The Best Tequilas of 2023
When you think of tequila, what comes to mind? Maybe it could be the salted rim and freshly squeezed lime of a Margarita. Or, that Paloma whose effervescent grapefruit tickles your nose. Or that night that you struggled with deciding whether or not you’d like to forget it.
Well, here at Worth, we would like to introduce you to another side of tequila. The one distilled from a culture’s deep history into today’s modern expressions. For this year’s Tequila Day, we invite you to say “¡Salud!” to the many incredible producers here and indulge in a glass no different than whiskey or wine. Enjoy learning about each selection, from their tasting profile to the people, history, and land behind them.
History: Wild Common stands on three pillars, tradition, community, and land. Their story begins when founder Andy Bardon, a National Geographic Photographer, was on a trip to Jalisco, Mexico. He met “the Rosales family, whose traditions date back to 1904. They decided to team up and create the cleanest expression of tequila possible to share with the world” (Wild Common). Together Bardon, Master Distiller Don Salvador Rosales Torres and his sons Salvador (“Chava”), and Benjamin are working under the common goal of bringing “people together to laugh, celebrate, and connect as a community for the common good” (Wild Common).
Tasting Notes: Three words can be used to describe this tequila. Bold, unapologetic, and clean. Since this is a still-strength tequila, yes there is a pop of alcohol on the nose, but trust that it will not last. The nose is full of agave in such an unexpected way. There is a refreshing quality to it from its deep saturation in minerals and salty notes, both balanced by citrus and mint. In the mouth, it is bright with its clear expression of white pepper, citrus, and tropical fruits. The finish ends this olfactory journey by rounding it out with notes of cinnamon, star anise, and that unmistakable agave sweetness. Confirmed additive-free by Tequila Matchmaker.
History: Siete Leguas was born in 1952 by Ignacio González Vargas. He chose the name “Siete Leguas” to commemorate General Fransico “Pancho” Villa’s horse, El Siete Leguas. General Villa is one of the figureheads of the Mexican Revolution and is known internationally as a revolutionary hero. His horse’s name translates to “7 Leagues,” which is the distance that separates many towns in Mexico. El Siete Leguas was given this name after she carried the general the entire distance of 7 leagues—56.7 miles—in one day whereas the other horses could only complete one league per day.
Tasting: For the 70th anniversary of Siete Legaus tequila, they created this limited-production blanco to commemorate the occasion. This tequila is made entirely of wild agave. This tequila expression from Siete Leguas allows you to identify the terroir. The agave is present in both the nose and the palate, but the same goes for the robust amount of citrus from limes, pronounced minerality, pepper notes, and herbaceousness from mint and fennel. From the nose to the palate, this blanco is worth the 70 years of experience and commitment behind it. Confirmed additive-free by Tequila Matchmaker.
History: Cazcanes Tequila is an ode to the indigenous people of Mexico and their legacy. Cazcanes gets their name from the Caxcan people, the last indigenous group to be conquered by the Spaniards. The Caxcan acted as the “heart and soul of the [Mixtón Rebellion]” from 1540-1542 (DBpedia).
Cazcanes Tequila carries on their legacy down to the foundational recipe for their expressions—a 300-year-old indigenous recipe found in a moonshine jungle still. Furthermore, each bottle is marked with the ancient symbol of the healing hand. The hand itself symbolizes healing and protection as the spiral in the palm represents eternity. When put together (as found on the bottle), it is said to carry a therapeutic energy and bring upon good luck and fortune (Symbol Sage).
Tasting Notes: This still-strength tequila is balanced, crisp, and complex. Rated 97 points by the Beverage Tasting Institute, on the nose, it is packed with lime, vegetal notes, citrus, black and white pepper, and a tremendous undercurrent of saltiness. On the palate, these aromas transform into more rounded flavors such as grilled lime, baking spices, an added emphasis on salinity, and warmed toasted black pepper. If you are not well acquainted with still strength, please prepare for the intense and clinging finish that will arrive wrapped in its buttery texture. Confirmed additive-free by Tequila Matchmaker.
Tasting Notes: Rated 96 points by the Beverage Tasting Institute, this expression is spicy and complex. The nose acts as a trailer for the flavors that explode on the palate. The nose is deceiving, like a hidden, unsuspecting door that leads to a world, unlike anything you could’ve ever imagined. The palate delivers a mountain of flavors that begin with a momentous base of cooked agave with the added layer of spiced, cooked red fruits. Loaded with a shocking amount of minerality and an added hit of salt and citrus, it somehow transforms into greener vegetal notes only to dance off the back palate into a warming peppery and anise finish. We can almost guarantee that you have tasted no Blanco quite like this. Confirmed additive-free by the Tequila Matchmaker.
