July 24 is National Tequila Day, so it's time to celebrate no matter your budget. The spirit has been exploding recently with sales skyrocketing some 54% (according to Nielsen data) amidst pandemic shutdowns — making tequila the go-to choice for Couch-and-Boxers happy hour/Zoom sessions. It’s clear people love their tequilas, especially when times get weird.
While we recently focused on Mezcals, Sotols and Raicillas for Cinco de Mayo, we suggest you lean into the more traditional route to celebrate National Tequila Day and cherry-pick one of the best from a very crowded market. From affordable but no-corners-cut Blancos to exceptionally aged Extra Añejos to the burgeoning category of Cristalinos. Whatever your budget, we got you covered.
Real Del Valle Blanco
“No diffuser, no additives. Pure agave. Real tequila,” Real Del Valle co-founder David Lizárraga tells us. For Real Del Valle the Agaveros (agave farmers) are part of the business plan: a true co-op made up of 26 families, Real Del Valle uses only estate grown agave from Guanajuato.
With authentic respect for the people who make the tequila and zero shortcuts (no diffusers or additives, cooked only in brick ovens), Real Del Valle is the type of tequila you should be seeking out. “More than a tequila Real Del Valle is the voice of the land,” continues Lizárraga. “It is the legacy of the agave masters who work with passion and dedication to make the ideal tequila to share with family and friends.” An unbelievable value. $22
A celebrity-backed tequila we’ll give a little bit of love to, but only because Sammy Hagar was the OG tequila enthusiast way before that was a #moneygrab move. After selling Cabo Wabo (to Campari for a cool $80 million) he’s now teamed up with Diner Expert/Smash Mouth frontman lookalike Guy Fieri to create what is a shockingly good tequila. We admit our skepticism was misplaced — cooked in brick ovens and handcrafted in small batches, Santo is a quality juice.
Their Mezquila is the world’s first bottle to blend agave made from 100% Blue Weber with that from 100% Espadin, premixing what a lot of bartenders are already doing to add a twist to their tequila cocktails. Or if you prefer to drive 55 just pick up the Blanco, a hell of a deal. We shouldn’t have doubted the Red Rocker. $45
As ElVelo was developed by bartenders for bartenders, pricing is paramount — especially when talking cocktails. But despite the aggressive price point ElVelo cuts zero corners: they promise no additives, industrial practices or shortcuts are employed (always cooked in stone and clay ovens, screw mill extracted), bottled at higher ABV (44.5%) than most, all while being distilled in one of Jalisco’s best artisanal distilleries (we cannot say which, but some top-shelf stuff comes from there).
Last year ElVelo was awarded “The Best Tequila Under $40” so they’re doing something right. Both the Blanco and Reposado are great values… and will leave you plenty of dinero to make bad decisions elsewhere. $39
Chamucos Diablo Blanco
The handcrafted Chamucos label has garnered attention recently, billing itself as an ultra-premium tequila for connoisseurs. We find their Diablo Blanco — Chamuco's 110 proof version of their Blanco — to be the most interesting.
Despite its potency Diablo Blanco is surprisingly smooth, with a velvety mouthfeel and notes of vanilla and butterscotch adding to the more expected spice, fennel and of course heat. A nice touch is the eco-friendly brand uses all recycled materials from cartons, labels and bottle boxes to the recycled glass artisanal bottle. $45
Løs Sundays Blanco
Simple and clean, from bottle design to branding to the liquid inside, Løs Sundays was founded by Australian duo Mitchell Hayes and Oliver Williams to fill a gap they recognized in a market they saw as male-dominated, dated and formal. Available in Coconut, Blanco and Reposado, Løs Sundays is smooth, easy to drink and not going to offend a soul. Consider it tequila for Løs Sunday Fundays: perfect for cocktails, but good enough to drink straight. $34
Lobos 1701 Joven
While fully independent, upstart Lobos 1707 sure comes backed with a Super Team of investors including NBA All Stars LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Draymond Green, plus agents Maverick Carter and Rich Paul. Thank god with that financial backing they eschewed the diffuser for a roller mill and added some craftsmanship into their juice.
