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Tequila is a category that's gotten a lot of attention in recent years, and the most exclusive bottlings are commanding increasingly elevated prices—but in all the excitement about the latest extra añejo or celebrity vanity project, it's easy to forget about the quality budget tequilas that continue to represent incredible values. Some of these are made with very traditional ingredients and methods (e.g. 100 percent blue Weber agave, oven cooking, stone crushing, etc.), while others employ modern technologies like autoclaves and diffusers, but all of them represent good bang for the buck in a category that's becoming pricier by the day.
Whether you're blending your tequila into a Margarita, serving it on the rocks, or simply sipping it neat, there's a budget bottle out there with your name on it. We spoke with some expert bartenders and beverage consultants from the United States Bartenders’ Guild to find out what some of their favorite cheap bottles of tequila are, along with some recommendations on how to use them in cocktails.
Best Overall: Pueblo Viejo Blanco
Region: Mexico | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: White pepper, Agave, Mint
So hang on...our top choice is a brand that most people have never heard of? Well, this is our "cheap tequila" roundup, after all—and it's hard to think of an inexpensive tequila that over-delivers on quality quite like Pueblo Viejo. A secret favorite among discerning mixologists, Pueblo Viejo blanco is crafted using 100 percent blue Weber agave, which is cooked in stone and brick ovens and crushed by a traditional rolling mill called a tahona. Consequently, the thrifty buyer is rewarded for his or her modest investment with a nose of white pepper and a rustic, assertive palate full of bright agave and fresh mint. Mix this into a delicious Margarita or sip it solo for a journey back in time to the days when solid blanco tequila could reliably be had on the cheap.
Best Blanco: Corazón Blanco
Region: Mexico | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Tangerine, Mineral, Black Pepper
“I'm always blown away by the complexity of aromas and flavors in Corazón Blanco,” says Erin Scala, beverage director at Common House in Va. “Try blind tasting this against just about anything else in the $30 and under category, and it will be difficult not to recognize the superior quality.” Carlos Lopez, restaurant manager at Moxy South Beach, agrees. “Corazón Tequila is single estate-grown and handpicked for over 130 years by the same family,” he says. “[It] is well crafted and can be enjoyed with a single rock.”
Related: The Best Blanco Tequilas
Best Reposado: Cazadores Reposado
Region: Mexico | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Oak, Citrus, Vanilla
Reposado tequila is aged for two months to a year in oak barrels, a process which softens the brightest of the spirit's assertive agave notes, and one of the most quaffable tequilas in this category is the reposado from Cazadores. “Rested just long enough to have its edges sanded off, [Cazadores] comes without the somewhat medicinal after-notes that can sometimes overwhelm more delicate cocktail ingredients,” says Clay Tolbert of The Alley Light in Charlottesville, Va.
“[Cazadores reposado is] a well-balanced sipper that not only stands up to any sour mix for a Margarita but doesn’t need a lime if you shoot it straight. Try it in an Old Fashioned with a grapefruit peel and let me know how long it takes you to get addicted to aged tequila in place of whiskey in traditional whiskey cocktails.” —Jennifer Donegan, bartender and executive bourbon steward at Spanish Peaks Mountain Club, Big Sky, Mont.
Best Añejo: Gran Centenario Añejo
Region: Mexico | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Orange peel, Cinnamon, Vanilla
The term "añejo" (which means "aged") refers to a tequila that's been aged in oak barrels for one to three years—an investment of time and resources that often finds the resulting tequilas priced out of the "cheap" category. Gran Centenario, however, still offers their solid añejo at a price that won't put too large a dent in your pocketbook. Established in 1857, and crafted at a historic distillery in the Jalisco highlands, Gran Centenario produces an añejo that boasts a nose of cinnamon and oak followed by a creamy palate resplendent with notes of orange peel, pear, and vanilla. Lure your neighborhood whiskey drinker over to the agave side with this enticing and affordable añejo.
Related: The Best Añejo Tequilas
Best Sipping: Milagro Silver
Region: Mexico | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Vegetal, Citrus, Peppercorn
“Cheap tequilas are often very harsh,” says Matthew Sentas, general manager for Precinct Kitchen + Bar in Boston. “However, Milagro is an inexpensive tequila that is smooth and agave forward so it is easy to drink. The silver, reposado and añejo are very tasty and inexpensive.” The silver expression is a perfect example of how an artfully made blanco tequila can become your go-to sipper.
Related: The Best Tequilas
Best Budget: Camarena Reposado
Region: Mexico | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Agave, Vanilla, Brown sugar
Look, if we're recommending a "best budget" entry in a "cheap tequilas" roundup, that had better be a bottle that's going to over-deliver on price in a big way. Fortunately, the reposado from Familia Camarena does just that. Produced by a family that's been in the tequila business since 1860, this is a mellow reposado that's aged for the minimum of 60 days, resulting in a clean, delicate tequila that's just plain hard to argue with. Based on 100 percent blue Weber agave, this silky repo works great in a well-crafted Margarita, but is also presentable enough to serve neat to your guests; they'll never suspect that you quite likely got away with spending under $20 for the bottle.
