Tequila’s recent growth shows no signs of peaking. Beverage market analytics group IWSR predicts the Mexican spirit will overtake vodka as the U.S. spirits industry’s leader by value in 2023. The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) also notes sales of tequila and its fellow agave spirit mezcal jumped 17.2 percent from 2021 to 2022 – a percentage $886 million in increased revenue.
In other words: Tequila’s a big deal. The explosion of new and new-to-the-U.S. options on the market is responsible for a healthy chunk of this growth. While celebrity brands tend to hog the spotlight due to name recognition and the occasional weirdly shaped premium bottle, plenty of more incognito brands have slipped onto shelves with little to no fanfare. The good news: Many of these bottles are exceptional expressions at reasonable price points.
Still, if you’re a casual tequila tippler, finding the best cost-effective bottles in an ever-expanding sea of choice can be difficult. To help you out, we asked 15 bartenders about their favorite affordable tequilas and why they deliver an experience that exceeds their price tag.
“La Gritona Reposado is my favorite bang-for-your-buck tequila currently on the market. Catch me after a couple of post-shift drinks and I might even tell you it’s my favorite tequila, period. In a market dominated by the additive-laden and celebrity-contracted, La Gritona stands out as one of the last few family-owned producers that seems to give a damn about what ends up in the bottle. Their use of recycled French oak barrels (sourced from Jack Daniel’s and Balcones) allows their mature-harvested agave to lose the sharp ethanol bite without picking up too much color or flavor from the casks. The result is a tequila with all the smoothness of reposado that manages to maintain the mineral and vegetal integrity of a blanco. Another reason to support the brand: It’s completely women-owned and operated.” —Josh Melgoza, bartender, Voltaire, Kansas City, Mo.
“When it comes to spirits that offer the best bang for your buck, Tequila Ocho Blanco takes the cake. This expression of highlands Blue Weber agave is affordable, ethically made, and is a true representation of what agave should taste like. This tequila takes your palate on a ride, starting fruity with notes of pear and cooked pineapple, moving into a soft earthiness, and finishing with black pepper and roasted agave. Whether enjoyed neat, on a cube, or in a cocktail, this bottle has earned a permanent home in my bars. Buy a bottle or a case — either way, you won’t regret it.” —Delena Humble-Fischer, beverage director/bar manager, First & Last, Phoenix
“Suerte Blanco Tequila is such a massively underrated tequila brand. They roast their agaves in brick ovens, crush them with a tahona, and rest them for two months in stainless-steel tanks to retain as much of that original flavor profile as possible. I am a huge fan of tequilas that don’t smell and taste like every other tequila — as long as it’s not a mistake — and Suerte Blanco is different. It is subtle and intentionally unique, and I appreciate that. At $33, this is a great-quality tequila and additive-free as well. Can be mixed or sipped!” —Ismael Ponce, bar manager, The Up & Up, NYC
“El Tequileño has to be hands down one of my favorite tequilas because it’s all natural, additive-free, tastes amazing, and it has a great price point! This distillery takes its time to focus on the actual juice they are producing rather than focusing that energy on the bottle or label. They follow traditional tequila-making practices, which helps keep its amazing natural agave flavor. The entire line of El Tequileño is excellent, but if I had to choose, it would definitely be the Platinum Blanco just because of that taste of agave. It’s a great sipping tequila and doesn’t get lost in cocktails.” —Marvin Castandea, Bartender, The Royal Hawaiian, Laguna Beach, Calif.
“El Tequileño Platinum Blanco. This additive-free blanco ticks all the boxes when it comes to what a blanco tequila should taste like. With its natural utility as a blanco, it creates the perfect opportunity to be enjoyed neat or in a cocktail, like a refreshing Paloma. At 40 percent ABV, the main palate and aroma is definitely that of cooked agave and black pepper, with hints of citrus like mandarin as a subtle finishing note. Priced at around $25, it is a no-brainer to have in your back bar for any tequila lover.” —Julian Flores Torres, General Manager, Palenque, Costa Mesa, Calif.
“Lalo Tequila Blanco is a truly versatile spirit. It’s smooth enough to sip on the rocks or with a splash of soda, but I often find myself recommending it as the base in citrus-forward cocktails like Margaritas and Siestas. It also happens to pair particularly well with coffee, and it makes a great Espresso Martini. One of my favorite uses of Lalo, and my introduction to it, was a shot that I was offered featuring the tequila combined in equal parts with Mr Black Coffee Liqueur and Cynar. It’s still one of my favorite mixed shots to make and share.” —Carly Lacoste, bartender and shift manager, Bar Marilou, New Orleans
“It is hard to go wrong with any expression from Tequila Ocho, but their Plata is one of the best deals out there at the moment. I love bringing this bottle to dinners as well as sharing with bar guests. Floral and grassy, it has a distinct earthy quality that complements its lighter notes beautifully. Truly a can’t miss.” —Nik Sparks, head bartender and beverage director, The Wooly, NYC
“Hands down, our go to bang-for-your-buck tequila is Goza Blanco. Slightly sweet with a clean finish, it works wonderfully when poured neat, as a Margarita, or in your favorite stirred cocktail. It’s a terrific value, to boot. Their reposado is also a real treat.” —Eric Young, Proprietor, La Principal/Oskar, Evanston, Ill.
