TequilaNeat - What's Best, and What Do I Like?

Because good tequila should be served "neat:"   No ice, no salt, no lime.

Informal tasting at Tres, San Francisco

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What's Best?
If you want to get a feel for the agave and basic distillation quality of a distiller's products, taste their blanco tequila. Unlike the reposado and añejo, the blanco's flavors aren't influenced by the oak used in aging.

So, which types of tequila is "best?" There isn't one.

The one that tastes best to YOU is the best for you. But, if you're a gin or vodka fan, you'll likely prefer the blancos. If you're a whiskey or scotch drinker, you'll likely prefer the añejos. It all comes down to whether you like your alcohol aged in oak or not. It's funny- Being a scotch drinker, I've felt that the more refined, smoother tequilas were "better." But that's not entirely true- One of my favorites is the El Tesoro de Don Felipe Reposado. It's generally the one I've opened when I come home from work and pour a shot (and that was the case BEFORE my meeting Carlos Camarena of El Tesoro de Don Felipe). Ordinarily I prefer the añejos to the reposados to the blancos. But that's not always the way they shake out: Sometimes I prefer a distiller's products in the reverse order, sometimes in no order at all. It's all about keeping an open mind, and letting the aromas and tastes speak for themselves.

What Do I Like?
I'm often asked "What's your favorite?" While that's an interesting question, I think even more interesting would be: "What brands do you find the most consistently good?" Casa Noble clearly stands out. Since their tequilas have such a distinctive personality, it's hard to separate them. Only the blanco is more "common" in my eyes (but to be fair, I'm not a "blanco guy"). Alongside Casa Noble, I'd recognize El Tesoro de Don Felipe, T1, Alquimia, Don Pilar, Don Fulano, and Don Julio (though I've heard that a number of Don Julio's are augmented, and that it's owned by Jose Cuervo).
One way to get a feel for what I would recommend is to look at the spreadsheet below. It shows what is (or has been) in my collection, and whether I've made a note to myself that buying a certain tequila is a good idea.
Another interesting question would be "What brands have the best and worst value?" See below and download my spreadsheet. There's a worksheet specifically sorted to show a tequila's relative value. (Again, according to my taste).

A conversation with someone made me realize that something needs to be made clear: Everyone must understand that my preferences are just that- MY preferences. If I rank someone's favorites poorly, it's just the way my tastebuds see things. It's no reflection on someone else's taste. I now have a lot of experience in tasting tequilas, but my training has been more casual instruction from experts, as opposed to my being classically-trained in school. While I do judge tequilas in competitions, I still like to consider myself an enthusiastic amateur, despite others wanting to call me "expert." Besides, I have no right nor inclination to contradict what someone else happens to enjoy!

Going a step further, on many occasions I've recommended tequilas that I don't particularly like to other people. If I know someone's preferences, I can recommend something that suits them whether or not it suits me. That's part of the reason for all the notes I take! Now that I'm adding "identity tags," it's getting easier to find a tequila with certain traits that'll suit a particular preference.

That being said, my preferences tend to lean more towards earthy tequilas, with complex flavors. A balance of subtle complex flavors, sweetness, fire, and earthy characteristics is ideal in my mind (and mouth). Now, there are a lot of tequilas coming out that seem to be designed to cater to the average U.S. American's taste for sugar. I find many of these new tequilas to be way, WAY too sweet, with the sugar overpowering any subtle complexity they might have. As such, I tend to rank those lower- Because at the end of the day, I'm only writing down my impressions of how a tequila tastes appeals to me. But exceptions can also happen- Many extra añejo (or XA) tequilas feel a bit too sweet and over-refined to me, but I sort of look at them as a "dessert tequila," much as port would be to wine. While they're not what I'd have on a normal basis (due to the price as well as flavor), for special occasions they can be interesting.

Oh, and by the way, a disclaimer- My comments about all the brands are simply my own personal opinions. I do not necessarily have verified information as to a given brand's production methods. I neither sell nor market brands, nor do I receive any financial compensation for expressing my opinions, whether pro or con for any particular product.

I've compiled a list of the tequilas I've tasted, saving a number of pieces of information about each of them. I track the number of the distillery where it was produced, where I've tasted it, whether it's a highland or lowland variety, prices for a bottle of each where possible, as well as a brief description of my impressions of it and a note as to whether or not I should consider buying it for myself.
This data is sorted in different ways, each on a different worksheet, to easily find different things:

  • The first worksheet is the ranking according to my preference. Best at the top, worst at the bottom (your tastes will no doubt be different). The color coding should be fairly obvious- Green are the best, white is good, yellow is so-so, and red are those not to my liking.

  • The second worksheet shows the tequilas listed alphabetically. There are now so many in the list that it's hard to find a particular one in the preference ranking! It's also the best way of locating whether I've tried a specific one or not.
    Note that some have the word "Tequila" in the name, like "Tequila Ocho." Look for it under "T" not "O".

  • The third worksheet is the tequilas sorted by NOM (Denomination of Origin). The NOM is the four-digit identification of the distillery in which the tequila was made. It's interesting to see how many different brands are produced at the same place, even though they are billed as different companies.

  • The fourth worksheet is the tequilas sorted by rank, for each type of tequila. Interested to see how, say, all Reposados shake out against each other? This is the worksheet. I wondered how many "good" blancos I've seen, and how many "not so good" añejos I've tried. This makes it easy to see.

  • The fifth worksheet is the relative value of a tequila. They're sorted by price, then by rank. Choose a price range, and look for the lowest rank number within that range. This is my idea of the best value of a tequila in that price range.

    It's interesting to see that a tequila's price often isn't indicative of its quality and flavor. Often times the price is more a reflection of how interesting its bottle is, or how much its marketing department thinks they can get for it. Sure, there are low-cost cheap tequilas, and some of the best are expensive. But just as often there are excellent tequilas of reasonable price, and sub-standard tequilas with a high price tag.

  • The sixth worksheet is simply alphabetical showing prices. If you're out searching for a tequila, this will give an idea of what should be paid for a given bottle.

The rankings aren't quite as accurate as I'd like- I haven't sat down with fifty tequilas in front of me! I generally taste a handful at a time, and put them into the ranking based upon my notes and recollection of the flavors of the others. As I taste (and accumulate) more, I go back and re-evaluate and re-rank them. Another interesting by-product of this exercise is that I'm learning more and more about tasting. Now I can taste flavors I wasn't aware of when I started all this. So I continually re-taste tequilas at bars and tasting events, re-evaluate, re-rank, applying what I've since learned. Still, I've gotten to the point of being able to place new tequilas in the rank pretty well.
So check back often, the spreadsheet (and this page) seem to get updated fairly frequently.

No, Cuervo Gold isn't on the list- It doesn't count. Only true 100% Blue Agave tequilas are listed, although I do list some unusal specialty tequilas at the bottom. And in fact, there are a few sotols in the tequila section, and a few raicillas in the mezcal section.

Kelly's Spreadsheet ranking Tequilas and Mezcals

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