encouraging for those who often fear tequila. If you’re not one for straight tequila, know that Milagro’s mixability is up there with the best, served well with lime or in signature tequila cocktails like a Paloma. And if you think their entry-level tequilas go down smoothly, try their Select Reserve line for a slightly more refined flavor profile.
7. 123 Certified Organic Tequila Blanco
BEST ORGANIC TEQUILA
One of the best organic-certified brands on the market, 123 Tequila has prided itself on creating delicious organic tequilas by employing some of the best farming and production practices in the biz. The tequila itself is exquisite, made from agave grown on USDA- and EU-certified organic estates. The concept of sustainability extends to the packaging that uses recycled glass and soy ink labels. Try the bright and crisp blanco expression to start.
8. Espolon Blanco Tequila
BEST CHEAP TEQUILA
When buying in bulk or out at a bar, Espolon is an excellent option. Just because it’s cheaper doesn’t mean this tequila is less flavorful than its pricier counterparts. It is also definitely of high enough quality to not leave you with too mean of a hangover. We suggest a few fresh squeezed limes with this one, and pairing it with your favorite bar foods, such as wings, sliders or nachos.
9. Tanteo Jalapeño Tequila
BEST JALAPEÑO TEQUILA
Bottled by hand in Juanacatlán, Mexico, at the only distillery in the world owned by its co-op of agave farmers, Tanteo Jalapeño Tequila is taking the tequila world by storm thanks to its bold, unexpected flavor. Some might think jalapeño in their drinks isn’t for them, but we assure you that it absolutely is. Each bottle is made with 100% agave and has just the amount of heat you want in your sipper. It mixes well with just about everything, including watermelon, apple, cucumber, lemon, mint and ginger. Try it as a replacement in your next at-home marg, or spice it up and make the craziest tequila sunrise your tastebuds will ever experience.
10. Herradura Selección Suprema
BEST TOP-SHELF TEQUILA
At $400, Herradura Selección Suprema isn’t a bottle you’ll find in most bars or people’s homes, nor is it common amongst the drinking community. But this extra añejo is more than just a statement piece. Owning a bottle practically knights you as a true tequila connoisseur and speaks to your taste. This unique concoction lives in American white oak barrels for about 49 months, producing a complex aroma and smooth mouthfeel evocative of the finest cognacs. One can only revel in its magnificent taste, filling your mouth with ample coconut, almond brittle and salty caramel. There’s something to be said about its golden amber complexion as well, which is as alluring as its fancy decanter.
11. Partida Tequila
BEST WITH MEXICAN FOOD
Is it Taco Tuesday yet? A serving of Partida will have you even more excited to stuff your face with some carnitas tacos, thanks to its spicy aftertaste, which complements most Spanish meals. It’s light, soft and crisp, which aren’t exactly characteristics you expect from a tequila. Every sip affords you a full and lightly sweet long finish that begs to be savored. We recommend asking the waiter for a glass of Blanco when indulging in crispy fish tacos, or a Reposado when feasting on a pulled pork platter. Then again, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, try a shot of any Partida expression to settle your stomach after meals.
12. El Tequileño Añejo Gran Reserva
BEST TEQUILA TO DRINK NEAT
This new tequila launched in 2021 from El Tequileno, a storied brand that is sometimes overlooked by fans of the agave spirit. It’s aged for two years in both American and French oak barrels and then blended with extra añejo that was matured for an impressive six years in American oak. The reason it’s not considered an extra añejo is because of the younger liquid in the blend. Still, it’s a delightful spirit, best left unadulterated by ice so you can enjoy the oak, vanilla and caramel flavors that pop on the palate.
13. Don Julio 1942
BEST FOR SHOWING OFF
The 1942 is more than just a decor piece that accentuates any bachelor’s at-home bar. Sure, the long, slender bottle does immediately jump out at you, and the fact that it’s made in small batches also gives it an air of exclusivity. However, the tequila’s smooth palate with distinct flavors (the caramel undertones are soothing AF) makes this luxury option such a braggadocious selection. It’s truly delicious and has made a name for itself as a bottle that turns heads, even among the best tequila brands. Spend big on it if you have a little extra coin to throw around, and your guests will be ecstatic. We also suggest pairing this with a Tomahawk steak as big as your fridge will allow.