G4 Reposado $59
History: G4 Tequila is a representation of family. It’s in the name itself. G4 stands for the four generations of passion and experience that exist within the Camarena family’s heritage as master distillers. Today, Felipe Camarena and his sons Luis Felipe and Alan stand at the helm of El Pandillo Distillery. Together they continue their family’s legacy that began in 1937 by combining innovative and traditional methods.
Tasting Notes: The G4 Reposado is a favorite of any tequila lover. Rated 94 points by the Beverage Tasting Institute, it is consistently touted as one of the best reposado tequilas on the market today, especially by those that consider themselves a sipping purist. It will invite you with refreshing hints of citrus, such as grapefruit, and surprising notes of black pepper and minerality. It is light, bright, and stands on its own as an expression of reposado. Confirmed additive-free by Tequila Matchmaker.
History: Melly Barajas Cárdenas is one of those people that doesn’t care how long something will take to get it right. Her story begins over 20 years ago when she and her father went on vacation, and he expressed that one day “he wanted a tequila made in his name.” As she expressed in an interview with The New York Times, she expressed how entering the tequila business was (at first) nothing more than achieving a dream for her father. But once she became a part of it, she “loved it. The smell, the taste, it was marvelous.” In 1999 she opened her distillery Raza Azteca joining the ranks of 7 other women tequila producers of the 79 total.
Cárdenas’ team of employees is entirely made up of women, whether they be working in the agave fields, cooking the agave, processing the fermentation, or bottling the final product. Yes, gap between women and men-owned tequila distilleries has grown. But Cárdenas has created a brand and a community that acts as a beacon of hope within the industry, symbolizing to women, as she puts it, “the sky’s the limit.”
Tasting Notes: La Gritona carries a characteristic of excitement rooted in a brooding character. It has a vanilla character and vegetal, herbaceous notes that transport you straight into the agave fields in the highlands of Jalisco that La Gritona is made from. With a slight sweetness and a lingering note of cinnamon, this tequila lands on the lighter side of reposados. Additive-free.
History: Tequila Ocho was born out of a common goal—to prove the concept of terroir exists in tequila no different than wine. This single-estate tequila has been founded by a dream team, Carlos Camarena and Tomas Estes. Camarena is a fifth-generation agave farmer and third-generation tequilero whose great-grandfather is credited with bringing blue agave to the Highlands of Jalisco (Ocho Tequila). His passion lies beyond tequila and settles in the land and understanding how it interacts with the agave. This is what has led him to be named the Distiller of the Year at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2005, awarded Gold Star from the World Marketing Organization in 2009, and decorated with a medal for his contribution to the Tequila Industry from the President of Mexico in 2010.
Estes was just as established. For his work promoting tequila, agave spirits, and Mexican culture across the globe, he was named the official Tequila Ambassador to Europe by the Mexican National Tequila Chamber in 2003. He is credited with (as noted in the New York Times) placing tequila “on the same shelf as fine cognac and single-malt Scotch.” Furthermore, in 2012 Estes published a seminal book on tequila, The Tequila Ambassador, widely viewed at that time as the definitive work on tequila. Unfortunately, in 2021 Estes passed away. His commitment and impact on the tequila industry and Mexico will never be forgotten.
I love when a number follows someone throughout their life. Whether it be as a good luck charm or a provider of peace. Personally, I experience this with the number 23, and as have the co-founders of Tequila Ocho. The choice of the number eight comes from 8 different reasons. The company was founded in 2008, from the 8th sample created by Camarena for Estes. Camarena has 8 brothers and sisters and the family has produced tequila for 8 decades. It takes 8 years for the agave to ripen before harvest, 8 days for the agave to become blanco tequila after arriving at the distillery, 8 weeks and 8 days to age the reposado, and 8kg of agave to make 1L of tequila. They built the brand together as an homage to the soil and land that provided them with this opportunity. As Camarena says, “Remain loyal to your roots…Remain loyal to your traditions…Remain loyal to who you are…Because your past is your present and will be your future.”
Tasting Notes: This limited-release reposado from Tequila Ocho was made and named after a collaboration with Brooklyn-Based Widow Jane Distillery. This reposado was aged in the used bourbon barrels from Widow Jane and resulted in a unique intersection of qualities between the two spirits. Throughout the nose and palate, the classic whiskey notes of baking and barrel spice are beautifully present—noticeable but not overpowering. The agave, however, is subtle on the nose but then takes center stage in the mouth. Notes of fresh fruit and bright flavors such as mint and citrus boast a complex sipping experience. This reposado is something that will evolve with each sip and is made with the passionate tequila drinker in mind. Confirmed additive-free by Tequila Matchmaker.
Fortaleza Añejo $179
History: If you were to ask, what is an example of a consistently high-quality tequila brand? Los Abuelos (Fortaleza as it is known in the U.S.), would be the answer. Tequila Fortaleza was launched in 2005 by a family whose rich and founding history with the spirit began over 150 years ago.
