If your experience with tequila so far has been with a wedge of lime and a lick of salt – stop what you’re doing and think again.
Tequila may feel like a pretty stiff drink to serve neat, however, with an average 40% ABV, it’s no stronger than other sipping spirits, like, whisky.
If that’s a step too far for now, try it in a cocktail – you can’t go wrong with a refreshing margarita.
Made from the juice of the blue agave plant which takes at least seven years to reach maturity, it must be produced in one of five designated regions in Mexico (with Jalisco probably the most well-known) in order for it to officially bear the tequila label.
It’s then fermented with yeast and generally distilled twice in a copper pot. Now you know how much work goes into each sip, you might be less willing to down it in one shot next time.
We tested our tequila samples in multiple ways. First up, we sipped these neat to allow the more nuanced flavours to shine through.
After that we tried it using the brand’s signature serve – sometimes that was simply with tonic, others in a straight up margarita. Regardless of the aging each spirit had undertaken, we were looking for a complex flavour profile and a long smooth finish for it to warrant its place on this list.
When selecting your tequila there are four main types you should be aware of:
Blanco – this is unaged and usually bottled shortly after distillation.
Reposado – this will be aged for up to a year.
Anejo – aged for anywhere between 1-3 years.
Extra Anejo – as the name suggests, this is aged for 3 years +
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Casamigos reposado tequila, 70cl, 40%: £59.25, The Whisky Exchange
Silky smooth with notes of caramel, vanilla and smoke, but then what else would you expect from the suave movie star, George Clooney. Yes, the actor has created this spirit with American businessmen Rande Gerber under the name Casamigos which roughly translates as “house of friends”. Best sipped neat to really appreciate the nuanced flavours imparted from the seven months of ageing in American oak, the agave is fermented for twice as long as normal and roasted for 10 times longer. In this case, slow and steady wins the race.
El Rayo reposado, 70cl, 40%: £36.83, Master of Malt
Try switching the G for T and teaming this tequila with your favourite tonic (this one from Sekforde is specially created for tequila). An easy, refreshing serve, the Reposado from Tequila El Rayo has benefited from seven months in whisky barrels before bottling. The beautiful label depicts the folkloric tale El Rayo takes its name from. The story goes that a lightning bolt struck the blue agave plant which was then seen glowing by a local farmer who followed it and discovered the cooked agave and hence, tequila was born. We’re grateful he did otherwise we may never have discovered the smooth caramel, nuts and earthy notes in this tequila.
Fortaleza blanco tequila, 70cl, 40%: £56.75, The Whisky Exchange
Don’t be fooled into thinking an unaged tequila will lack complexity. This is a fabulous example of a blanco with notes of lime, vanilla, herbaceous basil, earthy olive and a crack of black pepper. Small batches are made using the traditional method, with a fifth generation family member overseeing production. From slow-cooking the agave in their old stone oven right through to decanting into hand-blown bottles, there’s nothing about this process that is rushed.
Tapatio anejo tequila, 50cl, 38%: £33.75, The Whisky Exchange
This sipping tequila is aged for around 18 months in old bourbon barrels, which have imparted their lovely rich spicy flavours into the spirit. This extended time in the cask really smooths everything over, bringing out the sweet vanilla notes and long chocolate-flecked finish. The perfect nightcap, simply team with a square of Mexican dark chocolate.
Código 1530 rosa tequila, 70cl, 40%: £53.49, Drink Supermarket
You can always rely on Harvey Nichols for something a little special, and this pale pink number is definitely that. The spirit gets its rosy hue from its time in ultra-premium uncharred cabernet French white oak barrels from a top-secret wine producer in California’s Napa Valley. As such you can expect a delightfully delicate floral finish. Completely unique, and one that must be tried, it’s particularly good over ice with nothing more than a wedge of orange or pink grapefruit to garnish.
Patron silver tequila, 35cl, 40%: £20, Asda
Crisp, fresh and crystal clear, this straight forward tequila is all about the zesty citrus notes which make it the perfect partner for a margarita. There’s a smooth, sweet undertone on the palate, with white pepper on the finish and overall a bright purity. We love that each bottle is signed, numbered and bottled by hand, despite coming from one of the most famous tequila houses in Mexico.
Tequila Clase Azul plata reposado tequila, 70cl, 40%: £160, Selfridges
This blow-the-budget tequila will surely take pride of place on your bar cart, presented in a stunning, hand-painted ceramic vessel, decorated by local Mexican artists. Although, rest assured this is so much more than just a pretty bottle. The award-winning tequila is aged for a minimum of eight months, before bottling, imparting silky smooth notes of creamy toffee, vanilla and honeyed tropical fruit. A very special gift for the true tequila aficionado, we’d recommend sipping this like you would a single malt whisky.
Herradura reposado, 70cl, 40%: £43.63, Master of Malt
This moreish tipple has a complex palate with sweet toffee and gingerbread reflected in the deep copper hued spirit. It’s rather strangely aged for 11 months (one more and it could have been a classed as an Anejo!) but the flavours are very well integrated with a long memorable spicy finish. Perhaps this explains why the Herradura brand is the most gold-awarded tequila in the world.
Ocho 8 tequila, 50cl, 40%: £22, Waitrose
A great value spirit to kick start your agave obsession. We’ll be rustling up cocktails a plenty with this bright 100 per cent agave silver tequila boasting mint and pine on the nose and candied orange and white pepper on the finish. It’s a single estate, meaning the agave all comes from one specific field and that allows each locations distinctive characteristics to be appreciated. Ocho allow the agave to grow for eight years before cutting, and as such, batches are small and made slowly in the traditional way.
The verdict: Tequilas
It’s not the cheapest bottle out there, but we’re big fans of the versatility of Casamigos reposado tequila which we found delicious drunk neat and in cocktails. If you’re looking for an unaged version, we’d recommend the Fortaleza blanco tequila which provides a lot of bang for your buck.