14. 1800 Tequila
BEST FOR WILD NIGHTS
The best tequila brands include many lesser-known distilleries and top-shelf spirits, but when it comes to sugary cocktails and shots, 1800 is the true champ. 1800 Silver is an affordable option made from 100% Weber blue agave –– grown for eight to 12 years and harvested at its peak. More importantly, it’s double distilled, which adds some character and complexity to the tequila. The taste is strong and a little spicy with just enough kick. We also find 1800 Coconut to be a great alternative, especially if you like spirits more on the sweet side.
15. Jose Cuervo Tradicional Añejo
BEST TEQUILA UNDER $50
Jose Cuervo is a legacy among tequila brands, one that has been synonymous with the spirit for over two centuries. Although it’s widely known for its mixto tequila, Cuervo has some higher-quality tequilas in its lineup. Its latest release in the Tradicional portfolio, Añejo combines the Cuervo family recipe with a touch of charred American oak to create a remarkably smooth tequila that might be confused for a light whiskey upon first taste. The company matures this blend for 12 months in oak barrels before it spends an additional four months in Irish single malt whiskey barrels, adding unique flavors like cinnamon, caramel and stewed figs to the tequila’s already distinctive profile. Priced slightly above the $30 mark, it’s a fantastic value and great gift for dad this Father’s Day.
16. Tequila Komos
Cristalino, an aged tequila filtered with activated charcoal to remove its color and enhance flavor, is the latest trend in the tequila space. Some people love it, others not so much. But there are some new entries in this unofficial category to check out, including this bottle from Tequila Komos. It comes from Richard Betts, the founder of Sombra Mezcal and Astral Tequila. This is a handmade luxury ceramic bottle, within which you’ll find añejo tequila aged in French oak white wine barrels and filtered to remove the color. What remains are notes of vanilla, citrus and grass that you can enjoy on its own, neat or with some ice.
17. Don Julio Blanco Tequila
BEST FOR ROUNDS AT THE BAR
Don Julio is a terrific heritage brand that creates smooth, tasty and not too exorbitantly priced tequilas, making Blanco a perfect choice when buying a round for your compadres at the local pub. Blanco has a clean finish that allows it to go down easy so that no one will be wincing. Its blend is also notable, especially for a tequila priced under $50, highlighted by pure agave and notes of citrus like lemon, lime and grapefruit. You can enjoy it on the rocks while out at dinner, or at your favorite bar. And nearly every restaurant and bar has it. Take our advice and pair it with a clam bake or lobster roll.
18. 21 Seeds Cucumber Jalapeño Blanco Tequila
BEST CUCUMBER TEQUILA
The liquor and cucumber combo has been with us for quite some time. Now, you can get your favorite tequila in a cucumber jalapeño version with 21 Seeds Blanco Tequila. There is a nice spicy yet soothing consistency in this bottle that we’re sure you’re going to enjoy with each and every sip. It’s infused with real fruit, too, so don’t expect any of that artificial taste.
19. Chinaco Blanco Tequila
BEST OG TEQUILA
This might not be a name you’re familiar with, but Chinaco was one of the first premium 100% agave tequilas to enter the U.S. market back in the 1980s. It’s also the only one made in the state of Tamaulipas, and not Jalisco where the majority of tequila is made. The brand recently underwent a bottle redesign to celebrate its 50th anniversary, which you will find in stores around the country now.