Best for Margaritas: Herradura Silver
Region: Mexico | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Agave, Oak
“Herradura is well known and [worth it] for the price,” says Reniel Garcia, bar director of Havana 1957 on Española Way. “Fruity and spicy, great to sip or make your favorite Margarita.” It’s particularly flavorful in a Margarita because Herradura’s silver tequila is aged in oak for 45 days, infusing it with soft flavors to round out this classic cocktail.
Related: The Best Tequilas for Margaritas
Best for Paloma: Olmeca Altos Plata
Region: Mexico | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Citrus, Brine, Agave
“This is great quality and affordable tequila that stands out really well with various cocktails,” says Danilo Bozovic of rooftop bar and restaurant Sugar in Miami. The Olmeca Altos blanco, which is crafted from blue Weber agave grown at elevations of nearly 7000 feet in the Los Altos region of Jalisco, works particularly well in a Paloma—a mix of tequila, lime juice and grapefruit soda.
“With an unrivaled smoothness at this price point, this tequila can be enjoyed straight or mixed in a cocktail.” —Jonathan Cunningham, bar manager, Husk Barbeque, Greenville, S.C.
Best for Tequila and Tonic: Espolòn Tequila Blanco
Region: Mexico | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Pepper, Pineapple
“This is 100 percent agave tequila with a great history,” says Jose Medina Camacho, bar manager at Automatic Seafood & Oysters in Birmingham, Ala. “I love it in a tequila tonic, or just neat with a glass of sparkling rose. One of my favorite things about it is that it pays homage to Mexican culture from the art on the bottles to the balance of juice in the bottle.”
Related: The Best Tonic Waters
Best for Old Fashioned: Mi Campo Reposado
Region: Mexico | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Chocolate, Pepper, Spice
Mi Campo is a rarity in that it's a relatively inexpensive tequila that's nonetheless crafted using very classical methods. For example, a giant stone wheel called a tahona is used to press the agave after cooking—a traditional method that many believe extracts more flavor. “[Mi Campo also] uses different barrel finishing than a lot of other brands,” says Timothy Slane, a bar manager in Edmond, Okla. “The reposado is aged in wine barrels [for three months] and the notes it picks up make it great for sipping or cocktails. I like to use it in Oaxacan Old Fashioneds with mole bitters or a straight tequila Old Fashioned.”
Tequila's obviously having a huge moment right now—but despite the category's surge in popularity, you don't need to spend the equivalent of a plane ticket to Mexico in order to avail yourself of some serious blue Weber quality. Just seek out a gorgeous reposado like the Cazadores (view on Drizly) or an under-the-radar blanco sleeper like the Pueblo Viejo (view on Totalwine.com), and you'll be transported straight to Jalisco for the mere cost of a checked-bag fee.
Are cheap tequilas more expensive than other affordable spirits?
If they're made from 100 percent blue Weber agave, yes, they can be—and that has everything to do with the specific limitations of working with agave. Unlike spirits such as whiskey or vodka, which are made from plants that yield a crop every year, tequila is made from a plant that takes a minimum of about seven years to reach maturity. This limits the ability of producers to respond quickly to changing market trends, and several well-publicized agave shortages in recent years have demonstrated the role that scarcity plays in the booming world of agave spirits.
Why are aged tequilas more expensive than unaged?
It's a two-part answer: the time and the barrels. Oak barrels cost money (even if they're previously-used barrels sourced from whiskey distilleries), and the investment in quality cooperage is reflected in the price of your reposado or añejo. And then there's the time: a reposado must age for a minimum of 60 days, and an añejo must age for at least a year. Between the income lost during the waiting period and the actual spirit lost to evaporation, tequila will inevitably get more expensive the older it gets—a characteristic it shares with nearly every other aged spirit.
What is a "mixto" tequila?
While many tequilas at varying price points will boast that they're made of 100 percent blue Weber agave (including all of those featured in this roundup), the law technically only requires that agave compose 51 percent of any given tequila, and a bottle that's not entirely made from agave is known as a "mixto." Producers employ various types of sugar to make up the remaining percentage, including high fructose corn syrup and molasses—although sometimes a lightly processed Mexican cane sugar known as piloncillo is what's used. You can assume a tequila is a mixto if it doesn't state anywhere on the bottle that it's made of 100 percent agave (a phrase that you'll notice is absent from the labels of the bottom-shelf brands that might have traumatized you during college).
Why Trust Liquor.com?
This roundup was edited by Jesse Porter, who got into tequila by way of big, oaky añejos...and then discovered the visceral joy of bright, clean blancos...and then realized that well-balanced reposados represented the best of both worlds...and finally came to accept that he just really loved them all.
Jonah Flicker is an experienced writer who has been covering spirits and traveling the world visiting distilleries for many years. His work has appeared in many different national outlets covering trends, new releases, and the stories and innovators behind the spirits. His first love remains whiskey, but he is partial to tequila, rum, gin, cognac and all things distilled.