“For tequila, as long as its 100 percent Blue Weber agave, you should be OK. However, that 100 percent is sometimes [rounded up] because you can still include sweeteners and coloring additives, so it helps to look for a Blue Weber agave tequila with no additives. This is a great place to bring up Real del Valle Tequila Blanco, a farmer-owned tequila from Mexico’s Guanajuato region. It’s a state other than Jalisco that produces tequila, [but] its name recognition is a bit lower so the price is still good. Pick up some bottles for your Margaritas before they become used in every bar. They retail for around $22, a steal.” —Alex Barbatsis, bar director, The Whistler, Chicago
“Tried and true, Real del Valle tequila comes first to mind when I think of the best spirits for your buck. Given the state of agave right now with its increase in demand and shortage in supply, RDV stands as a tequila that has retained its quality without sacrificing on cost. Made in Guanajuato and free of additives and celebrity branding, this spirit stands up in any cocktail yet goes down smooth if shooting it straight is more your style. At a price point that allows for [a spot] in our speed well at the bar, it’s been a great tequila to have on hand for novice and seasoned drinkers alike.” —Josue “Sway” Gonzalez, bartender, Swan Bar, San Diego
“When looking for value in a spirit, I’m looking for two things: if it’s a good representation of the spirit category, and if it brings enough flavor to the party to make great cocktails. In navigating the increasingly difficult world of agave spirits, it’s hard to know whether the budget-friendly tequila you’re grabbing is a historic tequilero, or a celebrity’s newest vanilla extract-laced business venture. That’s why it’s important to have some go-to picks, and for me, Cimarron Blanco is my favorite bang-for-your-buck blanco tequila. With no additives, it is vegetal and earthy and peppery, and actually tastes like tequila. It may be rougher around the edges than something with a higher price tag, but in a Margarita or other citrus-forward cocktails, sometimes, that’s a plus. Cimarron is not sexy. It’s just tasty.” —Chrisitan Favier, Beverage Director, The Ordinary, Charleston, S.C.
“For me, the best bang-for-your-buck tequila is a no-brainer: Tequila Tapatio 110 Blanco. When selecting a tequila to buy or order at a bar I always start with the most basic and obvious question: Is it made with 100 percent agave? From there, I’ll explore with a few more questions: Is it additive-free? Is it a smaller, artisanal distillery that produces tequila with more traditional methods, or does it come from a large-scale producer? What will I use it for? Does it have multiple applications? This tequila checks all of the boxes and is bottled at the highest ABV allowed in tequila production (55 percent) making it excellent for cocktailing and even sipping, if that’s what you’re into. At typically around $40 a bottle, you can’t go wrong.” —Liz Hitchcock, bartender, Lullaby, NYC
“When it comes to bang for buck, you don’t get much bigger bang than Tapatio 110. Made in the Los Altos region of Jalisco by the Camarenas family at 110 proof, this tequila [is 100 percent agave] and features tons of agave notes and minerality while still maintaining a beautiful balance of herbaceous and sweet citrus notes. It’s equipped to stand up to any cocktail you can think of or as a slow sipper over ice. A little goes a long way!” —Matt Resler, bartender, Bar Goto, Lower East Side, NYC
“There aren’t too many great reposado tequilas that are still affordable and don’t taste like a candy shop. Don Fulano Reposado fits this bill quite nicely as it’s aged in limousin oak, which doesn’t add as much confection as an ex-bourbon barrel can. It doesn’t hurt that the wizards at Tequilena use a very specific proprietary yeast in their fermentation that adds a distinctive spin to all Don Fulano products — in the reposado, it lends almost a note of banana bread.” —Aaron DeFeo, bar director, Little Rituals, Phoenix
“The best-value tequila is El Tesoro Blanco, hands down. While it’s not cheap, it drinks above its $50 price tag. What you get is a beautifully suggestive yet restrained tequila. The flavor of the agave comes through in balanced layers, giving me lovely grassy notes coupled with pepper and pear. Dedication to quality is illustrated in El Tesoro’s traditional techniques of production, from slow cooking the agaves to stone tahona crushing. The end result is one of the more versatile blancos, working well as both a smooth sipper and a vibrant Paloma base.” —Ben Brown, beverage director, Porchlight, NYC
*Image retrieved from KPad via stock.adobe.com
The article We Asked 15 Bartenders: Which Tequila Offers the Best Bang for Your Buck? (2023) appeared first on VinePair.