“Can you recommend a good tequila?” This is a simple question just about anyone who has an interest in agave spirits likely gets asked by friends, colleagues and family members. But when it comes to modern tequila, it demands a leading follow-up question: Good how?
Almost exactly four years ago, in the long, long ago, we compiled a list of blanco tequilas for a blind tasting with some of our favorite tequila drinkers. It was a month after George Clooney’s Casamigos became a unicorn, selling to Diageo for a whopping $1 billion. It seemed like the peak before an inevitable downslope of celebrity-backed tequila. Surely the market could only bear so many; surely this was an aberration. But this year, we gathered again on the heels of the well-publicized, and roundly criticized, release of Kendall Jenner’s 818 Tequila, as well as tequilas from The Rock, Nick Jonas and Elon Musk. Each new high-profile release has made that follow up question—Good how?—more of a mainstream concern than just an industry one. It’s no longer just a question of transparency around who is actually making the spirit, but also How?, and Who actually benefits?
Luckily, in the four years since our last gathering, there are not just more celebrity tequila brands, but a greater selection of tequilas from artisan brands who have made great farming, fair labor practices and the preservation of traditional methods their mission. In a blind tasting of more than 15 expressions from a wide range of producers, we’re happy to report that it’s those brands that win when it comes to flavor profile as well.
Within the category of blanco tequila, just what should that profile be? “It should not taste like vanilla or Crayola crayons,” said Ivy Mix, co-owner of the Brooklyn cocktail bar Leyenda and author of Spirits of Latin America, noting that even tequilas labeled “100 percent agave” can contain additives like oak extract and corn syrup. For her, a great blanco tequila, which should be as at home in a cocktail as it is neat in a glass, “should have good acidity and rich cooked agave flavor backed by robust black pepper that carries through or [a] citrusy and floral [profile].”
Lynnette Marrero, bar director for Llama Inn and Llama San and a co-founder, with Mix, of Speed Rack, insists that it also can’t be a bit player. “It has to have a presence, it has to stand out,” she says, explaining that she tends to seek out blancos that have an “earthy, saline, savory” profile that will pair well with food.
In searching for best-in-class blanco tequilas, we focused on value (all 16 tequilas were under $50, or right at that mark) and bottlings that were singular without breaking from the flavors that have come to define what we love about blanco tequila: saline, mineral, grassy, earthy and, above all, pure. For the tasting, the PUNCH editors were joined by both Mix and Marrero. At best, the field showed the incredible range that Blue Weber agave can express and, at worst, unevenness in terms of quality, most often manifesting in spirits that delivered on the aromatics, but struggled to have the kind of textural complexity and completeness of our top picks. But let’s focus on the positives, shall we?
Without further ado, here are our top five.