The World's Best Guide to Buying Tequila That Doesn't Suck

Categories: Five Great...

So what should I buy?
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Dave Lieberman

First of all, the only thing worth buying with the name Cuervo on it is Reserva de la Familia, and even then, there are better tequilas out there. Second, the Sauza family doesn't own the Sauza brand anymore; it was sold off two generations ago, and the fifth and sixth generations of the Sauzas now make tequila under the Fortaleza distillery (you may see some old Mexican bottles that say Los Abuelos--it's the same exact tequila).

Second, no matter how desperate you are for a tequila bender, do not ever, ever, ever buy Montezuma Tequila. While expensive tequilas are not necessary good ones, extremely cheap tequilas are nearly always bad ones. You have been warned.

Third, never buy tequila that doesn't come in glass. There are plenty of beehive-shaped five-liter plastic jugs of yellow liquor that is technically tequila, but it is all garbage--don't be tempted.

Now, on to specific recommendations:

If all you can get is nationally distributed brands, because you live far from the border or in one of those ridiculous liquor control states like Oregon and Pennsylvania, drink Corralejo. If you can't get that, stick with Espolón or El Jimador. If you can only get Cuervo and Sauza, Sauza's Tres Generaciones is your best option.

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If you're looking for bargains and you live in Southern California or Texas, try La Puerta Negra reposado; if you're going to Mexico, come back with a bottle of Volcán de Mi Tierra reposado. If you're out and about in the rest of the country, Camarena makes a good margarita or paloma.

Nice mid-range tequilas, meant for sipping rather than shooting, include Real de México, Tapatío, Cazadores, and--even though opening the oddly shaped bottle feels like performing a glass circumcision--Asombroso.

If you've got to impress someone, skip the so-mediocre Patrón and the shockingly overpriced Don Julio; go get a bottle of Arette añejo. You may change people's minds about tequila just with this one bottle, and it's less expensive than Don Julio. Also worth buying are Fortaleza (particularly the blanco, which will blow your mind with its almost grassy agave taste) and Siete Leguas.

Are these all the good ones? Not a chance. If you're ever in Tijuana, you need to stop at Leyva's Liquors on Avenida Revolución between 6th and 7th and put yourself in Gilberto Leyva's capable hands and his 600-brand hoard of tequila.

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Dave Lieberman
Tequila and Viuda de Sánchez sangrita at Tlaquepaque's El Parián, the largest outdoor bar in the world.
Finally, please, enough with this lick-sip-suck business. Lime and salt are there for when you need to cover the noxious aftertaste of poor-quality tequila or you need to counter the shock of taking a whole shot at once. Go for some sangrita instead--usually made with equal parts tomato and orange juice, with lime juice and chile powder or hot sauce to give it a little zing. You can buy sangrita as well, but be aware that the most popular brand both here and in Mexico, Viuda de Sánchez, is not exactly made from whole ingredients. It's worth making your own. Sip your tequila, then sip your sangrita. Alternate until it's time to refill. ¡Salud!

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14 comments
filestock243
filestock243

Men... I work on a tequila tasting in Los Cabos, and you said all the right things. Congratulation. That was awesome :3

clivegains
clivegains

What is like El Gran Jubileo Blanco? I'm thinking getting Ocho Blanco or Aha Toro Blanco.

grvz5247
grvz5247

Camarena is the best Tequila.

dakanaka
dakanaka

Plain bottles don't always make the tequila, any more than pricing does. There's a relatively new tequila (repo only) in the Southern Calif market called Apocalypto, and it comes in a ceramic bottle shaped like a Mayan "half-man/half-jaguar". It beat out about 100 other repos to win BEST IN CLASS at the 2012 SIP competition; and won double-Gold at the 2012 Spirits of Mexico. It's incredibly good, and in the low $40's at Hi Time Wine Cellars. Oh, and it's from NOM 1438 ( I do my homework). Just goes to show...you can't always tell a tequila by it's cover...

Oh, and I agree with you about La Fortaleza....it's exquisite.... 

Kit Hope
Kit Hope

I've always been partial to Herradura.

20ftjesus
20ftjesus topcommenter

Milagro Tequila is another example of a fancy, expensive bottle with just average tequila.  

I nearly died when Carlos lent his name to Casa Noble.  Celebrity endorsements are the kiss of death.

So Dave, tell me...what is the best anejo that has been aged in new, French oak barrels and costs less than, say, $65/bottle?  (Casa Noble is around $75 on sale so I need a cheaper backup brand.)

David Rios
David Rios

Cazadores is crap after Bacardi bought it 10 years ago. The original cazadores is now called Hacienda Vieja good stuff@ only $18 a bottle. Visit High times in Costa Mesa for an aray of good ass tequila. Selection arte 1146 is a great tequila and not to pricey

americanlender12
americanlender12

Well it seems that you are far from being able to tell the difference of good and bad tequilas'. Cazadores is junk, all of it. It was purchased by Bacardi over 10 years ago, and obviously its not the same formula. If you enjoyed the old formula, grab yourself a bottle of Hacienda Vieja; $18 a bottle@ El Toro liquor in Santa Ana, its not bad at all. But if you really a tequila enthusiasts look for the NOM numbers on the bottle, that tells you what tequilery

-paulc-
-paulc-

Corralejo is my favorite over all "big brand."  Their reposado is pretty good if you shake it in ice and pour.  Its a bit harsh straight up.  

extramsg
extramsg

@20ftjesus milagro is relatively cheap at under $30 per bottle.  It's one of the better values out there.

Dave_Lieberman
Dave_Lieberman

@20ftjesus Ocho. Or Arette, though only half the barrels are French.

Dave_Lieberman
Dave_Lieberman

@americanlender12 You obviously live here; we're spoiled for choice here. When your choices are mixtos, overpriced nonsense like Don Julio, and things like Cien Años, Cazadores is a fine choice. Is it Chinaco, Arette, etc.? No. But those brands aren't distributed nationally

You make a good point about the NOM number though. .

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