Tequila’s rise in popularity has been something of an underdog’s tale. Thirty years ago, most drinkers knew the spirit only as an ingredient in a Margarita or a party-starting shot. Even 20 years ago, as the contemporary cocktail revolution was in full tilt, only a few brands of tequila, such as Herradura, El Tesoro and Jose Cuervo, were available to consumers outside of Mexico.
Propelling the spirit to global popularity was no simple feat. It took years of clever marketing campaigns, trade shows and pop cultural cachet—from George Clooney founding Casamigos to Avión acting as an integral part of HBO’s hit series Entourage. As of 2021, according to the International Wine & Spirit Competition, agave spirits were the second fastest-growing spirits category, trailing only premixed cocktails. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, sales of tequila and mezcal climbed 30.1 percent year-over-year to $5.2 billion, with reports indicating that they’re gunning for vodka’s crown as the most-sold spirit in the U.S.
Needless to say, tequila is now firmly entrenched within the mainstream. With new brands—many of them celebrity-owned—launching on a seemingly daily basis, the category is in the midst of an unprecedented boom. To help filter through the noise, we surveyed 10 bartenders from around the world, asking for their go-to tequilas for mixing.
For most mixed drinks, blanco tequila is the standard because it “tends to be agave-forward, with prominent notes of citrus and pepper that bode very well for shaken cocktails,” says Andrea Grujic, bartender at Brooklyn’s Fandi Mata. “I always look for one with the ‘100% de agave’ mark on the bottle, and I always make sure that it’s a tequila that hasn’t been sweetened and doesn’t contain any sort of additives.”
For Liana Oster, bar director at Side Hustle at The NoMad Hotel London, regional differences among specific brands suit certain cocktails better than others. “If I want to play around with a blanco tequila that boasts more floral and delicate notes, I lean towards something from the Highlands,” she says, referring to bottles from Patrón, Cazadores or Tapatio. “If I wanted something a bit more herbaceous, earthy and green, I would favor the Lowlands,” such as versions by Cascahuín or Maestro Dobel.