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The margarita is a classic and simple cocktail comprised of a few ingredients: lime juice, a sweetener (such as triple sec or agave syrup) and tequila. This last component is by far the most important, and luckily, we are awash in options. There are excellent tequilas from brands using traditional methods as well as distilleries using modern technology like diffusers. While blanco, minimally or unaged tequila, is traditionally the bottle of choice for a margarita, aged expressions from reposado to extra añejo can be used as well. Here are the best tequilas for making margaritas all year long.
Best Overall: Roca Patrón Silver
“Patron is a brand that I believe is misunderstood,” says Darnell Holguin, beverage director of New York's Las’ Lap. “[It] helped bring attention to the category as a whole by offering a premium spirit during a time when the U.S. was still trying to understand tequila.” The Roca lineup is pricey, but noteworthy in that a tahona stone is used to press the agave after cooking—a traditional method that many believe extracts more flavor. Holguin describes the flavor as “balanced with an herbaceous quality and a spicy, warm finish.”
Best Single Barrel: Casa Noble Reposado Single Barrel
Many different barrels are blended together to create a batch of aged tequila, but just like whiskey, trying the liquid from one cask that's been quietly resting can be an interesting experience. Casa Noble is a certified organic and kosher brand that produces high-quality tequila at the La Cofradia distillery just outside the town of Tequila. There is an extra añejo single barrel to try, but the reposado works better in a margarita. This tequila is aged for 364 days in French oak, imbuing it with subtle vanilla and spicy notes.
Best Budget: Espolòn Blanco
There’s no need to spend a fortune on good tequila, though there are plenty of options if you choose to do so. Espolòn Blanco is both an excellent and reasonably-priced tequila, as the brand is highly regarded for its floral, vegetal and fragrant flavors. “It’s a delicious tequila with beautiful fruity notes,” says Holguin. “The agave is grown way above sea level. It’s plucked with a high sugar content making for a yummy juice.”
Best Cask Finish: Don Julio Reposado Double Cask Lagavulin
Don Julio has a variety of different expressions available, from blanco to extra añejo, but Holguin likes the reposado in particular. He describes it as having notes of “soft fruit on the nose and a sweet chocolate and cinnamon spice finish.” The reposado is given a smoky infusion in the Lagavulin Aged Edition, which is finished in casks that were used to mature this peated Islay whisky. Use the tequila for a margarita with a distinctive spicy kick.
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Best Wine Barrel Aged: Código 1530 Rosa
Wine barrel aging is a technique used by a few tequila brands, including Código 1530. The aged expressions are matured in Napa Valley French oak wine barrels, with the Rosa spending just one month picking up flavors and its comely pink hue. “You can taste the care that goes into these tequilas, as they were previously only enjoyed by master distillers and tequila aficionados in Jalisco, Mexico,” says Ellen Talbot, lead bartender at Nashville’s Fable Lounge. “Expect vanilla, oak, cinnamon and orange flower blossom on the palate.”
Best Blanco: ElVelo Blanco
Blanco tequila is the go-to for margaritas. It’s a clear, usually unaged spirit (it can be put into barrels for up to 60 days) that highlights the pure expression of distilled agave. ElVelo, which is produced at the same distillery as Casa Noble, makes an affordable and delicious blanco. “ElVelo tequila was designed for cocktails,” says Talbot. “It makes the perfect bar cart staple.” Expect notes of grass, stone fruit and a bit of mint on the palate.
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Best Reposado: Santera Reposado
For something with a bit of oak and vanilla flavors to augment the already distinctive character of tequila, try a bottle of reposado, which can be aged for up to one year. Santera matures its reposado for up to seven months in American oak barrels, giving it a light copper color and adding some baking spice and soft tannin to the liquid. The effects are subtle, but this will help make for a great margarita.
Best Añejo: Hiatus Añejo
Hiatus is another tequila from the La Cofradia distillery in Jalisco, overseen by master distiller Luis Trejo Rodríguez. This añejo is aged for a year in American oak barrels, giving it a golden color and soft notes of spice, caramel and toffee. Still, the tequila is light enough to use in a margarita, giving the drink a recognizable but subtle difference in its flavor profile.
Best Extra Añejo: El Tesoro Extra Añejo
An extra añejo tequila, which is aged for at least three years, might seem unconventional to use in a margarita, but try it for a richer version of the cocktail. El Tesoro’s extra añejo is aged for four to five years in ex-bourbon barrels, infusing it with dark chocolate notes on top of the sweet and peppery agave flavors. “This tequila is awesome because they follow a traditional way of making tequila by manpower,” says Holguin. “No real heavy machinery, just the tahona stone that mashes the agave and the family that presses it.”
Best Cristalino: Maestro Dobel Diamante
Cristalino tequila is essentially aged tequila that has been filtered until the color picked up from the barrel is removed. Some bartenders are fans, as it keeps the oak and vanilla flavors of a barrel-matured spirit, but has a clear color that won’t affect the appearance of a cocktail. Maestro Dobel was one of the first to release a cristalino with Diamante. It's a blend of reposado, añejo and extra añejo tequila that is crystal clear but retains the flavors that come with aging.
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Best Splurge: Pasote Blanco
This blanco tequila from Pasote may be a splurge, but you are getting real quality for the price. The brand comes from respected tequila maker Felipe Camarena. “Pasote is interesting because it’s distilled from rainwater and natural spring water,” says Talbot, who notes that the flavor profile is “surprisingly vegetal with undertones of citrus.” Try using this in a margarita with a craft triple sec or orange liqueur to see how the flavors play together.
Best High Proof: Herradura Directo de Alambique
While most tequila is bottled at 80 proof, there are other options with a higher ABV. One comes from Herradura, a tequila brand owned by beverage giant Brown-Forman. This unaged tequila clocks in at 110 proof, so make sure you are drinking responsibly. “[Herradura’s] silver tequila has a delicious cooked agave flavor that I enjoy very much,” says Holguin. In this expression, the notes are complemented by pepper and herbal flavors, with a slight burn from the higher ABV.
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Jonah Flicker is an experienced writer who has been covering spirits and traveling the world visiting distilleries for the past six 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.