For their Joven Lobos 1707 they start with a 100% Blue Weber Blanco, add some of their Reposado, carbon-filter the blend and then marry it by finishing in Pedro Ximénez wine barrels using the solera method. You see when Bron Bron recently snuck a bottle into a Bucks/Suns Finals game to take secret swigs off of? A fine way to dull the pain, we say. $45
Tequila is in the blood of Eduardo “Lalo” González. The grandson of Don Julio González — namesake of the venerable Don Julio tequila — it would be hard to have more provenance than the third generation maestro tequilero.
Like a true tequila purist Lalo vows to only make a Blanco expression as he believes the unaged version is the most authentic form of tequila; it showcases the true and full spectrum essence of the agave plant unadulterated by oak. Sticking true to this philosophy LALO uses only three ingredients: Jalisco Highlands agave, a proprietary Champagne yeast and deep well water. $53
Expresiones del Corazón William Larue Weller Añejo
With the stack of accolades Corazón Reposado has garnered — 2020 Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and World Tequila Awards, 2019 Gold Medal at the New York World Wine & Spirits Competition and Los Angeles International Spirits Competition — it wasn’t a shock when the handcrafted Casa San Matías distillery label was dubbed the World’s Best Tequila at this year’s World Tequila Awards.
Their limited edition Expresiones del Corazón William Larue Weller Añejo takes the maturation further by aging for 15 months in barrels that held William Larue Weller — quite simply one of the most expensive and coveted bourbons in the world. The wheated bourbon’s famous softness and notes of vanilla, tobacco and apple are bestowed on the Añejo to create a truly superb tequila. $80
Derrumbes Zacatecas Mezcal
If you want to experience what tequila tasted like a century ago, before industrialization and bureaucracy plagued the industry, you cannot do better than Derrumbes’ Zacatecas mezcal.
Yes it’s technically a mezcal — but only because the eponymous state it’s made in lies outside the DOM of tequila (in the DOM of mezcal), despite its home in Huitzila, Zacatecas being only a stone’s throw from the Jalisco border. But the juice is also made of 100% Blue Weber agave, the source of all tequila — only it’s just made with all the ancient care of true artisanal mezcal: pit-roasted over hot stones, tahona ground by donkey and spontaneously fermented.
The Buñelos family is one of the few Zacatecas Mezcaleros that produce traditional mezcals, and therefore offer an all-too-rare opportunity to travel back in time to experience a more ancient expression of Blue Agave. $70
Código 1530 Rosa
We try not to give too much shine to celebrity-owned brands, they get enough press. But George Strait’s Código 1530, launched in 2016, puts so much care into their products we feel compelled. Their limited-edition (only 1,200 bottles) Extra-Añejo dubbed ‘George Strait Origen’ plucks juice from six barrels hand-picked by the King of Country himself, each aged over six years. At $350 that’s one of the more expensive tequilas on the market — but it’s not the option that we find most intriguing.
That would be their Rosa expression that takes their already delicious Blanco and then rests it for one additional month in uncharred Napa Cabernet French White Oak barrels. The Cab barrels not only lend the tequila a rosé-like hue, but also imbues it with light tannin and brine notes. $63
Gran Centenario Leyenda Extra Añejo
Founded in 1857 by the first ever Master Tequila Distiller in history, Lazaro Gallardo, Gran Centenario is one of the most venerable brands in all Mexico. Their halo Leyenda may be a foundational offering from Gran Centenario but it’s still an excellent Extra Añejo benefiting from Gallardo’s nearly 150-year old traditions — among them something he calls Seleccion Suave, where they add older tequilas to the blend for greater complexity.
We try not to let packaging influence our purchases, but Gran Centenario’s usage of art nouveau-style bottles reaches an apex with Leyenda’s chiseled glass adding gorgeous highlights to the deep amber hue of the liquid held within. $160
El Tesoro Paradiso Extra Añejo
The Camarena family started making tequila in 1937. Their third generation Master Distiller Carlos Camarena is without question one of our favorite people in all tequila, and a true iconoclast who prioritizes the artisanal processes of making tequila; unsurprisingly the San Francisco World Spirits Competition awarded him Distiller of the Year in 2005.
