Tequila’s rise in popularity has been something of an underdog’s tale. Thirty years ago, most drinkers knew the spirit only as an ingredient in a Margarita or a party-starting shot. Even 20 years ago, as the contemporary cocktail revolution was in full tilt, only a few brands of tequila, such as Herradura, El Tesoro and Jose Cuervo, were available to consumers outside of Mexico.
Propelling the spirit to global popularity was no simple feat. It took years of clever marketing campaigns, trade shows and pop cultural cachet—from George Clooney founding Casamigos to Avión acting as an integral part of HBO’s hit series Entourage. As of 2021, according to the International Wine & Spirit Competition, agave spirits were the second fastest-growing spirits category, trailing only premixed cocktails. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, sales of tequila and mezcal climbed 30.1 percent year-over-year to $5.2 billion, with reports indicating that they’re gunning for vodka’s crown as the most-sold spirit in the U.S.
Needless to say, tequila is now firmly entrenched within the mainstream. With new brands—many of them celebrity-owned—launching on a seemingly daily basis, the category is in the midst of an unprecedented boom. To help filter through the noise, we surveyed 10 bartenders from around the world, asking for their go-to tequilas for mixing.
For most mixed drinks, blanco tequila is the standard because it “tends to be agave-forward, with prominent notes of citrus and pepper that bode very well for shaken cocktails,” says Andrea Grujic, bartender at Brooklyn’s Fandi Mata. “I always look for one with the ‘100% de agave’ mark on the bottle, and I always make sure that it’s a tequila that hasn’t been sweetened and doesn’t contain any sort of additives.”
For Liana Oster, bar director at Side Hustle at The NoMad Hotel London, regional differences among specific brands suit certain cocktails better than others. “If I want to play around with a blanco tequila that boasts more floral and delicate notes, I lean towards something from the Highlands,” she says, referring to bottles from Patrón, Cazadores or Tapatio. “If I wanted something a bit more herbaceous, earthy and green, I would favor the Lowlands,” such as versions by Cascahuín or Maestro Dobel.
Tequila Ocho Plata
For enthusiasts who find themselves captivated by terroir-driven spirits, Ocho, an estate-grown tequila that’s known for being the first brand to carry a vintage designation signifying the year, harvest and location of its agave, is the perfect bottling to add to your home bar.
“I’ll always be a massive fan of Ocho blanco in any release they do, even though one vintage can be vastly different from the previous and next one,” says Martin Eisma, beverage director at Salmuera and the newly opened Sins of Sal, both in Amsterdam. “They always make the agave character prominent and clear in flavor.”
Ocho Plata (plata is Spanish for “silver,” another common term for blanco tequila) is bottled at the standard 40 percent ABV, but unlike some other tequilas, its oily mouthfeel and citrusy, subtly earthy flavor profile make it extra versatile for mixing in cocktails. “I find the flavor carries quite far in both stirred down drinks like a Rosita or tequila Old-Fashioned, as well as in shaken drinks like a Tommy’s or classic Margarita, without overpowering other ingredients,” notes Eisma.
Showcasing the unique agaves of the Arandas and Camarena ranchos near the expansive Lerma River, Ocho highlights the characteristics of that climate and soil by embracing the nuances of each batch. The 2021 vintage was described as “super green,” with “an undertone of cactus.”
- Price: $57
- ABV: 40%
Tequila Cascahuín is produced in its namesake distillery in the lowlands of El Arenal in the Mexican state of Jalisco.
“It’s incredibly expressive,” says Gaby Lozada, bar manager at Brujas Bar in Mexico City, of the tequila. “The oils always stand out in a cocktail, making each sip so lush and pleasing texturally.” Cascahuín’s distinct mouthfeel is also noted by Georgina Barbachano, bartender and bar manager at Hanky Panky in Mexico City. The spirit “has a strong presence in a cocktail, making it easy to mix while still getting the personality and character of Cascahuín,” she says.
