A Margarita is fantastic, but it’s not the only way to drink tequila. In fact, if you take a deeper dive, you'll discover tequilas you can enjoy on their own, says Crystal Chasse, beverage director of Talk Story Rooftop in Brooklyn, New York. What she's describing is what's called a sipping tequila.
"[These tequilas have] distinctive nuances that take you on a journey from the front to the back palate, with a finish that makes you come back for another sip,” she explains.
According to Morgan Hurley, marketing and beverage director of Mex 1 Coastal Cantina in Charleston, South Carolina, a sipping tequila should be 100% agave and very well-crafted, particularly if it’s unaged.
Reposados, on the other hand, are barrel-aged for two months to a year, and they should be mellow, he says. "But [they] still have that cooked agave flavor mingling with the honey, toasted oak and vanilla.”
Finally, if you like a “smoother, easier, richer drink,” do what Julian Medina, chef-owner of Toloache and other New York restaurants, does and go for an añejo or extra añejo, aged a year and upward. The various barrels used for aging—former cognac casks, heavily charred ex-bourbon barrels—bring a diversity of expression to the spirit.
Here, the best sipping tequilas our experts recommend to drink right now.
Tequila Ocho Plata
Region: Jalisco | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Pepper, Citrus, Grass, Stone fruit
“The beautiful story and unique process behind this tequila really help it shine,” says Chasse. The family that makes Tequila Ocho Plata has been distilling for generations. They use traditional brick ovens to slow-roast extremely ripe agave, which is chosen from specific fields each year, so that the nuances of the terroir and weather come out, especially in the blanco.
“It changes depending on the field and year,” says Chasse, “but in general, it offers crisp, clean peppery notes, bright citrus and grassy flavors, along with the fruitiness of the extra-ripe agave.” The finish also offers “a nice balance between floral and earthy notes.”
Good to Know: How should you drink a sipping tequila? Hurley and Chasse suggest trying it neat in a tequila glass (a short, stemmed flute). Add a few drops of water to open up the flavor. Medina prefers to sip his aged tequila in a snifter with one large cube of ice, which melts slowly, keeping the spirit cool but not diluting it.
Don Fulano Tequila Blanco
Region: Jalisco | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Lemon peel, Lemongrass, Cooked agave
"There’s a saying: 'Whiskey is aged in wood, and tequila is aged in the ground,'" says Hurley. “That’s so true because agave takes six to eight years to mature, so you can detect the influence of the terroir—the soil, sun and shade of mountains—especially in a blanco.” He calls this one from the Altos region “phenomenal.”
Produced by Jalisco’s famed Fonseca family using deep well water, Don Fulano Blanco offers "green cooked agave notes, a little bit of pepper and minerality, and hints of lemon peel and lemongrass,” Hurley says. Along with those complex layers of flavor, Hurley likes its mouthfeel. “It has a nice body all the way through, so it’s one of the easiest drinking tequilas out there," he adds.
“Blancos showcase the terroir and the agave, but they also show any imperfections. Look for spirits with a medium to full body, a bit of attitude, minerality and brightness—and not much ethanol burn. You can tell an impure spirit if you get that.” — Morgan Hurley, Marketing and Beverage Director, Mex 1 Coastal Cantina
Siete Leguas Reposado
Region: Jalisco | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Baking spices, Vanilla, Slate, Shale
Like many bartenders, Chasse considers this reposado from Siete Leguas her favorite tequila in general, regardless of the expression. The distillery where it's made uses a mix of grinding methods: efficient roller mill and traditional tahona, a millstone carved from volcanic rock. The result: "A nice balance between sustainability and the wonderful qualities of earthiness from the more fibrous milling of the tahona,” she says.
With its mix of minerality, wood-driven vanilla notes and baking-spice panache, this versatile reposado is “perfect to sip on anytime along with many different types of foods,” says Chasse. "It just makes my heart happy.”
