Build Your Perfect Tequila Bar
February 6, 2023 –––––– Sally Kral
With so many varieties of tequila available today, this blue agave-based spirit makes a versatile and exciting addition to your home bar. From light and bright blanco expressions to oaky and smooth añejo, tequila offers something for everyone, and a wide range of labels adds to the sense of fun and exploration.
Tequila is a spirit with a true sense of place, as it’s produced only in Mexico—primarily in the state of Jalisco, along with a few local municipalities in Guanajuato, Michoacán, Tamaulipas, and Nayarit—and can vary greatly depending on the region’s specific terroir. Tequilas from the Highlands—a region known as Los Altos—tend to be sweeter and fruiter, while those from the Lowlands, or El Valle, have more peppery and herbal qualities. Unaged blanco expressions work well in Margaritas and other fruity shaken cocktails; reposado, which is aged 2 to 12 months in oak, can pair with an even wider range of ingredients in a cocktail or be sipped on its own. Añejo (aged 1 to 3 years) and extra añejo (aged 3 or more years) are most typically enjoyed neat or with ice—but there’s certainly no law against sipping a well-made blanco or enjoying an extra añejo Old Fashioned.
We surveyed bartenders around the country to get their top tequila picks for stocking a home bar, from affordable and mixable labels to those to be sipped and savored.
Azteca Azul Plata—40%, $25“Buy at least two bottles of this for your bar—it’s the best tequila you can get for the money. You’ll go through it quickly, trust me.”— Nick du Mortier, mixologist at Bar Pendry, Chicago
Cimarron Blanco—40%, $25“This tequila is the baseline for what a blanco should be: smooth and simple. Perfect for a Margarita by the pool.”— Charles Fried-richs, principal-bartender, The Jones Assembly, Oklahoma City
Espolòn Blanco—40%, $28“This is a great, affordable selection that pairs well with melons, cucumbers, or a mix of the two.”— Gina Chersevani, owner, Buffalo& Bergen, Last Call Bar, and Suburbia, Washington, D.C.
Pueblo Viejo Blanco—40%, $29“This is open-air fermented, cooked in traditional ovens; rich in agave flavor and value priced. It holds up admirably in cocktails and is well-suited for Highballs.”— Mark Phelan, beverage director, 16” OC hospitality group, Chicago
Cazadores Reposado—40%, $30“This tequila is elegant and buttery and hits all the right notes. It needs little embellishment and pairs very well with food.”— Matthew Nathanson, director of restaurants, The Godfrey Hotel Hollywood
Corralejo Reposado—40%, $32“This is woodsy and earthy, with an almost dirt smell at first. It pairs well with citrus, like grapefruit, and herbs like rosemary. Add a spicy rim to level up this tequila.” — Daisy Clark, bar manager, Hearth and Hill, Park City, Utah
La Gritona Reposado—40%, $46“This is a complex reposado—and Mexican woman-owned—giving off notes of caramelized fruit, ginger, and pepper. It’s great for cocktails, neat, or on the rocks.”— Lynette Marrero, bar director, Llama Inn, Brooklyn
Siete Leguas Blanco—40%, $50“This has a bright, earthy, and smooth flavor with a hint of vanilla and sweet agave. It’s a blanco with substance, making it versatile for all of your cocktail experimentation at home.”— Ian Lindsey, general manager, Bodega, Charleston
Fortaleza Blanco—40%, $60“This sipper writes a book on your tongue: citrus, roasted pineapple, honey, and a hint of spearmint that’s balanced by a little white pepper and spice. A+++”—Michael Stanley and Graham McClure, bar supervisors, Big Star, Chicago
Tequila Ocho Añejo—40%, $70“Such a fine representation of the class. While not as dark or ‘heavy’ as other añejos, this is extremely dynamic, with an oaky finish.”—Cleetus Friedman, director of hospitality, Camp Aramoni, Tonica, Illinois
El Pintor Joven—41%, $78“Made with single-estate agave from the Lowlands of Jalisco, this tequila has a lot of depth with a creamy texture. It has fresh notes of cucumber and white pepper on the palate, with orange zest, minerality, and soil on the finish.”—Lynette Marrero
Gran Orendain Extra Añejo—40%, $100“A gorgeous tequila that showcases the possibilities of the agave plant. It’s made from a single hillside plantation and is aged for plenty of time to develop the flavor.”—Matthew Nathanson
G4 Extra Añejo—40%, $110“G4 is aged for 3 years in Tennessee whiskey barrels, but because of a blending masterstroke, it isn’t overtly oaky. It has light spice, vanilla, and plenty of long agave taste, hinting at caramel and toffee.”—Michael Stanley and Graham McClure
Arette Gran Clase Extra Añejo—40%, $126“This has the best balance of barrel and agave flavor that I’ve had the pleasure of tasting. Full-flavored and an incredibly nuanced finish; this one is to be sipped and savored.”—Mark Phelan
Siembra Valles Ancestral Blanco—50.2%, $130“Made using ancient methods more commonly used with some mezcal production; it’s delicious. A representation of what tequila once tasted like and how it was made.”—Ivy Mix, co-owner,Leyenda, Brooklyn
Tapatio Excel-encia Extra Añejo—40%, $200“This has lots of dried fruit notes along with roasted agave flavor. It’s aged in bourbon barrels, which lend big butterscotch notes.”—Alex Barbatsis, head bartender, The Whistler, Chicago
Tears of Llorona Extra Añejo—43%, $250“Easy-drinking with flavors of sweet agave, caramel, dried fruits, and dark chocolate, with hints of vanilla that will appeal to tequila connoisseurs, whiskey drinkers, and all scotch lovers.”—Ian Lindsey
Casa Dragones Joven—40%, $285“A blend of silver and extra-aged tequila, which enhances the flavors in a dramatic way. Made from estate-grown blue agave from Tequila, giving it an out-of-this-world smoothness and crisp aftertaste.”—Daisy Clark
Gran Patrón Burdeos Añejo—40%, $400“This is the bottle that you show off to your friends. An añejo tequila that’s finished in Bordeaux wine barrels. A perfect sipper for sitting by the fire with a cigar in hand.”—Charles Friedrichs
Clase Azul Ultra—40%, $2,000“Clase Azul is one of Mexico’s best-kept secrets. If you’re looking to splurge, this tequila is a collector’s dream, with a 24-karat gold and platinum bottle.”—Natalie Tapken, wine and beverage director, Bluepoint Hospitality, Easton, Maryland