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There’s good news about good tequila—it can be very affordable if you know what you are looking for. We’re talking 100 percent blue weber agave tequila, although there are a few mixtos as well, an often scorned category that combines agave with a sweetener like cane sugar or corn syrup. It’s true, some cheaper tequila uses a diffuser to extract the juice from the agave instead of cooking and shredding it, which aficionados believe negatively affects the flavor of the final product.
But overall, there’s a good deal of high-quality tequila available to drink on its own or mixed into a Margarita that will cost you less than $50 per bottle. 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: 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.”
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. “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. “It’s 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,” says Jennifer Donegan, bartender and executive bourbon steward at Spanish Peaks Mountain Club in Big Sky, Mont. “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.”
Best Anejo: El Jimador Anejo
Region: Mexico | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Pepper, Cinnamon, Spice
Anejo tequila is aged in oak barrels for one to three years. “El Jimador is a classic tequila steeped in tradition,” says Trey Ledbetter, beverage manager of The Kimpton Sylvan Hotel in Atlanta. “Perfectly crafted for mixing, this 100 percent blue weber agave tequila has hints of pepper and sweet citrus throughout. This tequila deserves a spot on your back bar.”
Tyson Torres, food and beverage manager for Belmond El Encanto in Santa Barbara, Calif., also recommends it. “El Jimador is a good go-to tequila under $30. It can be great on its own or in your favorite Margarita…with fruity, herbaceous notes on the palate."
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 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.
Best for Paloma: Olmeca Altos Plata
Region: Mexico | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Lime, Agave, Earthy
“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. One that works particularly well in a Paloma—a mix of tequila, lime juice and grapefruit soda.
Jonathan Cunningham, bar manager for Husk Barbeque in Greenville, S.C., likes the reposado as well. “With an unrivaled smoothness at this price point,” he says, “this tequila can be enjoyed straight or mixed in a cocktail.”
Best for Tequila and Tonic: Sauza Silver
Region: Mexico | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Citrus, Banana, Agave
Sauza is an affordable mixto tequila that is perfect to mix up with some tonic and lime for a summertime highball. The silver expression is a good place to start, a mild but flavorful tequila that is made to be used in a cocktail like this. If you’d like to explore the aged or 100 percent agave bottles from Sauza as well, go ahead—they are all tailor-made to be used in a variety of drinks, but will cost a little bit more.
Best for Old Fashioned: Mi Campo Reposado
Region: Mexico | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Chocolate, Pepper, Spice
“[Mi Campo] 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.”
Best Budget: Jose Cuervo Tradicional Silver
Region: Mexico | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Citrus, Vanilla, Spice
Jose Cuervo is probably the best-known name in tequila, mainly for its cheap mixto expressions. But it does make affordable 100 percent agave tequila as well.
“Jose Cuervo Tradicional is my household well tequila,” says Benjamin Pozar of Fogo de Chao in Philadelphia, Pa. “I have a bottle mounted to my wall most of the time. It is fantastically clean and great for mixing in Margaritas and Palomas.”
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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.