I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has told me, “I don’t drink tequila. It makes me [crazy/angry/sleep with random strangers].” This is complete and utter bullshit, and I’m calling it out. Alcohol is alcohol; different spirits don’t lead to different moods—it’s all about how much you drank and the circumstances you drank it in. And people who hate tequila generally had way too much of the cheapest bottle in the store once or twice in college and gave the stuff up forever.
That ends now. Yes, bad tequila is really bad, but good tequila is really good, and it’s time to try some of Mexico’s good stuff. While you’re at it, you should also test out some mezcal, tequila’s smokier, wilder cousin: It’s getting pretty trendy, and you’ll be seeing it a lot this coming year. Here, then, are seven bottlings to sample.
Tapatio 110 Blanco Tequila ($56 for 1 L)
Bartenders love this bottling—first introduced to the U.S. in 2013—for a lot of reasons: It’s a powerful 110-proof, which makes it great for mixing in cocktails (weaker spirits’ flavors can get lost); it’s made by legendary distiller Carlos Camarena, who also created El Tesoro and Tequila Ocho; and it comes in oversized one-liter bottles (750-milliliter is typical), so you can make a lot of Margaritas. Sipped neat, it definitely shows its strength, with strong peppery and grassy notes, and a long, warm finish.
El Silencio Joven Mezcal ($75)
Call this one a gateway mezcal. While the smoky funk of more idiosyncratic mezcals can be off-putting for beginners, El Silencio is a smooth spirit, with a hint of burning hickory and some nice, comforting roasted flavors. All the characteristics that make mezcal mezcal are there, just a bit toned down and more approachable. Try it in place of whiskey (no, really!) in an Old Fashioned.
ArteNOM Seleccion de 1146 Añejo Tequila ($60)
Many tequila brands merely bottle liquid they’ve purchased from one distillery or another and aren’t exactly forthcoming about the source of their spirit. ArteNOM does the complete opposite, highlighting the different distilleries it buys from by putting their official government registration numbers right on the label. (The norma oficial Mexicana, or NOM, is the set of rules and regulations for tequila production and assigns each distillery a unique number.) The ArteNOM añejo is definitely a sipper, offering everything from raisins and ginger to jalapeño and cinnamon in its deeply complex bouquet.
La Niña del Mezcal Espadin ($50)
Of the dozens of varieties of agave used to make mezcal, espadin is the most common, which means an espadin mezcal really has to stand out to distinguish itself. And this one does, combining huge smokiness with deeply earthy agave. It’s not a tipple to subsume in a mixed drink; have it neat to enjoy all of its subtleties.
Milagro Silver Tequila ($30)
If you need a go-to, inexpensive-but-still-high-quality tequila to keep on hand at all times in your home bar, this is it. On the nose, it’s refined and floral, but take a sip and you definitely know you’re drinking tequila. Try it with grapefruit soda and lime in a Paloma, Mexico’s actual favorite tequila cocktail. (Margaritas are for gringos.)
Suerte Reposado Tequila ($36)
Striking a balance between the spunky spice of the unaged blanco and the subdued oakiness of a long-aged añejo, reposado tequilas are the most versatile. Suerte’s fine reposado finds a beautiful midpoint between the butterscotch and caramel that come from spending seven months in barrels and the citrusy fire of pure distilled agave. It’s good for sipping, shooting or mixing.
Mezcal Vago Cuixe ($86)
Mezcal Vago is obsessed with the artisanal production process of mezcal, recording all the details right on its labels, which look like tables out of a science textbook. The brand scours the Oaxacan countryside for small-production distillers making mezcal the old-school way, and it definitely shows in this bottling, made from wild-grown agave in miniscule batches. It’s surprisingly fruity, with smoke taking a backseat to delicate sweetness and minerality.