We’re living in the golden age of spirits. Never before have there been more bottles of booze vying for a parking space on your bar cart. We lean on the pros to help you build a bottle list from scratch.
If your last memory of tequila was a line of cheap shots at a college bar, you have some catching up to do. Tequila has been thriving for the last decade thanks to a renewed focus on artisanal producers and old-school techniques, along with an overall emphasis on delivering authentic flavors.
To help get you started with your collection, we went coast to coast in search of tequila experts. San Diego's Anthony Schmidt is a partner in CH Projects (Consortium Holdings) and the lead bartender at False Idol. He’s never bashful about deploying a quality tequila in a cocktail where you might not have expected it. Anthony Tavara is a bartender at chef Todd English's Washington, D.C., restaurant MXDC, wielding a tequila list more than 100 strong. Build out your home bar with their recommended tequilas, representing a broad range of styles.
Schmidt gets started with a choice blanco that emphasizes transparency in its production. “I love this product. It's somewhat of a standard bearer for the tequila category,” he says. “Well-balanced and strong minerality while maintaining a velvety, smooth sip, it goes down easy while still exhibiting good dynamism and fresh-green qualities, too.”
Schmidt appreciates its people and production to an even greater degree. “The entire production process, down to the latitude and longitude of harvest agave, is detailed on the bottled,” he says. “Many would argue that the man behind the product, David Suro, is the one who began pushing for more transparency in the spirits industry. Obviously, it's important that the booze tastes great, and thankfully his does, but I must admit I'm inherently biased about my appreciation for his projects. I love the guy and all that he does.”
Tavara takes another look at the blanco category, going to the highest of the highlands in Jalisco, the town of Jesús María, where Avión is made. “Avión silver is a delicious tequila with a clear crystal color,” he says. “It's sweet and crisp with hints of grapefruit, pineapple and black pepper, and it’s an ideal tequila both for sipping and cocktails.”
As for the latter, Tavara showcases Avión in a signature Margarita riff. “Our Blackberry Margarita with homemade cilantro-blackberry syrup blends fantastically with this tequila, highlighting its peppery notes,” he says.
For his next pick, Tavara goes to the bartender favorite at his establishment. El Tesoro is produced by Carlos Camarena at La Alteña distillery and is made entirely with tahona-crushed agave.
“We could talk all day about tequila and argue about which one is the best, but for our team, this tequila is the most balanced, made of 100% estate-grown blue Weber agave and aged for nine to 11 months in American oak barrels,” he says. “The resulting process creates a sweet and slightly smoky flavor with hints of vanilla and oak. It's perfect for sipping and cocktails.”
Schmidt also looks to the work of Carlos Camarena for his next offering. “Camarena is one of the more well-regarded agave spirit producers in the world and for good reason,” he says. This blanco stands apart not only for Camarena's production processes but also for the fact that it's bottled at a whopping 110 proof.
“Tapatio 110 is the most muscular of the selections here—highland minerality on steroids,” says Schmidt. “Massive peppery flavor in both green high-heat peppers, as well as black pepper. It's big and robust and goes a long way in cocktails. In fact, I would argue it's a workhorse ideal in drinks calling for tequila as an ingredient alongside big counterparts like fresh ginger or other bold spirits in split-base cocktails.”
Añejo tequilas are aged for between one and three years and, when done right, offer an ideal sipping spirit. “Casamigos añejo is one of the tequilas that I always try to have a bottle of at home,” says Tavara. “Its unique flavors come from agave that's grown in the rich red clay and cool climate of the highlands of Jalisco.”
Tavara adds, “This is a beautiful and well-balanced tequila with soft caramel and vanilla notes. This results in a very smooth tequila with subtle hints of spice and oak. It's very easy to drink.”
He even suggests trying the tequila as a sub for whiskey in several classic cocktails. “You can also enjoy this tequila in a Manhattan or in an Old Fashioned,” says Tavara. “It's a good alternative for bourbon lovers when they want to try a tequila.”