With the rise of expensive sipping tequilas, new hot trends like cristalino, and the trickle-down barrel-obsession descended from the whiskey boom, it seems that as tequila keeps increasing in popularity blanco expressions are growing more and more under-appreciated. That’s a shame. In part, because there are a lot of great blancos out there. A great blanco has its own vibe — vegetal, peppery, bright.
This is tequila at its most pure. Its flavor profile is a reflection of the roasted Blue Agave piñas it’s made from. And not for nothing, but it’s the base of some of the best cocktails on the planet — from the margarita to the paloma. So put some respect on blanco’s name.
To help give blancos their propers, we put seven bottles to the blind taste test. Why blind? Because it’s easier to zero in on flavors without the reputation of a brand influencing our opinion. Think I’m joking? Just take a look at how many Patron reviews will mention honey or flowers — no doubt influenced by its honey-bee adorned label.
On to the taste test!
Part 1: The Taste
For this blind tasting, I grabbed seven bottles of un-aged tequila that all fall within the $20-$50 range. Some of these are budget tequilas and some are award-winning expressions, but all of them are good-to-great. So I’m not sweating any rude surprises that will wreck my palate. Here is our class:
- Bribón Blanco
- Don Ramon Platinium Plata
- El Tesoro Blanco
- Espolon Blanco
- Hiatus Blanco
- Hornitos Plata
- Patrón Silver
Let’s get to tasting.
Fresh cut grass greets you on the nose with a harsh hit of kerosene, hitting the tongue with an initial burn that morphs into a pleasing burst of sweet citrus. Herbal notes of cool pine linger on the backend of this one, finishing off in a pleasing place that wasn’t suggested by its smell.
Honestly, a great start.
One whiff of this tickled the sinuses as a flood of zesty lime greeted me, leading to a surprisingly mellow taste with a highly silky mouthfeel. This didn’t quite manage the depth that the first taste provided, though the initial flavor was much smoother.
Aside from its great mouthfeel, I got the subtlest hint of melon — supplying a note of sweetness but little else.
Noticeably sweet on the nose with an inviting floral quality, this one hit me with an initial burn that gave way to tart and slightly bitter apple skin, softening into a warm honey kiss with a sweet peach finish. This one really took me on a journey, the flavors are constantly shifting and dancing on the palate.
Much more complex than the first two tastes.
Sickly sweet and highly chemical on the nose, my hopes for this one weren’t high. But as soon as it hit my palate it presented itself completely free of burn with a pleasing mouthfeel. Highly vegetal, I’m getting a bit of asparagus and lettuce with a warm body and a celery-like peppery bite that finishes with sweet pineapple notes.
Bright on the nose with some peppery zest, this tequila doesn’t taste… bad, exactly. It has some interesting notes of cantaloupe and hibiscus going for it, but it tastes like the flavors are struggling to get through. At the finish, this one just feels a little flat, it hints at a depth that just isn’t quite there.
I suspected I might have hit an exhausted palate and took a bit of a break here and went in for a second taste. It wasn’t my palate, this was just boring.
Vegetal and agave forward with strong hints of gasoline, this tequila burns the nose but is highly drinkable, despite its harsh introduction. Unlike Taste 5 the flavors are well translated here — a gentle kiss of vanilla leads to spiced pineapple and cooked agave with a smooth and pleasant mouthfeel that goes down way too smooth for something that smells this offensive.
Wow. This is far and above the best. On the nose, bright citrus and cactus pear mingle, giving this tequila a pronounced desert-like quality. It feels fit to drink in a Western. On the palate, it’s noticeably luxurious with a subtle burn that gives way to bright and grassy agave and sumptuous fire-roasted pineapple with a warm floral honey finish.
Part 2: The Ranking
Unfortunately, there were few surprises here. I entered this blind taste test hoping a cheaper bottle would hold its own against the pricier stuff. I wanted some cool reveal!
But as we inched closed to $50, the tequilas really started to shine. Still, within the cheaper bottles, we did have one pleasant surprise.
7. Hornitos Plata (Taste 5)
Average Price: $25
Rolling up to a party with any of these bottles won’t make anyone feel like you secretly hate them and are passive-aggressively taking your hate out by bringing them bad tequila. But every ranking has a bottom and in this ranking, that position goes to Hornitos Plata.
That’s somewhat surprising. For $30 dollars a bottle, Hornitos really tries to position this bottle apart from the other mid-shelf brands as something slightly more special. Turns out… it’s not!
The Bottom Line:
Don’t be swayed by the slightly higher price tag, this tequila isn’t much better than the bottles priced a few bucks cheaper.
