Followup: What is good tequila?

When I posted What is good tequila? I had no idea that it would generate anywhere near the number of comments that it has.

Great stuff. Thank you for taking the time to respond (mostly– one or two jackasses out there, no surprise).

I wanted to respond inline, but there were so many comments so fast, that I couldn’t keep up. So, I have selected the ones that I wanted to respond to, pulled out quotes, and responded in this post.

The next post will be my personal list of favorite tequilas. It will be long. And opinionated. And highly centric to the current state of the market in the San Francisco bay area.

Tequila Brought Back From Mexico


A typical cork-sniffer’s review, as if it has to be “from the heartland” and from “highlands” to be any good. I’ve been to Mexico and asked actual Mexicans what they like to drink and what’s the best stuff to buy. I came back with a couple of bottles of Don Julio Reposado.

Heh. This made me laugh. To take such an air of superiority and to cop such an attitude and then close with “I came back with a couple of bottles of Don Julio Reposado”.

Don Julio is a solid product. Good stuff– I’ll buy it if I can find it at a great price. But if that is the best you could find upon return from Mexico, then… well… epic fail. There are so many products that are of a better quality, flavor, and experience than Don Julio. Many of which are pictured to the left.

Of course, that you wrote off heartlands — lowlands — versus highlands demonstrates your outright ignorance. There is a distinct difference in the way agave grows between the two and this carries through to the tequila.

Go away, troll, there are plenty of boards full of clueless jackasses for you to torment.


I look forward to finding a copy of The Tequila Book: A Complete Guide, by Bob Emmons. It sounds interesting.

However, it looks like the information within the book was mostly compiled prior to 1997 and, thus, is likely no longer a good quantification of the market. The tequila market has changed radically in the last decade in that the rise of boutique brands has been huge. Thus, many new products have come into existence in the last 10 years and many products that were of stellar quality then no longer are because they have opted to build brand and efficiency instead of focusing on continued qualities.

I agree about mixers, too — yuck! So much easier to do better at home with fresh ingredients. Tommy’s Nectar of the Gods is the one exception.


If you can find it, give Espolón Reposado a try. Corazón is to Espolón as Cabrito is to Centinela; it is the slightly cheaper version of the distilleries premium product.

Either way, delicious stuff. I try to keep a bottle of Corazón or Espolón on hand as a staple tequila.

@Ben Lewis:

Great post. I feel compelled to mention that Tommy’s is on approximately 25th and Geary in San Francisco, and is well worth a visit for anyone who found this post interesting (I do not work there and am not affiliated with them in any way). I got basically this entire lesson from the bartender there one day – while I was drinking samples of everything mentioned. When you drink good tequila, and only good tequila, my opinion is that it’s the best alcohol buzz around.

Thank you.

I have been going to Tommy’s for a long, long time, and have taken many many friends (actually, the photo at the top of the Tommy’s web site is one of mine). Fantastic homestyle Yucatan style cuisine, too.

In terms of the Blue Agave club, I’m at the demi-god level, having visited 9 distilleries in Mexico at this point. Can’t wait to go back.

Julio’s — the bartender’s — knowledge of tequila is unparalleled and Tommy’s library of tequilas is the most expansive in the world. Seriously — Julio has product that hasn’t been made in 20 years or for which the production run was measured in dozens of bottles!


Bbum Visits Centinela Distillery -- Makers of incredibly tasty tequila.

Centinela is awesome stuff!! It is made just outside the town of Arandas and has that distinct highland agave spiciness. Another staple tequila for me.

My wife and I visited the distillery a couple of years ago and they were extremely gracious hosts.

Cabrito is made in the same distillery and to just about the same standards. It is just slightly harsher and just slightly less refined, but it is also considerably cheaper and more widely available. I encourage you to give it a try!

Also, if you can find it, the Centinela 3 Años and the Centinela 7 Años — their extra anejos — are just flat out stunning products. I try to bring back at least one bottle of either whenever I’m returning from Mexico. I haven’t seen a bottle of the 7 year stateside outside of Tommy’s.

Herradura makes amazing products, too, and it is also another distillery I have visited. Herradura is unique in that they use entirely wild fermentation agents (claiming more than just yeast) and, to ensure a healthy population, maintain a beautiful, huge, set of flower and fruit gardens that are just loaded with microorganisms. Seriously, their fermentation building is covered in gigantic stalagmites of micro-critters just waiting to turn agave into alcohol.

@Bill Morgan:

I simply didn’t mention mezcals. I have tried several really good mezcals and was impressed by the refined nature of their taste.

However, I’m simply not a fan. Most of the mezcals I have found to be too smoky or too herbacious. Intensely so. Amazing in and of itself, just not too my liking.

I would definitely encourage anyone to give ’em a try, though!


