Tequila Ratings: The Best Tequilas for Shots, Sips, and Savoring
Perhaps you’ve just completed a long and trying day of work and want to sip on a relaxing glass of tequila or perhaps you’re on vacation in Cozumel and don’t know which tequila to choose from or maybe you’re going to a party and want to know which tequila to bring. Whatever you’re doing, we have you covered with our tequila ratings list: the best tequilas for shots, sips, and savoring.
What makes a top-rated tequila?
Tequila ratings are based on the following:
There are two characteristics of tequila. They’re either puro or pure or they’re mixto or mixed.
Puro tequilas contain 100% agave azul (blue agave). These tequilas are more expensive than their mixto counterparts and considered superior to mixtos in quality and flavor.
Mixto tequilas aren’t clearly labeled on bottles. You’ll see bottles labeled “100% de Agave” but you won’t see a “Mixto” on the label for mixed tequilas. These tequilas are distilled from a mix of at least 51% blue agave with the other 49% derived from cane sugar. Mixto tequilas are inexpensive and are popular choices for cocktails.
Tequila is a coat with many colors ranging from clear to dark amber. The color of tequilas vary greatly depending on aging and the type of wood used in the aging process.
Blancos are clear or white tequilas, not aging for longer than two months. Because of its lack of aging, it’s the purest form of tequila. Joven (gold or oro) tequilas are typically blanco tequilas with the addition of grain alcohols and caramel coloring.
Reposados (rested) or añejos are aged in wooden containers for as long as three years. As the tequilas age, they develop a golden coloring.
But beware! Golden amber tequilas aren’t always correlated with quality. Sometimes golden tequilas are golden because of additives, making low-quality tequilas look aged. Don’t judge a tequila by its color.
Aging impacts tequila quality. Both mixto and puro tequilas fall into one of the five types (all based on aging):
Blanco: Also known as white, plata, platinum, or silver. Usually they’re unaged, but can age for less than two months in oak barrels. They’re clear-colored.
Joven: Also known as oro or gold. Most gold tequilas are mixtos (Cuervo Gold, as an example), bolstered with additives like flavoring and colorants. However, there are puro joven tequilas like Casa Dragones where a blanco tequila is mixed with an older puro tequila to add depth in color and/or flavor.
Reposado: (rested) Aged from between two months to 364 days in either large vats or small oak barrels.
Añejo: Aged for a minimum of one year in oak barrels not larger than 600 liters.
Extra Añejo: Aged for a minimum of three years in oak barrels not larger than 600 liters.
Generally, blanco tequilas are best for mixing and reposado, añejo, and extra-añejos are best for sipping, but this isn’t a valid rule. Blanco tequilas are best in margaritas and fruit-forward cocktails. But aged tequilas can also work in cocktails because they add caramel and woody depth to drinks and can be substituted for other spirits like bourbon. Many puro tequilas are great for sipping at any age.
Tequila Ratings for Shots, Sips, and Savoring
Here are the tequilas we chose:
- Tezcazul Extra Añejo
- Insolente Cristalino Extra Anejo Black
- Vuelo Del Aviador Gran Reserva Plata
- El Afan Extra Añejo
- Gran Dovejo Reposado
TEQUILA RATINGS – TEZCAZUL EXTRA AÑEJO
Tezcazul Extra Añejo Tequila is sourced from the small pueblo of Amatitan Jalisco, Mexico. It’s aged for 60 months in American oak bourbon barrels and bottled at 40% ABV. This extra añejo offers sophisticated flavors of vanilla, caramel, cinnamon and butterscotch. The aging process imparts a bourbon-forward and agave flavors with spice.
About the distillery: Tequila Las Americas is a small, family-owned and operated distillery with its own estate-grown agave plants. Mike Rowe, the C.E.O. of Tezcazul Tequila, grew up in Baja, California later falling in love with Mexican culture. So much so that he wanted to create a distillery of his own. He yearned to distill a tequila embodying the spirit of the Mexican people. He took a trip to Jalisco where he met Master Distillers Eladio and Alvaro Montes. All three shared a passion for estate-grown agave, organic and cooked in brick ovens with no additives, colors, or sugars. Eventually, this dream was realized and the tequila became something they’re proud to drink and share with the world.
TEQUILA RATINGS – INSOLENTE TEQUILA EXTRA AÑEJO CRISTALINO
The Extra Añejo Cristalino is a puro tequila made from 100% pure blue agave. It’s cooked on stone ovens, extracted by a roller mill, and twice-distilled (like all tequilas) in stainless steel stills for quality. The Cristalino is filtered with activated charcoal to remove its color and enhance the fruity and floral notes. This results in a clear tequila, similar to a Blanco while retaining the taste and aroma profile of a high-quality tequila. By filtering the color only, the tequila flavors are enhanced. On the nose it smells of vanilla, caramel, maple, and toasted oak. The taste is a sweetened caramel and toasted agave with a smooth finish.
About the distillery: Tequila Insolente has been around for over 80 years. It is a Jalisco cornerstone, rooted in tradition and heritage. Tequila Insolente embodies the character of the land of Amatitán, nestled in the heart of Jalisco’s Valles region.
TEQUILA RATINGS – VUELO DEL AVIADOR RESERVA PLATA
Due to its complex flavor and smooth finish, the Vuelo del Aviador Plata Tequila was a Double Gold Medal winner at the 2020 San Francisco Spirits Competition. At Vuelo de Aviador, the tequila-making process is all done by hand. The blue agave is hand-harvested after maturing for 7 to 9 years. The pulp is extracted from the fiber in large stone bowls after being ground down. The agave is slow cooked for 72 hours in natural clay ovens. During this time, the low temperatures caramelize the agave. Then, the agave is fermented and pot-distilled. This plata tequila is aged and bottled within two months of distillation.