We only wish every agave fanatic would have the opportunity to spend an afternoon sipping El Tesoro while wandering his red clay fields. Choose whichever expression you like from El Tesoro — the halo brand of Camarena’s La Alteña distillery, exclusively made from 100% estate-grown agave — you won’t go wrong. But we’ll point out the Paradiso because it was the first super-aged tequila, before there was even a category for it. Aged for at least 5 years in ex-Cognac casks, this Extra Añejo will make your papa feel like he’s living in Paradise. $180
Tequila Ocho Barrel Select Transatlantic Añejo
Speaking of Carlos Camarena, some consider his collaboration with the recently passed Tomas Estes — credited with elevating tequila to single-malt status among the European jetsetting crowd — to be among the best tequilas in the world. Their Ocho label recently teamed up with Maison Ferrand’s Master Blender Alexandre Gabriel to create a suite of mouthwatering limited edition blends of añejos released at the end of last year.
This Barrel Select collection started with Ocho’s añejos and playfully finishes them in casks from Maison Ferand’s superb collection of cognacs and aged rums: the Tropical bottle uses rum casks from Fiji, Trinidad and Panama, while Continental is finished exclusively in Cognac Ferrand Ambré casks. Our favorite, however, was the Transatlantic expression that combines both worlds by perfectly blending casks aged in the Fiji and Panama rums with the Continental’s cognac-finished tequila. The result is a beautiful spirit that even the most discriminating tequila connoisseur will treasure. $85
Gran Patrón Smoky
Luxury tequila house Patrón aims to resurrect the traditional artisanry of primeval mezcal with its Gran Patrón Smoky. The idea is implementing ancient techniques that date back to pre-industrial tequila, including roasting the agave with mesquite in small underground stone pits for at least 7 days, crushing the roasted piñas with a volcanic stone tahona wheel, fermenting in pine wood tubs with the fibers intact — lending the eventual juice more redolent agave tones —and distilling in small-capacity copper pot stills. The resulting Gran Patrón Smoky boasts whiffs of artichoke, pepper and citrus on top of the smokiness arising from the mezcal processes.
A respectful RIP to the recent passing of Patrón’s founding Master Distiller Ingeniero Francisco Alcaraz who pioneered the brand’s insistence on quality processes. $200
Casa Dragones Añejo Barrel Blend
Given its high price, it’s disappointing to discover that Casa Dragones employs shortcuts like acid-thermal hydrolysis and a diffuser to cook and extract its sugars. The chemical process uses acid and/or enzymes to cook the agaves sometimes without any heat at all, and is widely considered a cost-cutting measure that negatively affects flavor.
Still the brand’s Barrel Blend is an interesting creation, maturing its 100% Blue Agave Añejo tequila in two different wood barrels: new French Oak and new American Oak. Each aged separately, Casa Dragones then blends the two to create a unique profile that includes notes of brambleberries and macadamia nuts. A favorite of renown chefs like Thomas Keller, Casa Dragones bottles the juice in individually numbered and signed smoked glass. $150
Among true tequila aficionados, the exploding Cristalino category has its lovers and detractors. Some believe filtering the color out of any tequila — especially an Añejo — compromises some of the nuances the tequila has taken years to develop. But there’s something to be said of the eminently smooth, clean and oak-imbued flavor profiles which these crystal clear juices boast, all while retaining a velvety, luxurious mouthfeel impossible to find in a Blanco. Not cheap due to the hefty time spent aging, but if you enjoy the paradox of flavor X color here are some of our favorites.
Maestro Dobel 50 Cristalino
Maestro Dobel introduced the very first Cristalino to the world back in 2009 when founder Juan Dobel blended Extra Añejo tequilas from the family cellar, and decided to charcoal filter the golden nectar to remove the color.
Seeing as the family has been making tequila for 11 generations the innovation of this Dobel Diamante was profound — and now they update the line with their Maestro Dobel 50 Cristalino to celebrate Juan’s 50th birthday. Double-distilled in copper post stills and aged in American and Eastern European oak barrels for a minimum of three years, the Extra Añejo Cristalino is quite simply one of the smoothest tequilas we’ve ever tasted. $145
La Adelita Black Cristalino
Named in honor of the women who fought bravely in the Mexican Revolution, La Adelita is both harvested and distilled in the heart of the Jalisco highlands. There the family-owned operation distills in small copper pot stills imported to the Estate nearly century ago from Cuba. Their Cristalino is aged 18 months in American Oak whiskey barrels which are re-toasted in Mexico, creating a smooth añejo which is then filtered leaving aromas of cashew with notes of nectarine zest and peach nectar.
