Arguably tequila’s prevailing image since the latter half of the 20th century has been that of a good-time, slam-it-and-grimace spirit. This perception couldn’t be further from the truth, however, with many top producers taking great pride in the premium añejo, reposado and blanco tequilas running off their stills.
True: there is still a lot of tequila in the market that’s made by industrialised production processes, resulting in cheap, often unpalatable products, that are best slammed. But there is a whole raft of brands out there making nuanced, artisanal spirits that deserve our time and attention.
From carefully infused spirits to liquids made by families that have passed production techniques down the generations, there is plenty to tantalise the palate of any tequila connoisseur. So try one of these well-priced bottles below…
How to taste tequila
by Julie Sheppard
Regular readers of Decanter will be familiar with tasting techniques for appreciating wines, but there are some key differences when it comes to spirits.
Sample your tequila at room temperature, as chilling dulls the aromas. Choose a stemmed ISO or tulip glass for tasting, rather than a spirits tumbler or shot glass.
Smell the tequila, but avoid inhaling deeply – the higher alcohol content will burn your nostrils. Instead hold the glass slightly away from your nose and inhale gently.
Sip only a small amount at first, then spit, to prep your palate. Take a bigger second sip and swirl it round your mouth. You can even add a few drops of water (especially to high strength tequilas) to open up more flavours and aromas.
Best tequila under £50 / $50
The Arette distillery is based in the heart of Tequila town in the valley of Jaslisco, a region that is believed to produce more earthy spirits. Arette’s portfolio of tequilas certainly fits this preconception, however the wood influence on its añejo ensures it walks an elegant line between sweet and savoury. Toffee, cinnamon, date sponge and ginger mingle with cracked black pepper, bouquet garni, tobacco tin and dried chilli flakes. Alc 40%
A collaboration between three families, Curado takes a blanco tequila and infuses it with cooked agave to amp up the flavours of the plant. There are three products in the range, and this one uses Cupreata agave from Michoacan. It’s a dichotomy of dry saltiness and residual sweetness, boasting notes of Naval oranges, agave syrup, vanilla, cocoa and macadamia nuts. Alc 40%
Don Fulano Blanco 100 Proof
Served in a tall bottle with a heavy glass stopper, Don Fulano’s distinctive product design hints at the quality of the liquid that lies within. The light, grassy nose is reminiscent of walking through sand dunes clutching a 99 ice cream, while the palate is one of a lean, green oily machine, a peppery agave monster that packs a punch before giving way to a beguiling florality. Alc 50%
Don Julio Reposado
Already the main breadwinner for the family after losing his father two years previously, Don Julio González founded his eponymous distillery at the tender age of 17. The brand’s reposado is aged for eight months in American white oak barrels, creating a creamy tequila boasting flavours of vanilla, toffee, coconut, lemon and apple with a dusting of cocoa. Alc 40%
El Tequileño Añejo
Brand founder Don Jorge Salles Cuervo (surname sound familiar?) named his company in honour of the residents of Tequila. A juicy, beguiling nose of cassis, toffee, chopped hazelnuts and orange leads onto a palate of butterscotch spicy white pepper, freshly mown grass, blackcurrants and sticky toffee pudding. Given that it’s an añejo, this tequila wears its wood influence lightly. Alc 40%
Olmeca Altos Añejo
Amazing value for money, this is a dark dessert of an añejo from Olmeca’s Master Distiller Jesús Hernández. Aged for 18 months in ex-bourbon barrels, it boasts bags of cocoa powder and cocoa nibs, chocolate mousse, canelés, vanilla cheesecake, candied orange and menthol, with a touch of Brazil nut bitterness. Alc 40%
If Olmeca Altos (above) is the dark side of añejo tequila, Patrón is the light side. Bright sweetness with a distinct level of acidity, a nose of fresh banana, cashew nuts, white chocolate and tonka bean gives way to a palate of butterscotch, dates, orange oils, honeydew melon and a smattering of white pepper. Alc 40%
A new British-owned tequila brand, Vivir’s founders work with the Casa Maestri distillery in Jalisco. The owners of the distillery are involved in conservation efforts of local insect and bat populations through the management of their agave crops. A silky-smooth tequila, the agave flavour sneaks up then hits like an iron fist in a velvet glove, accompanied with notes of mint, angel cake, liquorice and shiso leaves. Alc 40%