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I’m a tequila expert — here are my favorite tequilas for sipping

Tequilas
Francisco Galarza / Unsplash

If you haven’t drunk tequila since your college days of slammers at the bar, or if you’ve only ever tried it in cocktails like margaritas, then you’re missing out. In the past decade there’s been a boom in tequila production, and it’s no longer something for cheap shots or just for mixing in sweet cocktails. There’s a huge range of higher end tequilas available now and the last thing you should be doing is throwing them back — think of them more like a good whiskey, meant for sipping and savoring.

With so many hundreds of brands available though, it can be confusing to know where to start with sipping tequilas. You’ll find everything from huge juggernaut brands like Patrón, seen in every trendy club, to small batch family-owned brands which release only limited quantities of spirit each year. And there’s also a range of styles of tequila that you can try as well.

The primary types of tequila you’ll find are divided based on how long they are aged for. You’ll see blanco (also called silver or white, for its clear appearance, unaged), joven (or young tequila, sometimes called gold), reposado (aged), añejo (extra aged), and extra añejo (aged for even longer). Like whiskey, tequila which has been aged for longer tends to be darker in color, showing different flavor notes, and to be more expensive. But you’ll find quality tequilas of all different styles, and at many different price points.

Many people come to tequila via whiskey, as the aging process brings out some similarities between the two spirits. But if you’re interested in tequila then you might also want to venture into the world of mezcal, which is tequila’s spicier cousin. Both types of spirit are made from the agave plant, but tequila is made from just one type of agave — the blue Weber agave — while mezcal can be made from a wide range of different agave plants. So technically, tequila is a type of mezcal, but not all mezcals are tequilas.

If all of this sounds a bit too detailed, then the best way to start learning about tequila is to start drinking it. But as with many spirits, the selection you’ll find at the grocery store or even in the liquor store will be very limited. There are so many tequila brands to try that it’s worth doing some research before grabbing a random bottle, to know what you’re getting and to help guide you to choose something you’ll really enjoy.

To help with this, we’ve rounded up some of the best tequilas for sipping, whether you’re new to the spirit or you’re already an enthusiast. We’d recommend sipping these neat, or over ice if you prefer, but they’re all good enough to enjoy just as they are, no slammers involved.

The Best Tequilas for Sipping in 2024

  1. Buy the Mijenta Añejo if you want an añejo sipping tequila.
  2. Buy the El Tesoro Single Barrel Añejo if you want a smoky specialty.
  3. Buy the Aldez Organic Tequila Blanco if you want an affordable organic option.
  4. Buy the Cierto Private Collection Extra Anejo Tequila if you want a high-end luxury.
  5. Buy Patrón Extra Añejo if you want something that’s widely available.

Mijenta Añejo

Best añejo sipping tequila

Mijenta Tequila Añejo
Image used with permission by copyright holder
Pros Cons
Complex woody flavor Expensive
Aged in different casks
Great for whiskey drinkers

This small-batch tequila is a great example of a 100% agave añejo sipping spirit. It is aged for at least 18 months in four different types of cask, including American white oak, French oak, acacia, and cherry, to give a complex, woody flavor with notes of caramel and vanilla. If you’re looking for an example of a modern, high-end tequila from an award winning small producer, then this is a great place to start.

You’ll get scents of chocolate and butterscotch, with flavors leaning toward the fruity and spicy, all over a solid backbone of agave. That makes this a great sipping tequila for someone who likes their whiskeys, as you’ll get the familiar flavors of barrel aging but with the differences of the agave spirit to highlight the new experience.

This is undeniably a pricey bottle, but if you’re interested in small-batch spirits then this is a great brand to check out.

El Tesoro Single Barrel Añejo

Best smoky specialty

Image used with permission by copyright holder
Pros Cons
Unique experience Limited availability
Interesting series
Approachable sipper

Tequilas, like fine wines, can be all about the terrior. The ground where the agave plants are grown gives each batch its own distinct flavor, affected by everything from the composition of the soil to the weather. Other factors have a big influence on the taste as well, like the barrels used for aging. The Mijenta recommended above uses a combination of four different wood types for its flavor, but this offering from El Tesoro does just the opposite — option from a single barrel aging to allow a very distinct flavor to come through.