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Casa Del Sol Anejo Tequila
Region: Jalisco | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Caramel, vanilla, dried apricots
Woman-owned and woman-produced, this new añejo is the result of a partnership between Jaliscan tequila makers Alejandra Pelayo and Mariana Padilla and the Mexican-born actress Eva Longoria—with help from designer Kelly Wearstler, who is also partnering in the endeavor. Made from 100% Blue Agave grown in the Jaliscan Highlands, it’s unique for the way it’s aged: in the French Limousin oak casks used to mature Martell’s cognacs. The barrels give it a Cognac-like caramelly sweetness, with vanilla notes and touch of dried fruit. But there’s nothing ponderous about it. It’s smooth enough for an afternoon sip.
Good to Know: Want to nibble while you sip? Try fatty things with a crisp blanco, like guacamole and chips, a grilled steak and carnitas tacos. For aged tequilas, Hurley advises dark chocolate. And any sipping tequila goes great with spicy or salty foods, chased by a Mexican lager—just the way the distillers like to drink it themselves.
Best Extra Añejo
Maestro Dobel 50 Cristalino Extra Añejo
Region: Jalisco | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Roasted figs, cinnamon, vanilla
An extra añejo that’s been stripped of its color to make it a crystal-clear sip, this tequila is favorite of Justin Balanga, director of restaurants for Nashville’s Bobby Hotel. “The American and Eastern oak barrel finish adds finesse and complexity to this amazing bottle,” says Balanga, who detects in it “portrays unique flavors such as roasted figs with hints of cinnamon and vanilla to finish.” Another thing he loves about it? Its sourcing. “It comes from a family-owned estate, which adds an exclusive feel to it, as well,” he says.
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Fortaleza Blanco Tequila
Region: Jalisco | ABV: 46% | Tasting Notes: Olives, Earth, Orange
“If you want to know what tequila tasted like 100 years ago, Fortaleza is your go-to,” says Hurley. At his estate in the town of Tequila, master distiller Guillermo Sauza makes the spirit the way his great-great-grandfather made it, using an old stone tahona and brick ovens. Bottled straight from the copper pot still without dilution, this blanco has an alluring “earthy, olivey quality,” says Chasse, with plenty of bright citrus, too.
Its flavors and a super-long finish make it fascinating to drink, but it goes down surprisingly easy for such a powerful spirit. “I would try a little on its own, breathing in and letting it open up in your mouth to get all those flavors,” advises Chasse. But, she says, "eventually I would add a bit of water to open it up, so you can see how tequila evolves at different levels of alcohol.”
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Best for Beginners
Zarpado Tequila Blanco
Region: Jalisco | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: White pepper, citrus zest, vanilla, herbs
A new addition to the tequila category, this blanco burst onto the drinks scene in 2021, garnering rave reviews for maximal flavor at a minimal price. A collaboration between Boston’s Latitude Beverage, makers of vodkas and whiskeys, and Jalisco’s family-owned Cavas de Don Max Distillery, it’s twice-distilled from mature, 100-percent blue agave plants. It offers punchy, peppery, zesty flavors resolving in a sweet, smooth finish with no bitter or off notes. For beginning drinkers of tequila, it shows how much a good spirit can do for the money.
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Don Ramón Limited Edition Extra Añejo
Region: Jalisco | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Cocoa, Dark coffee
Only 5,000 bottles of this limited-edition Don Ramón extra añejo were produced. Made with 100% blue agave from the Tequila Highlands, this expression has been aged for three years in American oak barrels. The tequila provides notes of toasted coconut and vanilla, with some cocoa powder and dark roasted coffee, Hurley notes. But that’s only part of the selling point for him.
“The tequila is great, but the bottle is what’s really gorgeous,” he says. The glass is embedded with gold flakes and decorated in wooshing lines composed of Swarovski crystals, which frame the dark amber liquid inside. It makes a showstopping centerpiece for any bar.
Tres Agaves Blanco
Region: Jalisco | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Pears, mint, citrus
This award-winning bottle from Jalisco’s 117-year-old El Lano distillery is made with estate-grown, organic agave
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Chamucos Reposado Tequila
Region: Jalisco | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: White flowers, Stone fruit, Sea salt
Though other expressions have since been added, Tequila Chamucos was founded in 1994 as a reposado-only, so you can be sure that its producers are dedicated to the style.