To elevate the sipping experience, the Single Estate tequileros recently collaborated with the California Caviar Company to select the perfect caviars to accompany each of their expressions. For their La Adelita Cristalino the California Caviar Company’s founder Deborah Keane selected their Kaluga Hybrid as the ideal pairing, saying the large beads’ minerality play perfectly with the Cristalino’s sweetness and velvety body. $70
Enemigo 89 Añejo Cristalino
As of now the ultra-lux Tequila Enemigo label only makes an Extra Añejo 00 and this 89 Añejo Cristalino, so it’s clear the brand has only the most ambitious of top-shelf aspirations. Working closely with Maestro Tequilero Enrique Legorreta it took over four years of experimentation and 89 inceptions to get the Enemigo Cristalino profile just right (apparently the Extra Añejo was flawless from first sip, hence the “00” designation).
They start with lowland agave and volcano-filtered water, but instead of using the traditional recycled ex-bourbon barrels Enemigo takes the extra step of hand-making their own custom barrels out of new American Quercus alba oak air-dried and seasoned in Cuba, Missouri for more than two years. They then age the tequila in these barrels for just over a year, and use a three-phase carbon cellulose process to filter it into a Cristalino.
The results speak for themselves as to date Enemigo has won more Double Gold (5) and Tequila of the Year (4) awards than any other brand since its launch in 2017, and this 89 Añejo was the first Cristalino ever to win Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. $60
Herradura Ultra Cristalino
Casa Herradura is not only the last of the classic haciendas to be distilling on premises, it is currently the only tequila distillery that still produces all of its own barrels — an extraordinary step taken to ensure what they believe to be the highest quality juice. Since 1870 they’ve been slowly cooking their piñas in clay ovens for up to 26 hours at a low temperature — an inefficient process that helps builds complex layers of agave, sugar and smoke flavors.
These can be found in their Ultra Cristalino which begins life as a blend of 25-month-old añejo and extra añejo, aged for up to 49 months in ex-bourbon barrels, before color filtration. Expect a silky smooth spirit with notes of caramel, toasted hazelnut and orange-blossom honey. Truly a great value in the category. $43
Flecha Azul Añejo Cristalino
While the relatively new Flecha Azul was only launched in March 2020 (by Mexican duo PGA golfer Abraham Ancer and entrepreneur Aron Marquez), the family estate in Jalisco where it’s distilled dates back to 1840.
The name (Blue Arrow) is in reference to the 100% Blue Weber Agave from which it’s made, and despite its nascence the brand promises a dedication to traditions. Their Añejo Cristalino first ages in American white oak ex-bourbon barrels for 18 months before being triple-filtered to produce a very approachable Cristalino. $200
Partida Roble Fino Reposado Cristalino
According to Partida their Reposado is “the world’s highest-rated 100% Blue Agave Tequila,” and while we can’t confirm that claim we can confirm its exceptional quality. So when Maestro Tequilero José Valdez turns his attention to a Cristalino you know it’s worth sampling. Part of Partida’s Roble Fino luxury line, the new Reposado Cristalino was inspired by a recent trip the Maestro took to Scotland, where he sampled single malts and was intrigued into experimentation.
So Valdez takes this superb Reposado and finishes it in ex-single malt casks that previously held sherry for another 2 months, and then naturally filters out all color while retaining its luscious body. Since it’s a Reposado-based Cristalino vs Añejo, the juice isn’t as vanilla sweet as other Cristalinos on this list. $115
What to Drink It With?
Riedel Ouverture Tequila
Single malt has its Glencairn glass, champagne the flute and seemingly nowadays every strain of wine from Albarola to Zinfandel has its own purpose-made glassware. So why not tequila? Esteemed crystal and glassware house Riedel — which is currently celebrating 265 years as a family-owned glassware business — collaborated with some of the best minds (and palates) in the tequila world to design the ideal tequila-enjoying glassware.
The Ouverture crystal’s shape is perfectly designed to retain as much aroma of the agave spirit as possible while allowing the strongest alcohol fumes to escape un-sniffed. Add a pair to the box to elevate your gift to the next level. $33 for a pair