In Mexico, a bottle of this cult-favorite tequila can be purchased for as low as $13 if you find the right liquor store, but on American soil, that price is at least double, sold at around $40 on average. Given the producer’s long heritage of distilling (dating back to 1904), and its popularity on home soil, Cascahuín is poised for future price hikes, so score some of the lo-fi bottling while you can.
- Price: $40
- ABV: 40%
Referenced in pop culture by rappers and actors alike, Patrón has gone on to become one of the most iconic tequila brands in the world over the past two decades, but it has never rested on its laurels.
The second highest-selling tequila brand still values traditional production practices, such as using a tahona (a large stone wheel) to crush the cooked piñas (agave hearts) to extract the juice before fermentation.
“It’s smooth enough to be sipped, but also mixes beautifully in cocktails,” says Grujic, who uses the bottle as a go-to in Skinny Margaritas. “It has a soft peppery mouthfeel, with a subtle lingering sweetness on the back of the palate, which … make it an ideal match for any drink.”
As a premium tequila, Patrón boasts a $50 price tag, admittedly on the more expensive end for blanco tequilas, but it’s well worth the investment.
- Price: $50
- ABV: 40%
Olmeca Altos Plata
“Tequila [Olmeca] Altos blanco is a very versatile tequila with great aroma and flavor at a cocktail-friendly price point,” says Joshua Monaghan, director of mixology at Zapote Bar at Rosewood Mayakoba in Mexico. Monaghan’s sentiment is one shared by many bartenders surveyed, as Olmeca maintains its status as a workhorse in the category; it is also the house pour at many cocktail bars.
Crafted from blue weber agave grown at a high elevation in the Los Altos region of Jalisco, the tequila is classic in style with notes of citrus, honey and brine. With its steady price despite its growing popularity, it remains one of the best value tequilas.
- Price: $35
- From: 40%
Another blanco tequila with great value is a Highlands bottling, Tapatio blanco. Similar to Patrón, Tapatio stays true to traditional production methods, manually crushing the piñas by tahona to release the juices and sugars for fermentation, before double-distilling the liquid in copper pots. At its affordable price point, ranging between $25 and $35, it’s become a favorite among bartenders and home enthusiasts alike.
“Tapatio Blanco is so versatile,” says Oster, who stocks the tequila at Side Hustle. “I love using it in brighter cocktails, like citrus-forward Margaritas and Palomas.” Christine Wiseman, beverage director for Bar Lab, agrees, praising the tequila’s high minerality and black pepper character. For those who are new to tequila, Tapatio embodies everything that a blanco should be stylistically—a quintessential expression of a pure agave spirit.
- Price: $35
- ABV: 40%
Cazadores is one of the category’s OGs, as it was first distributed in the U.S. in 1982, making it one of the first 100 percent blue weber agave tequilas on the market.
The brand makes no attempt to hide that it’s very much a tequila for the masses, and it fits the bill as an affordable option for mixing in drinks. At $25, this bottling isn’t really your sipping tequila, but it gets the bartender seal of approval in cocktails: “Tequila Cazadores Blanco’s bright, citrus and herbaceous notes make it perfect for a Margarita,” Wiseman says.
- Price: $25
- ABV: 50%
Tequila Tromba Blanco
The distiller-owned Tequila Tromba gets its name from the severe rainstorms of the Jalisco highlands, where its famed agave plants are cultivated. (Tromba translates to “whirlwind.”) The unaged blanco is distilled from 7- to 12-year-old blue weber agave, and immediately bottled after its second distillation at 40 percent ABV. Because of Tromba’s place as one of the most popular independent tequila brands in Canada, the brand has made some waves in the U.S. market. Today, it’s a staple at American tequila bars as a slightly more premium bottling than your standard house tequila.
“The texture is velvety, with hints of pineapple and caramel that play well in a variety of cocktails,” says Lozada. The distillery’s slow fermentation process yields robust, caramelized flavors in the tequila, featuring notes of lemon pith, white pepper and subtle vanilla, and it’s the perfect tequila for the home bartender who is looking to create a refined Margarita.
- Price: $40
- ABV: 40%