About the distillery: Vuelo de Aviador crafts artisanal tequila maintaining the highest of quality in the lowlands of Jalisco, Mexico. Their lineup of tequilas consists of the Plata, Reposado, Añejo, and Extra Añejo. The finest blue agave used is always fully-matured (they’ve grown on the estate for 7 to 9 years).
TEQUILA RATINGS – EL AFAN EXTRA ANEJO
The El Afan Extra Añejo tequila is one to be excited about. Its dark, rich mahogany color perfectly represents the depth of flavor. It tastes of roasted agave mixed with dark berries and smokey oak overtones. Sure, you can mix it into a cocktail but why would you mask the flavor of this sipping tequila? You’ll detect notes of tobacco, caramel, and cinnamon on the palate making it the perfect complement to chocolate desserts and coffee.
About the distillery: It began with the dream of two tequila lovers, co-founders Chris Anderson and Onie Castaneda. Established and headquartered in El Paso, Texas, El Afan means “desire” and is foundational to the El Paso restaurant scene. El Afan Tequila is crafted by the book–in the heart of El Salto, Jalisco, Mexico. El Afan Tequila offers a lineup of four high-end tequilas including a blanco (distilled only), reposado (aged 6-9 months), añejo (aged 12-18 months) and their extra añejo (aged 3-4 years). Their smooth and complex tequilas are consistent gold medalists. Drink them on the rocks, in a cocktail, or neat!
TEQUILA RATINGS – GRAN DOVEJO REPOSADO
The Gran Dovejo Reposado is a bright, golden straw-colored reposado, aged an average of 9 months in previously used bourbon barrels and bottled at 80 proof. Tequila Gran Dovejo uses the Mozart Method to age their tequilas. This means that they play classical music during the fermentation process to optimize sugar conversion and deepen the flavor. On the nose you’ll smell cooked agave, vanilla, orange, and spice. You’ll taste vanilla, wood, dried fruit, and cinnamon on the palate, followed by a long, warm finish of fall spices. It’s the perfect sipping tequila for a crisp, fall day.
About the distillery: Tequila Gran Dovejo was founded in 2009 as the dream project for two cousins with one goal in mind: to produce the finest and highest quality tequilas. Lifetime tequila aficionados, they wanted to create a tequila that stood out from the rest. They were disappointed in tequila distilleries that lacked passion and vision. They felt as though they were drinking the same tequila but in different bottles, labeled by different brands. They developed a partnership with the Feliciano Vivanco distillery located in the highlands of Jalisco in the town of Arandas. The Vivanco family has grown agave in the region for over five generations. Recently, they began producing smaller-batch tequilas. The soil is acidic and iron-rich, grown in a region known as the golden triangle of the highlands ideal for growing large agaves with high sugar content.
Bonus Taster’s Club Recipe!
Break out one of the añejo tequilas, this is a twist on the classic whiskey old fashioned.
AÑEJO OLD FASHIONED
- 1/4 ounce agave syrup
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- Orange zest
- 2 ounces añejo tequila
- Garnish: orange peel and maraschino cherry
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
HOW IS TEQUILA MADE?
Tequila is a distilled alcoholic spirit made from the blue Weber agave plant. It’s a type of mezcal. All tequilas are mezcals but not all mezcals are tequila.
The blue agave thrives in Mexico and takes seven to nine years to fully mature. Once mature, agave farmers (jimadors) harvest the succulent by removing the leaves and exposing the hearts (piñas) during harvest. The hearts are sent off to a distillery.
Mexican law dictates that tequila is only allowed to be produced in Mexico, and only in designated regions including Jalisco, Nayarit, Guanajuato, Michoacán, and Tamaulipas.
What are the five types of tequila?
WHAT ARE THE FIVE TYPES OF TEQUILA?
The different classifications of tequila are:
- Joven (Gold)
- Extra añejo
IS TEQUILA A WHISKEY?
No, tequila is not a whiskey. Both are distilled alcoholic spirits, but comprise different ingredients. Whiskeys are made from grains like corn, barley, rye, oat, and wheat whereas tequilas are only made from the Weber blue agave (agave tequilana).
IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HIGHLAND VERSUS LOWLAND TEQUILA?
In regions where tequila is produced (Jalisco, Nayarit, Guanajuato, Michoacán, and Tamaulipas), the terroir of each area produces different flavors. Much like how Islay Scotch is peaty due to the soil, agave from the highlands of Jalisco is grown in richer soil that creates sweet notes of fruit, floral, and mineral. The lowlands have moisture-laden soil giving it a darker, earthier, and spicer taste to its agave. Highland tequilas are best for cocktails because they add sweet fruit, but lowlands are best for sipping or for earthy cocktails.
HOW MUCH AGAVE NEEDS TO BE IN TEQUILA?
Tequila is distilled either:
- with 100% agave, called “puro” tequila
- or with at least 51% agave, and no more than 49% sugar, called “mixto” tequila
It’s bottled at 35% to 55% ABV (alcohol by volume) but in the United States it must be sold with at least 40% ABV.
This concludes our list of tequila ratings! Hopefully you’re inspired to try a new tequila or perhaps bake a tequila into a cake. Whatever the occasion, these tequilas are sure to satisfy.