equila, it makes us happy. Or does it?
Long regarded a 3am bad decision chased with a dry mouth, molten hot eyeballs and a hangover you’d think was delivered by Satan himself, the way we down tequila would rile most folks in Mexico, the home of the famous agave spirit.
In the North American country, tequila is not to be shot, but rather sipped, swilled and savoured – much like neat whisky.
Proper tequila – the kind without a worm languishing at the bottom of the bottle – can take months, sometimes years, to produce. While you can have it neat, there are also ways to enjoy it in cocktails, like a margarita.
Tequila school 101 – how is it made?
It’s a distilled spirit, made from cooking and fermenting the juice of blue weber agave. Most tequilas can be categorised into one of three categories.
- Blanco tequila: unaged and bottled inside two months, this is the tequila that’s most commonly used by mixologists and bartenders when making cocktails. It typically has a strong agave and earthy flavour.
- Reposado tequila: this sort of tequila has been aged in wooden casks for at least a two month period, during which time the spirit mellows and absorbs the wood’s oaky notes. If you’re a margarita fan, try reposado the next time you reach for your cocktail shaker.
- Añejo tequilas: a vintage tequila, these are barrel-aged for a minimum of one year so naturally, tend to be far more expensive than its brothers. Similar to many whiskies, they’re smooth on the palette and rich with spiced and sweet notes – making them particularly nice for cold-weather sipping.
Using tequila in a margarita
Edson Diaz-Fuentes, co-founder of Santo Remedio Mexican Café explains the key to a great margarita is a finely-tuned balance “between sweetness, freshly squeezed lime and lemon juice as well as good quality Tequila.” He believes on the rocks is more classic, but adds “nothing wrong with frozen Margaritas during a hot summer season”. Amen.
Meanwhile, the British owners of El Rayo suggest swapping the gin in your G&T with a measure of tequila instead for an alternative T&T drink. Controversial certainly, but once tried, tough to fault.
However you’ll have yours, we’ve grouped the finest bottles below. From names you’ll recognise, and a few we reckon you won’t, here are the best craft and luxury tequilas to try.
Let the Mexican wave commence!
Clase Azul Reposado tequila 700ml
Long gone are the days of tequila with a worm at the bottom of the bottle. Modern iterations of the Mexican spirit are designed to be sipped and savoured, not shot. With tequila enjoying something of a revival in recent years, here’s an excuse to give something really special.
From artisan producer Clase Azul comes this white and blue ceramic decanter, it’s beauty rivalled only by the liquid within. Smooth and full bodied, the spirit, made from pure weber blue agave, slips easily down the throat, imparting undertones of vanilla and toffee caramel along the way. We had no idea that tequila could be this good. A triumph.
El Jimador Tequila Blanco
Named after the workers who toil in the blue agave fields to harvest the leaves to make this tequila, you can taste the quality in every sip – no wonder it’s Santo Remedio’s tequila of choice for margaritas.
The white tequila goes through a 40-day ageing process, leaving behind a smooth taste and agave flavour that works wonderfully in cocktails like a Paloma or just to sip slowly and soak up its warmth. An outstanding bottle, especially at this price.
El Rayo Plata Tequila
Legend has it that tequila was made when lightning struck the leaf of an agave plant and cooked it. El Rayo has taken this tale of folklore and gone to town with it, illustrating the story on the front of every one of its artisan bottles.
Pretty packaging with pretty tasty contents to match, this spirit is made inside 105 year old copper stills and bottled straight from it. The smooth notes and flavours of the blended tequila glide over the tongue; trust us when we say you’ll want to sip this, it’s wasted as a shot.
For a sweeter and softer version, try the brand’s Reposado, £36.94. This too has been distilled inside the antique copper still and then left to mature in whisky casks for a further seven months. Delicious.
With its crystal clear appearance, you may never guess that this is in fact a premixed margarita. But while you may confuse it for water, beware the morning after a big night out as it has bleary eye-inducing 16 per cent ABV.
A favourite at the renowned Mexican bar in Dalston, Hacha Dalston, it’s made with mezcal for a unique, smoky flavour.
For a limited time, you can get your hands on a special Mirror Margarita collaboration (pictured) with the pre-mixed cocktail made with El Rayo’s Plata distillation. Designed to be served on the rocks, the serve looks like water – it’s that clear – but tastes like a classic marg. Shop it at El Rayo for £36.
Olmeca Altos Plata Tequila 70cl
A sustainably produced, high quality, accessibly priced tequila? Olmeca Altos Tequila nails it with their luxury spirit, which thankfully comes with a palatable price tag. Made in the highlands of central Mexico, it’s made with blue agave and processed using 500-year-old traditional distillery methods for a smooth taste that works neat or mixed into cocktails. Try it with tacos or quesadillas this spring.
Casamigos Blanco Tequila
George Clooney: actor, film director, producer, screenwriter – and part-owner of tequila brand Casamigos. We’ve seen enough celebrity-backed products to know they don’t always work, but thankfully Casamigos is not a case of all glamour, no grit.
Production goes above and beyond minimum requirements: the agave is roasted for 10 times the normal time and given twice as long to ferment. This is a blanco, so its gone through the fewest steps to produce and is aged for only two months – but it’s still miles better for cocktails than anything with a worm in it.
Teremana Tequila Blanco
Clooney’s not the only one with a taste for the tequila biz; fellow Hollywood star Dwayne Johnson also has a slice of the action with his brand Teremana Tequila, which won Gold for its Reposado expression and a lauded Master medal for its Blanco in this year’s Tequila & Mezcal Masters competition.