For additional blog posts on tequila, I wrote a couple a while back. Similar stuff to Bill’s post, with different thoughts and omissions. The posts are older, and some information about specific brands is a little dated, but overall they might be useful:

Tequila 101
Everything you need to know about ordering tequila
Tequila Recommendations

Finally, let me +1 the recommendation to go to Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant, sit in the bar, and learn about tequila in the best English-speaking classroom in the world on the subject.

Michael and Rochelle have been pursuing all things tequila for a lot longer than I have. They were some of the first of the demi-gods I met at Tommy’s and one of the big reasons why I kept going back to Tommy’s again and again.

So, What Michael Said. Go read his weblog posts, too. Great stuff!

In particular, the Tequila 101 post covers the making of tequila in detail and is an excellent read.

Julio, Bbum, and a Big Snifter of Herradura Sellecion Suprema


I like to explore some of the more varied Anejos versus Reposados. Speaking of El Tesoro, one of my favorites tequila’s is El Tesoro’s Paradiso. I could sit around slowly drinking that all day long. People who come from a strong whiskey background may be right at home with it. I had never heard of the term “Extra Anejo” before you mentioned here. Though I have a bottle sitting on my desk…On my honeymoon in Mexico, I brought back a bottle of Herradura Seleccion Suprema. Much cheaper in Mexico then buying it back here. However, it didn’t live up to its reputation. Though the scroll in the box proclaims that it is Mexico’s best tequila ever made, I have to disagree.

El Tesoro Paradiso is pretty close to the top of my list of extra anejos. It is just a spectacular product.

In Mexico, you can also find Tapatio Exelencia, which is distilled by the same family. Better or worse? Matter of personal taste, but I do believe you would find it to be every bit as uniquely spectacular as Paradiso!

That big glass in the picture on the right? That is a glass of Herradura Seleccion Suprema. It is a really great tequila, but I’m not entirely surprised at your reaction.

Herradura is a heartlands — lowlands — tequila and, thus, has a much smoother flavor and character that is strikingly different from the spicy and explosive flavors of a highlands tequila like Paradiso.

If you like Paradiso, it is easy to imagine that Suprema would come off as a bit underwhelming.

In the bay area, Paradiso can be found for $95 to $110 / bottle, if you look hard enough.


For 25 years I’ve been under the impression tequila is the one liquor that continues to age once bottled, as wine does. Have I been misled?

As long as the seal is good — the cork doesn’t go bad — a bottled tequila will remain stable in flavor and color. Light, air flow and temperature changes can quickly destroy a tequila, though.

Tommy’s has tequilas that were last bottled in the early 90s that taste the same as they did 15 years ago!

I keep an eye on my meager collection (extremely meager compared to most). Any bottle that changes color or liquid level immediately moves to the “OK to consume” cabinet.

@El Jefe:

Dude knows his stuff! Go read his comment — all of it — as it illuminates a number of interesting changes in tequila over time.

First, distillers like El Tesoro that are all about traditional production and focus on high quality products will produce tequilas that change over time. Much like wines change from year to year, but agave is not an annual and, thus, a “batch” or “lot no” will not correspond to a calendar year.

Some extra anejos go the overly “scotchy” route, but I actually like that when it is done well. For example, I find San Matias’s Rey Sol to be absolutely sublime. On the flip side, Don Julio’s 1942 is not to my taste– it is delicious, but too candy for me.

El Jefe also wrote:

Cabrito used to be 100% agave. It was dumbed down to a mixto around 2001, when the agave shortage pushed reposado prices through the roof. (Priced a bottle of Herradura lately? 378p for the .950 bottle down south. I used to get it for 87!) El Jimador (Casa Herradura) was also dumbed down.

Correct. When there was an agave shortage in the late ’90s, many distillers moved to taking their low end brands and turning them into Mixtos — into adulterated products that were nearly 1/2 sugar cane based alcohol (cheap rum).

Many of the “switchers” returned to the products to 100% blue agave once the agave availability recovered and I’m fairly sure that Cabrito returned to being 100% blue agave in the past few years. El Jimador remains a mixto.


Nice site and explains the different variations…although I find them questionable since the Mexican distilleries usually decides what to call it. Not much government regulation.

This is completely incorrect.

The tequila industry is very heavily regulated and the labeling is quite precisely controlled. Distilleries are typically visited daily by the regulatory agency.

While I’m sure there is corruption in the industry, as in any industry, it is far from being the norm and running afoul of the regulatory agency is an extremely costly mistake to make.


Good primer. One point: there’s no real scientific evidence to suggest that hangovers are related in any way to the “quality” or “purity” of an alcoholic beverage. In other words, it’s just as easy to have a bad hangover from Cuervo as it is from drinking the same amount of a real tequila.

I know of no scientific studies, but I do have a considerable set of anecdotal evidence amongst myself and my friends.

I also know many many people that swore off tequila forever because of a “Cuervo Incident” who sat down and drank an equivalent amount of 100% blue agave product and remained comparatively unscathed.

