It seems that if you were a human being who went to college and consumed alcohol during that time (or hell, if you’ve consumed alcohol more than once), you’ve got a bad tequila story. They all start out with sunshine and daisies and tequila shots then boom, you wake up missing a shoe, your hair crusted in vomit, wondering just how many people you called at 3 a.m. to profess your love. (Answer: four, including your mother, because you’re a good son.)
It’s time to move beyond those memories. It’s time to forge a new path with agave spirits and to know that not all cheap tequila is bad tequila. Depending on the brand, you may have had what is known as a mixto, a tequila that contains at least 51 percent blue agave, but the rest made up of other sugars. The hangover you recall is more likely to be from the sugar than the actual tequila.
All of the tequilas you’ll find on our list of the best tequilas under $20 are are made from 100 percent agave — not a mixto in sight.
You’ll notice, too, that all of the tequilas listed below are blanco tequilas, which, in the simplest sense, means they are unaged. Reposado, añejo, and extra añejo tequilas are all aged for various times and, because of that, tend to be a little more expensive (though in some cases, not much). The good thing about trying multiple blanco tequilas, though, is that you can really taste the difference between the regions (highlands and lowlands) that tequila is made in.
Note: Depending on where you are in the country, the prices may fluctuate slightly.
Sauza Blue Silver – $17
Sauza’s entry level tequila, Blue Silver (a lowland variety), is citrusy, a little bit peppery, and has some nice orange blossom notes to it. The taste of agave is fully present in this tequila, which fades quickly and cleanly after drinking it. It’s a good sipper, but also great in cocktails.
El Jimador Silver – $20
A lowland tequila named after the people who hand-harvest the agave plants used in tequila production, El Jimador is an agave-forward blanco tequila that has notes of fresh citrus to back up the other flavors, making it perfect in any number of cocktails.
Lunazul Blanco – $20
One of our favorites for margaritas, this lowland blanco tequila has a little bit of pepper and some herbal notes to go with the tropical fruit that you’ll get on the nose and palate
Olmeca Altos Tequila Plata – $21
Okay, this one is usually $21, but we need to tell you about it. This highland tequila has a nice grassy quality that is accented by citrusy notes and really shines when drinking it neat or on the rocks. If you’re looking for a cocktail to mix it into, try the Paloma, a classic in Mexico
Article originally published May 5, 2017. Last updated April 24, 2018.