The small batch Blanco is better for margarita-making, as the agave is simmered in artisan copper stills, leaving behind a rich, smooth flavour. How does Johnson prefer it? On the Rocks, of course (sorry).
Star power: Kendall Jenner
There’s no denying that Calabasas’ first family are shrewd business women: there’s not a day that goes by without one of the Kardashians flogging something or the other to their legions of fans across the world.
With a readymade customer base, Kendall launched a boozy enterprise of her own: tequila. Named for her zip code, 818 Tequila is made, as all premium tequilas are, from agave plants in Jalisco, Mexico, before being stewed in adobe brick ovens and aged in French oak barrels. The result is sweet with vanilla notes muddled alongside tropical and citrus fruit flavours.
Now here’s a bottle to behold. Tiempo has launched its first small batch of Reposado Cristalino Tequila in the UK, and it’s serious cause for celebration. Each of the 1,320 limited edition bottles holds 2,555 days of work and patience.
It’s made from mature blue weber agave, grown and harvested in the Altos and Valley regions of Jalisco, the birthplace of tequila before being aged in American white oak whisky barrels for a year. Master Distiller Augustin Sanchez Rodriguez helped craft an additive-free spirits with no chemicals used in the making process – expect notes of vanilla and caramel balanced by citrus and pepper, all with that white oak in the background.
1800 Silver Tequila 70cl
Made from nothing but pure agave, this premium bottle is named after the year the company first began barrel-ageing the spirit. It cherishes its roots; from the bottle’s shape to the label and the flavour, it’s a tribute to the time-honoured traditions of Mexico. Try it in a long drink, replacing gin or vodka as an alternative.
Jose Cuervo Especial Reposado Tequila
Arguably one of the best known tequila brands around, you’ll find a bottle of Jose Cuervo on the shelves of good cocktail bars everywhere. Aged for up to six months in a oakwood barrels, try it in a Blood Orange Margarita.
Simply mix a measure of Jose Cuervo Especial with 25ml of freshly squeezed lime juice, 30ml of blood orange juice and a 15ml drizzle of Agave syrup. Shake the ingredients hard and strain into glass, before adding a splash of orange juice.
Mijenta Tequila Blanco
Elise Som and Ana Maria Romero are co-founders of Mijenta Tequila, one of the few female-owned companies in its industry. The tequils is siphoned off the Jalisco highlands and bottled without filtration, which means each sip bursts with the bright flavours of blue weber agave.
Drinks by the Dram Tequila & Mezcal Collection
Learn about the fascinating world of tequila without saddling yourself with bottles you don’t like – not to mention the Madre of all hangovers – with this 30ml miniatures set from Drinks by the Dram. Filled with a selection of 12 agave spirits from blanco to anejo tequila and some mezcals too, it’s a real journey of discovery.
Maestro Dobel Diamante 40 Percent Tequila, 70cl
Infused with notes of grapefruit and pomegranate, this elegant tequila is made from blue agave that grows in the shadow of Tequila Volcano in Jalisco. The leaves are plucked after a minimum of eight years so it really is a labour of love. The result is worth it – a tasty spirit that’s perfect served neat or in a cocktail.
PATRON Harvey Nichols Barrel Select Añejo Tequila
Say hello to Patron’s first single cask tequila, a Harvey Nicks exclusive. It’s distilled, then left to mature in a barrel made from French wood for 20 times longer than required to be an Añejo: 33 months. The result is a harvest of just 366 limited edition bottles known as Patron x Harvey Nichols Barrel Select Añejo Tequila.
Sweet and spiced, this Cognac-like tequila is a world away from anything you’ve tried before.
Like all tequila, VIVIR comes from the leaves of a Weber Blue Agave. But what makes it stand out is that once plucked, the leaves are then roasted in clay ovens known as Hornos before being mixed with high purity volcanic spring water to bring a new spin to the spirit.
Available as Blanco, Reposado and Anejo, these are iterations so smooth it could be considered criminal to washed them down with salt and lime.
The Butterfly Cannon Tequila Cristalino Tequila
This 50ml bottle packs a real punch, it may be smaller than most but the ABV is 40 per cent; pretty much rocket fuel. This is the finished product after a process that includes 30 days barrel-ageing and a filtration process with charcoal. Not one to sip solo: it’s been specially-designed for cocktails.
And it does good too. A portion of profits go towards supporting butterfly conservation across the US and Mexico.
If you’re not sure about sipping tequila neat, a cocktail is a brilliant way to appreciate the flavours without feeling like you’re in Club 18 – 30. Cazcabel is a brand with a selection of appetising flavours under its belt, from coffee flavoured tequila to coconut and honey. If you want to dip your toe into the world of grown-up tequila, this is a superb place to start.
Herradura Anejo Tequila
This deep amber tequila packs a punch with 40 per cent ABV and a spicy, oaky taste, for a uniquely sensorial experience. Founded in 1870, the award-winning producer leaves this tequila in oak barrels for two years to allow the flavours to develop to their best.
KAH Tequila Reposado, 70cl
Now, we haven’t slung this into our list solely due to the packaging – but it doesn’t hurt. Stunning inside and out, KAH Tequila Reposado goes through an 11 month ageing process once distilled. Time, patience and care results in a smooth 40 per cent ABV spirit with notes of chocolate, caramel, oak and spices. When it tastes this good, why on earth would you put it in a shotglass?