20. Avion Reserva 44
BEST FOR CELEBRATIONS
An underrated selection that rivals many sub-luxury extra añejos, Reserve 44 is a standout celebratory tequila to break out on special occasions. You can also have it for a lower price than 1942. Avion nailed the palate here, enriching its formula with butterscotch, vanilla, roasted agave and marzipan notes for one unbelievable sip. Each bottle is aged 36 months in American oak barrels, then transferred to small casks for one month to further enhance the spirit’s woody characteristics. That commitment to quality and taste is what has awarded Reserva 44 numerous key spirits awards. However, its most significant distinction is sitting front and center on your bar for guests to admire.
21. Cenote Blanco Tequila
Cenote makes a drinkable tequila that’s flavorful without being overwhelming. While some tequilas make us pucker or burn our mouths and throats, Cenote’s Blanco Tequila is light, mellow and refreshing. It’s aged in oak barrels for three weeks, leading to a naturally sweet taste without overpowering. Delicate notes of bright citrus, greens and pepper lead to a crisp and smooth finish.
BEST CELEBRITY TEQUILA
In a world of so many celebrity tequila brands, George Clooney’s Casamigos is arguably the most successful and the one that others try to emulate. He and his partners actually sold the brand to Diageo in 2017 for nearly a billion dollars, making this a major investment gone right. It’s unclear if a diffuser is used in production or not, but according to Tequila Matchmaker there is one onsite at one of the distilleries where it’s made. Regardless, try this popular brand for yourself to see what you think.
23. Tequila Ocho Reposado
BEST TEQUILA UNDER $100
Tequila Ocho is a unique brand because it releases single estate vintage tequilas. That means that each batch comes from a particular year and the agave from a particular field or rancho, adding a bit of terroir concept to the spirit of the spirit. The late Tomas Estes and master distiller Carlos Camarena are the forces behind this brand, which uses traditional methods to craft its tequila. The reposado expression is lovely, with notes of butterscotch, spice, citrus and fresh grass.
24. Tequila Mijenta Reposado
BEST NEW TEQUILA
This tequila is made by Maestra Tequilera Ana Maria Romero Mena, who is making her mark in the industry. Mijenta Reposado is aged up to six months in barrels made of American oak and European acacia, bringing lovely notes of wood, vanilla and some incense to the palate. There is a new anejo expression that was just released, but until that becomes more readily available try this one.
25. Roca Patron Reposado
BEST TEQUILA FOR BOURBON LOVERS
Tequila isn’t for everyone. But odds are if you’re on this particular webpage, you’re at least a little interested in the stuff. And if your drink of choice tends to sway towards brown liquor, well, you should give Patron’s Roca Reposado a try.
The brand name alone can speak to the quality of this drink. But if you need some convincing, the flavor profile on this particular spirit is a bit more down-to-earth than the usual citrusy taste of most tequilas. And we mean way down to earth, as in mushroom, vanilla and ginger. If that scares you, it shouldn’t. Patron ages Roca Reposado for around five months in a bourbon barrel to create this unique and complex flavor. Pour it over ice or enjoy it neat and take it slow. Like a quality bourbon, you’ll find this spirit reveals its intricacies the longer you sit with it.
Some FAQs About Tequila
In our humble opinion, we think Clase Azul Reposado Tequila is the best tequila money can buy. Clase Azul Reposado Tequila is a classic top-shelf tequila thanks to its deliciously refined taste and gorgeous collectible bottle. It's made from the best blue agave plants in Mexico and features notes of cream soda, spice, apple cider, jasmine, cinnamon and honey. Yea, it's on the pricier side, but it's the best tequila money can buy, so it's worth it.
When asking how much tequila costs, there's a lot you have to put into perspective. How it was made, where it was made, when it was bottled and what ingredients used are all different factors that will go into pricing. The best tequila will cost you a prettier penny than anything you drank in college, but again, it's really dependent on what you're looking for in your bottle. Most decent tequilas will cost you anywhere in the $20 to $60 range depending on bottle size, but the best tequilas might even cost you over $100 a bottle.
Tequila is made from the harvested center of the Mexican-grown agave plant. The agave itself can only be harvested at a precise time of the year in order to give the correct flavor needed in each bottle. If one harvests agave for tequila too early, it will throw off the entire taste.