For its single barrel series, El Tesoro has worked with famous names in other spirits like Gordon’s and Laphroaig to age tequilas in specially selected casks. This particular version is finished in Laphroaig Scotch barrels, giving a subtle hint of peaty smoke to the spirit. But don’t expect this to be just a whiskey knock-off — it still has a heavy base of agave that makes it more like a twist on a classic añejo than a strange kind of whiskey.

This whole single barrel series is worth checking out, and tasting across the range will give you an insight into how the aging process changes the tequila based on the flavors it picks up from its casks. But we chose this version as a peppery, oaky, smoky crowd pleaser that’ll give you a new view on what tequila can be.

Aldez Organic Tequila Blanco

Best affordable organic option

Image used with permission by copyright holder
Pros Cons
Organic Lacks the complexity of aged tequilas
Accessible
Natural flavor profile

Getting into sipping tequila can be a pricey endeavor, but you don’t have to shell out huge sums to try a good quality spirit. In the sub $100 range you can find interesting, unique, quality sipping tequilas too, like this offering from Aldez. It’s organic and additive-free, if that’s important to you, and it also a great example of a classic blanco for sipping.

Without the aging process you’ll find fewer notes of wood here, and more of the vegetal and citrus. There’s still the agave and pepper you’d expect, with a hint of caramel sweetness, making this an easy sipper and a great introduction for those just getting started in tequila. It’s soft and easy to drink, nice and smooth in a way that might surprise those who haven’t keep up with the recent changes in the tequila world, and it’s made using traditional and natural methods without pesticides, helping protect the environment as well as produce a quality spirit.

Cierto Private Collection Extra Anejo Tequila

Best high-end luxury

Image used with permission by copyright holder
Pros Cons
Award winning Expensive
Deep, complex flavor
Extra aged

If you’re after a real taste of luxury, then the Cierto Private Collection Extra Anejo Tequila is a high-end delight. Aged for 48 months in French oak casks, this tequila has had the time to develop deep, rich flavors that are heavy and complex. You’ll taste oak and vanilla, plus tobacco and cherry, with a strong agave core and lingering notes of honey.

This tequila has won a slew of awards and has earned consistently top ratings, so it’s a truly luxurious example of the kinds of complexity and depth that you can find in modern tequilas. At this price, you’ll want to sip the spirit slowly to enjoy it, but it’s the kind of rare treat that’s perfect for toasting a special occasion or sharing with a fellow enthusiast.

It’s smooth, it’s additive free, it’s made from agave harvested by experienced agaveros and is distilled by experts. It’s also beautifully packaged, and if you like to show off your collection then this bottle would look gorgeous as the centerpiece of a home bar cart. For a celebration or as a jewel in an enthusiast’s collection, this luxury choice is one to put on the bucket list of serious tequilas to try.

Patrón Extra Añejo

Best widely available

Image used with permission by copyright holder
Pros Cons
Easy to get hold of Too oak-heavy for some
Accessible extra añejo
Great aroma

Patrón might have a reputation as a club brand, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good tequilas to try in its lineup. You’re most likely to see bottles of Patrón being poured into shots, sure, but there are options like this extra añejo which can make for great sippers too. Aged in oak barrels for three years, this 100% agave spirit is made in small batches and is smooth and fruity.

The aroma of this really shines, with notes of fruit and vanilla, while the taste leans heavy on the oak overlaid over honey and agave. The oak leaning may be too much for some tastes, but if you’re a bourbon or whiskey drinker then you may feel right at home here with this choice. Tequila purists might not care for something so whiskey-like, but if you’re looking for something to expand your tequila palate then Patrón has the advantage of being readily available in restaurants, bars, and shops, and you can try out some higher-end options from this brand to experience more of the variety that can be found in tequila today.

