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

Categories: Five Great...

So what should I buy?
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.

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.

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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