Made with organic, high-mountain agave cooked in a brick oven and distilled in a stainless steel alembic still, it is triple-filtered and then aged in both American and French oak barrels. All of that renders one smooth sip. Floral on the nose, it has the bittersweet fruitiness and briny undertones to keep you coming back for more.
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Best Under $50
Region: Jalisco | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Citrus, wild flowers, spice
A brand-new blanco from Mexican chef Dafna Mizrahi and a team of women makers, this tequila is produced at Destileria Leyros in the Valley of Jalisco. It’s made using newfangled methods—acid-thermal hydrolysis, diffuser crushing, a column still—but the results add up to a silky, easy sip. It has a flowery, slightly citrusy character with a spicy finish that keeps you coming back for another taste. It’s a lovely bottle to enjoy neat for reasonable price.
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Best Under $30
Tres Agaves Blanco
Region: Jalisco | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Agave, earth, sweetness
Dennis Scheafer, head bartender at New York’s Painted Lady Saloon, appreciates this organic tequila for its single-source agave—something that’s “pretty rare with major tequila brands,” he says. The quality of the base ingredient results in a “very smooth and clean” taste that puts “the agave flavor at the forefront.” A balanced bottle, it offers “sweetness upfront, but its “earthy backbone” makes it so different from all the “vanilla bomb” tequilas on the market now. “I’ll be honest,” says Scheafer. “For sipping, I usually go with a reposado or anejo, but there’s just something about this blanco.”
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What to Look for in a Sipping Tequila
You want a tequila made with 100% blue agave. You should be able to see this noted on the label or mentioned on the website of the brand you’re interested in. You also want to be able to taste the agave in the glass.
When you’re sipping a spirit on its own, any ethanol burn or rough edges will have you coughing and clearing your throat in no time. But particularly with a reposado or añejo, a good sipping tequila offers mellow, not harsh, heat.
Aficionados are picky about this. The most traditional methods are often the ones they’re looking for: agave crushed by a volcanic-rock tahona, roasted in a brick oven, and distilled in a copper pot still. There are definitely great tequilas made using roller mills to crush the agave and autoclaves to cook it. But, generally, the faster the process, the less sophisticated and sippable the tequila.
What makes for a good sipping tequila?
That depends on what style of tequila you like. If you’re looking for something that shows sweetness and minerality, go for a blanco. For some honey and toasted notes, try a reposado. And for brandy-like richness and smoothness, añejo is your drink. But no matter the style, you want a tequila that’s made with integrity and intention, from 100% agave and no additives. Purists love brick oven-roasted, copper pot–distilled tequilas, but the big test is that agave flavor. If it tastes more like ethanol, or if it burns too much going down, skip it and sip something else.
Does sipping tequila generally cost more money?
Sipping tequilas are all over the map in terms of pricing. There are splurges—a rare bottle like Don Ramón Limited Edition Extra Añejo that’s been sitting for a while, taking up distillery space in expensive wood casks, will cost you a pretty penny. But others are quite reasonable for their quality:That tasty El Tequileño Reposado clocks in at less than $30.
What is the best way to drink tequila on its own?
This is entirely a matter of personal preference! However, if you want to try it the way distillers drink it, pour it into a flute-like tequila glass made especially for sipping. And as with any spirit served neat, try adding a few drops of water to open up the aromas and flavor. You can also add one big cube, which will slowly melt, adding luxurious texture and a chill as you sip. The older the tequila, too, the more brandy-like, so you might try sipping añejos and extra añejos out of a snifter.
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Betsy Andrews has been writing about wine and spirits for two decades. While reporting for Food & Wine and Travel & Leisure, she spent quality time in Jalisco’s agave fields, watching piñas be harvested, and in distilleries watching them be rendered into the elixir that is tequila. Drinking at the side of master distillers, crawling the bars of Guadalajara and Tequila, she acquired a taste for, and a keen interest in, Mexico’s premiere spirit—especially the añejos and extra añejos, which are always how she likes to end a meal.
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