Tequila has never been more popular in the United States. According to the Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS), sales of tequila and mezcal topped $5.2 billion in 2021, and the spirit is poised to potentially overtake vodka as the bestselling style within a few years. Significantly, the tequilas that are experiencing the strongest growth aren’t the cheap mixto brands of yore, bane of the bottom shelf: DISCUS says that it’s high-end and luxury tequila brands made with 100% agave, that are growing fastest.
Recent releases bear out that trend, with many new expressions positioned above the $50 mark—sometimes well above. The thirst for cristalino tequilas—which are aged and then filtered to remove color and typically priced like a reposado or añejo—remains strong, but producers are branching out with other innovations that seem designed to appeal to more sophisticated drinkers.
Take barrel aging. While reposado and añejo tequilas are nothing new, some offerings are going beyond the usual ex-bourbon or wine barrels to incorporate, for example, non-oak woods like acacia in the case of both Paladar and Mijenta (which also uses cherry wood). Even the typical bourbon barrels are being upgraded, as tequilas with sibling brands in the whiskey world are highlighting their maturation in big-name casks, like Corazón with its Buffalo Trace–aged lineup. Outside of maturation, a move to bottle overproof tequilas, like those from Ocho and El Luchador, is targeting consumers who seek a more robust cocktail spirit or more complex flavors.
There’s still plenty of room for brands that do none of these things and simply offer their own take on the spirit, using eye-catching packaging (Pātsch), better-for-you claims (Inspiro), or competitive pricing (Zarpado) to set themselves apart. While many new releases are boutique in scale, some are setting big goals. International alcohol conglomerate Diageo recently unveiled a total makeover for Astral tequila, a brand it acquired a few years ago, transforming it in both look and liquid. If you’re placing bets on the bottle that will grace a million back bars by 2023, that’s the one to watch.
These are nine new releases to try.
Though the Astral brand was founded several years ago by sommelier Richard Betts, Diageo acquired it in 2020 through its purchase of parent company Davos Brands and subsequently relaunched the label in the spring of 2022. Now made at a different distillery, Astral remains a 100% blue agave blanco tequila; the agave is crushed by tahona and fermented on the bagazo (agave fibers). After the liquid goes on to be distilled, the fibers’ job still isn’t done: They’re upcycled to make bricks, used for construction in local communities.
El Luchador Distill-Proof Blanco ($50)
A new lineup of El Luchador tequilas replaced the previously available overproof organic blanco in early 2022. Among the four expressions—which also include a 40% ABV blanco, a reposado, and an añejo—is this “distill-proof” blanco. At 55% ABV, the max bottling proof for tequila, it’s as strong as the spirit gets, and thus stands up well in a number of cocktail applications. In fact, El Luchador has launched a line of canned cocktails, including a sparkling Paloma and a brace of Margaritas.
Expresiones del Corazón George T. Stagg Añejo ($80)
It seems that every barrel-aged spirit is taking its cues from the bourbon world these days, and tequila is no exception, especially for the Corazón brand. Thanks to the fact that it’s owned by Sazerac—which is also the parent company of Buffalo Trace—Corazón has access to barrels from some of the most coveted whiskey brands, including George T. Stagg; this añejo spent 22 months in the legendary bourbon’s barrels. The Expresiones lineup also includes añejos matured in William Larue Weller and Elmer T. Lee barrels, along with an unaged blanco.
Created by maestra tequilera Ana Maria Romero Mena, Inspiro touts its lack of additives and naturally sweet profile as some of its key traits. The brand was founded by businesswoman Mara Smith, who has also started the Inspiro Purple Bicycle Project to provide financial support and mentorship to female founders and entrepreneurs. For those interested in the astrological implications of their Margarita, note that the blanco tequila is rested for “one lunar quarter” in American oak barrels.Continue to 5 of 9 below.
Mijenta Añejo Gran Reserva ($199)
Joining Mijenta’s blanco and reposado tequilas, which debuted in the fall of 2020, this añejo spends 18 months maturing in four different cask types in succession: first American oak, then French oak, followed by acacia and finally cherry wood. Like Inspiro, it was developed by maestra tequilera Ana Maria Romero Mena, one of the industry’s leading blenders. Mijenta has committed to sustainability through a number of initiatives, and reinvests part of its profits through a foundation to support the local community.
Paladar Destilado de Agave Aged in Amburana Barrels ($70)
Fifth-generation tequilero Eduardo Orendain Jr. makes this new line of tequilas whose bottles are literally dipped in the soil of Jalisco. Using estate-grown agave, Paladar’s lineup includes a blanco and a reposado aged in ex-bourbon barrels. Orendain emphasizes experimental wood aging, leading to the Destilado de Agave: Aged first in ex-bourbon casks, it technically doesn’t qualify as a tequila, as it’s finished in amburana wood. (Only oak is permitted for maturation.) Regardless, it’s worth tasting—a departure from the norm that hints at further possibilities.
Pātsch Reposado ($98)
Don’t let the spike-crowned knuckle-duster bottle intimidate you: The tequila within, aged six to eight months, is surprisingly calm, a creamy mix of plantain and vanilla blended with sturdy spice and harmonious oak. Founded by designer Martin Schapira and venture capitalist Steven Davis, the Pātsch lineup also includes a blanco and an añejo. The process includes roasting the agaves in brick ovens with an extended resting period, and fermenting without the addition of commercial yeast.
Tequila Ocho Puntas ($60)
An overproof version of Tequila Ocho’s Plata expression, Puntas refers to the section of the distillation run from which the spirit comes: just as the heads tapers off and the hearts cut begins. Tequila pulled off at this point, called puntas, is at about 64% ABV and contains some of the most complex and pure agave flavors. The 2022 release of Puntas, which is highly limited, was made from agave grown on master distiller Carlos Camarena’s family rancho, La Ladera, and proofed down to 50.5% ABV with local spring water.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
Zarpado Reposado ($27)
After launching its blanco expression in 2021, Zarpado debuted this aged tequila in the spring of 2022. Made with agave from Jalisco’s Los Valles region, Zarpado Reposado spends three to four months in barrels that were previously used to age Wheel Horse bourbon, a sibling brand in the portfolio of parent company Latitude Beverage. With a label designed by Mexican artist Joaquín Nava, this tequila’s sub-$30 price tag puts it firmly in the running for a top-notch everyday sipper.