In 1873, 5 generations ago, Don Cenobio, founded his first distillery—La Perseverancia—in the town of Tequila, Jalisco (Tequila Fortaleza). He would become the first person ever to export the spirit to the U.S. His son, Eladio, would carry the baton by establishing tequila as the national drink of Mexico during the Mexican Revolution and go on to found another distillery, La Constancia.
After Don Eladio passed, his son Francisco Javier would do something that would be considered the single most important thing for the industry. He helped to establish the Denomination of Origin for Tequila. This history-making decision was fueled by a trip to Japan in the late 1960s when Don Javier came across a bottle of Japanese Tequila. Angered by this, he stated that tequila can only be made in Mexico, specifically, in the area around Tequila. In 1973, led by Don Javier, a group of tequila producers applied for an appellation of origin. But it would take another 23 years before the world would officially recognize the denomination.
Don Javier would go on to found La Fortaleza at the highest point in the town of Tequila to “overlook his rival’s distillery.” But in 1976, he sold the family business only for his grandson Guillermo to bring it back to life in 1999.
Tasting: Los Abuelos’ Añejo is a treasure to be enjoyed. The aromas and flavors of cooked agave, vanilla, and caramel are present and balanced by underlying citrus and fruity notes that whisper at the end of every sip. It is exquisite, luxurious, complex, and satisfying. This añejo is one of the truest forms of its tequila expression. If you can get your hands on it, don’t just leave it on the shelf as a piece of treasure. Enjoy and savor every sip. Confirmed Additive Free by Tequila Matchmaker.
History: In 1950, Don Alfonso Jimenez Rosales created El Caballito Cerrero after a falling out with a previous business partner. The name translates to “The one that doesn’t need horseshoes” and was meant to point at the tension between the estranged pair.
Don Jimenez made the Santa Rita Distillery, built in 1873 by his father-in-law Maximiano Hernandez Orozco, the home of his tequila. Jimenez was lucky as Orozco’s family is one of the few whose line of vino del mezcal producers can be traced directly back to the 1600s. Today, you will find that Caballito Cerreros bottles do not have the name “tequila” across them—and that is no accident. In 2018, the 15th generation decided to produce each product as an agave distillate to maintain the plant’s full identity.
Tasting Notes: Using the Chato agave varietal makes this still strength añejo a unique surprise reminiscent of the old ways of agave distillation. Peeking into the past, this expression gives you a glimpse of the nation’s spirit two or three hundred years ago. The nose is floral and fruity, somehow imbuing the essence of a spring day. On the palate, the sun’s warmth appears with the warm cooked agave, barrel spices, black pepper, and clove. The finish is long and lingering, focused on the flavors of cinnamon, allspice, and a salty undertone.
History: Nothing about founder, president, and CEO Dr. Adolfo Murillo nor his hometown ever intended to be a part of the tequila industry. Born in Agua Negra, Jalisco, on his family’s farm Murillo “witnessed the care and attention his grandfather Abelino gave to his land, his crops and herds to provide for his family and the community around him” (Alquimia Tequila). His grandfather would instill a lesson in him that would one day be the pillar of Aliquimia Tequila, “Take care of the earth, and she will take care of you.”
Years would pass. He moved to the U.S. as a young boy, still visited his family every summer, and eventually became a Doctor of Optometry. Before his father passed away, Murillo and his wife convinced him not to sell the ranch on one condition, to find a way to make the land productive. After researching crops, he chose the one that had never been grown in this area of Los Altos de Jalisco—agave.
Murillo, in spite of the naysayers touting the impossibility of any success due to soil conditions, committed himself. In 1992, he discovered that by combining organic methods, modern science, and traditional agriculture techniques it could not only be done, but it would flourish. Combining his family’s knowledge and joining with local foreman Luis Guzman, they surpassed expectations by growing some of the healthiest agaves many tequila experts have ever seen. They have shared all that they learned with local farmers and rejuvenated their hometown of Agua Negra. Today, Dr. Adolfo Murillo has been recognized as the “Pioneer of Organic Tequila” by leading tequila experts, as he was the original developer of the organic method movement. He has continued his grandfather’s teaching of, “take care of the earth, and she will take care of you.” Murillo passes on the “mission to produce an eco-friendly product of the highest quality that positively impacts the environment, as well as our communities of farm workers and consumers” (Alquimia Tequila).
Tasting Notes: For a high-proof, 14-year barrel-aged tequila to still have copious amounts of sweet, cooked agave on both the nose and palate is a feat that should not be taken lightly. Rated 97 points by the Beverage Tasting Institute, the nose is defined with dried fruits, vanilla, oak, and caramel with a depth of rich molasses and smoke. On the palate, the agave takes center stage right alongside the caramel. Notes from the nose such as the dried fruit and vanilla work together to round out the palette. The finish is lingering and robust full of black pepper and cinnamon. It is warm, rich, powerful, and most importantly, delicious. Certified USDA Organic.