Agave is a unique source of fermentable sugars. It is of no surprise to me that the resulting buzz and aftermath would be different — as different as a hangover produced by red wine (ouch! sinus attack!) vs. scotch (ouch! peat bog rammed in my head!) vs. rum (ouch! my eyes are trying to throb their way out of my head!).

Worse, the mixtos often have all kinds of nasty flavorings and additives.

However, I will say, I have occasionally found myself in a world of pain after having consumed 100% blue agave products. It can be done!

8 Responses to “Followup: What is good tequila?”

  1. map says:

    Afaik fusel alcohols are implicated as being at least a contributing factor to hangover. A cursory search brought up quite a few papers on the matter. So, at least in my layman’s view of things, there is scientific evidence to suggest that hangovers are related to the purity of alcohol.

  2. Ian Chadwick says:

    “I know of no scientific studies, but I do have a considerable set of anecdotal evidence amongst myself and my friends.”

    Actually, there are numerous studies about hangovers and you can find many good ones online. The purity of the alcohol has a lot to do with it – the fusils are bad, but so are additives and congeners. All contribute to a hangover (sadly because they may also contribute to the flavour, for example red wine), particularly bad are sugars. But add to that list dehydration and excessive consumption. They all make the morning after worse.

    The Tequila Book: A Complete Guide, by Bob Emmons is out of print. However, there are some new titles available that are very good and recommended reading. I have a list of books and magazines about tequila here:

    “For 25 years I’ve been under the impression tequila is the one liquor that continues to age once bottled, as wine does. Have I been misled? …As long as the seal is good — the cork doesn’t go bad — a bottled tequila will remain stable in flavor and color. Light, air flow and temperature changes can quickly destroy a tequila, though”

    Once opened, tequila is subject to oxidation, which will gradually but irrevocably make it lose much of its agave aroma and flavour. While no spirit or alcohol ages in the bottle, it can undergo changes due to the interaction of chemicals. I’ve had five-year-old mezcal that was left sealed in the bottle and it was remarkably smoother than its freshly bottled version. This April, our forum tour members had the honour of tasting a bottle of blanco that had been stored 35 years. It was simply a stunningly good blanco. Niether of these “aged” but they did undergo subtle changes in the bottle. The key however, is a sealed bottle.


  3. Mike says:

    Excellent articles! These prompted me to finally get a good quality bottle of tequila after consuming only Cuervo and 1800 Reposado. I bought a bottle of Herradura Silver, and mixed it with some fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice on ice. Absolutely wonderful. Night and day difference. I thought it was very smooth, and this post confirmed my thoughts. I need to get some highlands tequila to compare the differences.

    I know you said in the previous post that Patron tequila is average, despite its marketed reputation. What are your thoughts on Cabo Wabo or Tres Generaciones? I’m curious because, when I was in college, I’d see bottles of Patron or Tres Generaciones (or whatever was commonly in liquor stores and cost around $40) and figured that, if I ever splurge on tequila, those would be the brands. I’m glad I went with the Herradura, though.

    Again, thanks for the great and informative posts.

  4. B12 Solipsism » Blog Archive » links for 2008-06-23 says:

    […] bbum’s weblog-o-mat » Blog Archive more good tequila stuff (tags: tequila food) […]

  5. Watts says:

    I’m certainly interested in your recommendations — and also your margarita recipes. I admit I haven’t been to Tommy’s yet, even though I live around San Mateo; I’ve been a little put off by the descriptions of his margarita recipe having only lime and a bit of sweetener, with no orange liqueur. To me, that no longer sounds like a margarita, it’s a… tequila daiquiri, perhaps.

    (My own margarita recipe of the moment tends to be 1.5 oz. tequila, 1 oz. Gran Gala orange liqueur, 1/4 oz. simple syrup and 3/4 oz. fresh lime juice. I’m using Don Julio Blanco at the moment — but it’s running low, so your tequila recommendations are timely!)

  6. Rochelle says:

    First, thanks for the kind words about Michael & I.

    Second, I have several interesting tequila books including The Tequila Book: A Complete Guide, by Bob Emmons, The Tequila Lover’s Guide to Mexico, by Lance Cutler and Tequila!: A Natural and Cultural History by Ana Guadalupe Valenzuela Zapata. I really recomment the Zapata book because its a from a very different perspective and you’ll learn things that you won’t hear from tequila industry people. If you want to borrow them, let me know and I can either pop them in the mail to you or leave them at Tommy’s for you to pick up next time you’re in town.

  7. Jon Harwayne says:

    It seems that Espolon is no longer available in San Francisco. Do you know why?

  8. bbum says:

    Odd. I have no idea. However, this does happen every now and then with some of the boutique brands either because of a supply problem or distributor hiccup. Sometimes, you can get some extreme bargains, too, if you are lucky, but mostly it boils down to not being able to find a favorite.

    You could always trek out to Tommy’s and ask Julio. If anything is up with the brand, he’d know!

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