And while we’re designating this as a sipper tequila, it can also be a fun one to try mixing into cocktails. The oaky notes make it a fun variant to try in place of bourbon for classic drinks like an old fashioned or a manhattan, and it also goes surprisingly well with coffee flavors too. An Irish coffee variant with this tequila instead of the whiskey would be a delightful fun experience, or if you’re looking to up your margarita from the usual citrus-forward to something with more heft, then this could be a solid option for mixing there too.

How We Chose These Tequilas for Sipping

All tequila is made from one essential ingredient: the blue agave plant. This plant, grown in Mexico, takes years to mature and can only be harvested once it’s ready, at which point its spiky leaves are cut away to leave the heart, or piña. This is then cooked in an oven, the crushed to extract the juices, which are then left to ferment. Once fermented, the liquid is distilled two or more times to become tequila.

The tequila can then be drunk as is, as a blanco, or it can be aged in a barrel for a certain number of years to bring out different qualities. Reposado tequila is aged for around a year, with añejo aged for one to three years, and extra añejo aged even longer.

Despite that relatively simple sounding description, the variety available in tequilas is huge. Everything from the ground in which the agave is grown to the type of oven used to roast the piña to the type of barrel used for aging can affect the final taste experience of the drink. Not to mention, that the rules around tequila dictate that 51% of the spirit must be made from blue agave, but the remainder in “mixto” tequilas can be made up of other ingredients and can include artificial sweeteners and flavors like corn syrup.

The dubious quality of many of these cheap mixtos is what has given tequila its unsavory reputation for decades, as the taste often has to be covered up with copious quantities of salt and citrus — and even then, it will still make many of us wince to remember. But while the typical tequila that was available in the U.S. for a long time was these mixtos, in the last ten to fifteen years there’s been a surge of interest in more artisanal, higher end tequilas which are made with quality ingredients using the traditional methods. These are now widely available and so for the best experience, you should always look for tequilas made from 100% blue agave.

And while you might assume that tequila which has been aged for longer is automatically better, that isn’t necessarily the case. The aging process brings out notes like caramel and oak, which you might enjoy if you’re a big whiskey fan, or it can adds notes of smoke, which will appeal to those who enjoy mezcal. But if you’re more used to gin or vodka then you might prefer the balanced flavors of a lightly aged tequila, or the floral and grassy flavors of blanco tequila which can be lost in the aging process. It’s worth trying high quality examples of all the different types of tequila to find your favorite, so don’t assume that the color of the liquid is a certain indicator of its quality or how much you’ll enjoy it.

Also, while these tequilas we’ve chosen here are great for sipping, you might want to try mixing some into quality cocktails too. There are many classic tequila cocktails for you to try, but we’d recommend that you stick with using a blanco or añejo for mixing as most cocktails aren’t intended to balance the big flavors of the more aged versions. Alternatively, if you want to be brave and try mixing your aged tequilas in a cocktail, try subbing them in for whiskey or bourbon as their smokey, heavy character often works well as a whiskey alternative.

It’s worth discussing the world of celebrity endorsements too, as that it a huge factor in the world of tequila marketing. Brands endorsed by celebrities can truly run the gamut from high quality to terrible, so there’s no point putting much stock in an endorsement. Having a celebrity spokesperson doesn’t mean a brand is automatically bad, but it’s not a marker of quality either.

If you’re really interested in quality, then look at factors like whether a tequila is 100% blue agave, how long it is aged for, whether it’s prepared using traditional methods, and whether a tequila brings something unique from its native environment for your enjoyment.

Georgina Torbet

Georgina Torbet is a cocktail enthusiast based in Berlin, with an ever-growing gin collection and a love for trying out new recipes. When she's not in her other life writing about science she's sampling local craft beers, hunting down interesting Italian amaros, or making strange and experimental cocktails for anyone who stops by her compact but much loved home bar.

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