6. Espolon Blanco Tequila (Taste 6)
Average Price: $26.99
Produced in the legendary hills of Los Altos, Espolon’s Blanco is made using 100% blue weber agave and double distilled in column pots for an overall balanced expression. Aside from the silkier mouthfeel, Espolon’s Blanco presents itself harsher on the nose than Hornitos’ Plata, but its smooth qualities set it just over our bottom pick.
The Bottom Line
It’s good and cheap, but it doesn’t quite feel like a steal at this price. A bit harsh on the nose, but overall a smooth and drinkable tequila. Nothing special.
5. Bribón Blanco Tequila (Taste 2)
Average Price: $21.99
This one was by far the most surprising. At just $21.99 it’s a full-on budget bottle and the cheapest on this list, but it clearly punches above its weight. For Bribón’s Blanco, the label starts with hand-harvested fully matured agave cooked for 18 hours that is then shredded and juiced before being fermented in tanks and double distilled to a pure crystal clear state.
Overall, the bottles that hover between $20 and $30 don’t differ too too much, so in terms of bang for your buck grabbing this over Espolon or Hornitos will save you some cash and elevate your cocktails. Unfortunately, there is a world of difference between this bottle and everything ranked above it.
The Bottom Line:
If you don’t feel comfortable paying close to $50 for a bottle of Blanco tequila, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a bottle better than Bribón in both flavor and mouthfeel.
4. Don Ramon Platinium Plata (Taste 1)
Average Price: $42
Don Ramon’s Platinium Plata is the bottle that benefitted the most from the blind taste test. Having experience tasting the entire Platinium line — which includes cristalino, reposado, and añejo expressions — I know of the three the Plata is by far the weakest link. But in this blind tasting against other un-aged tequilas, it held up pretty nicely, ranking much higher than I initially expected.
Made from blue agave harvested from the highlands of Jalisco, this plata tequila is double-distilled and presents itself with an appetizingly shimmery clear color.
The Bottom Line:
This bottle has a lot going for it. A great agave forward expression with rich citrus undertones. Unfortunately, it has a strong kerosene quality on the nose that holds it back a bit. It’s a little too pure, we’re getting too much of the distillation process in the flavor.
3. Patrón Silver (Taste 4)
Average Price: $49.99
Everyone roots against Patrón because people are always insisting it’s top-shelf stuff. It’s priced high on restaurant menus and your liquor store probably keeps it locked up in a cage, which is ridiculous because there are way better tequila brands that stay on the shelves. My theory is that this is because Patrón is easier to say than Herradura or El Tesoro.
I’m not ashamed to say that I went into this rooting against Patron, too. I was hoping this bottle ranked close to the bottom and I could call out a spoiler. But hey, credit where credit is due: Patrón Blanco is incredibly drinkable.
If you’re someone who winces when tequila touches your palate, give Patrón a try — it produces almost no burn!
The Bottom Line:
Easily the most drinkable tequila on this list. Patrón goes down smooth and features an almost sweet aftertaste that lingers nicely whether taken as a shot or enjoyed in a complex cocktail.
2. El Tesoro Blanco (Taste 3)
Average Price: $46
Does it burn a lot more than Patrón? Yes. But El Tesoro’s Blanco tequila has so much character and depth of flavor, we’ll take a little pain to have a spirit this expressive. It’s no wonder this Blanco tequila snagged the gold medal at the International Spirits Challenge and scored highly at the Ultimate Spirits Challenge — it presents its flavors in distinct waves and just as you get a grasp on what you’re tasting it morphs into something else.
This draws you in and that’s what a good tequila should do.
The Bottom Line:
Floral and bright, El Tesoro’s Blanco is a journey for the palate and one of the most complex un-aged tequilas we’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. This will instantly elevate any tequila-based cocktail you’re mixing up.
1. Hiatus Blanco (Taste 7)
Average Price: $49
As I said in the tasting notes — wow. It’s almost hard to believe this is a Blanco tequila. While it’s got the clean and bright characteristic we’ve come to expect, Hiatus’s tequila is supremely smooth with a luxurious mouthfeel and a complex flavor that shifts between sweet tropical notes and grassy and highly vegetal qualities. Produced by master distiller Luis Trejo Rodriguez at La Cofradia distillery, this bottle deserves a permanent spot on your bar cart.
The Bottom Line:
Hiatus almost seems like it should be priced higher, thanks to its elegant flavors and silky smooth mouthfeel. This one reawoke my palate and really set itself apart from the rest in a noticeable way. Few tequilas in this price range are capable of inspiring a “wow” but Hiatus made it happen.
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