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The Top Rated Tequila In Every Category, According To The Ultimate Spirits Challenge

If you’re shopping for a bottle of tequila, you could approach it one of two ways: 1) you buy a bottle blindly, maybe the label draws you in or the hue of the spirit itself, or 2) you take a targeted approach and zero in on the exact type of tequila you want/ need. We highly recommend the latter, because if you’re drawn to the bright and natural sweetness of blue agave, and you’re looking for an expression that’s going to make a great base for your cocktail, for the love of all that is holy reach for the top-shelf plata or reposado and not the extra añejo, despite the beauty of its deep amber hue. On the flip side, if sipping tequila is your jam, you reach for that Añejo bottle of Corazon De Agave over the bottle of joven more often than not.

Knowing the exact type of tequila you need will make your cocktails better and keep your wallet fatter, so we’ve pulled each of the top-rated tequilas in every category from this year’s Ultimate Spirits Challenge. The Ultimate Spirits Challenge (USC) is one of the most well-respected spirit tasting organizations on the planet right now. For 10 years, their judges have been convening in a state of the art tasting facility in Hawthrone, New York, and ranking the best of the best spirits in every category they can dream up. From whiskey to rum and vodka to tequila — if it gets you drunk, the USC tests it.

So let’s dive into the top-rated tequilas in every category from this year’s Ultimate Spirits Challenge — with tasting notes from the judges. This way, you’ll know what you’re looking for and be sure to find the best of the best next time you’re thirsty.

Best Blanco/Plata Tequila: Tequila Ocho Plata (96 Points)

ABV: 40%
Distillery: La Alteña
Average Price: $49.99

The Tequila:

Winner of the USC’s highest honor, the Chairman’s Trophy, Ocho Plata is known for its vibrantly intense and clean flavor — a testament to Tequila Ocho’s slow and methodical tequila making process. Tequila Ocho harvests their blue Weber agave at peak maturity, between 7 to 10 years, before slowly cooking the piñas in brick ovens for a full 48 hours, letting them cool for 24, and fermenting the juice in pine barrels before double distilling it in stainless steel and cooper pots. This bottle of Plata is the purest representation of that process, completely unaged, resulting in a hue that almost sparkles.

Tasting Notes: (From The USC)

Refreshing aromas of grass, granite, limes, and white pepper are classic and clean. A gentle sweetness opens up the flavors, followed by layers of spice and earthy pineapple core. The minerally backbone stays strong throughout each crisp and bright sip.

Bottom Line:

Reach for this bottle when you want to bring that bright natural taste of agave to the forefront of a cocktail.

Best Cristalino Tequila: Herradura Ultra Añejo (82 Points)

https://www.instagram.com/p/B0_X8vOgWaJ/

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Herradura Distillery
Average Price: $59.99

The Tequila:

Cristalino is a bit like the goldilocks of Tequila. It’s aged like a good Ańejo, but then purified — usually through charcoal — to bring forward the fruity and floral notes of agave. Before Herradura filter’s their añejo, pure agave nectar is added into the mix, which brings forward flavors of vanilla, caramel, honey, and toasted almonds for an expression best enjoyed neat in a rocks glass.

Tasting Notes: (From Drizly)

Full-bodied yet with subtle hints of agave nectar, caramel, vanilla, wood, and dried fruit, it has a distinct flavor that’s sure to elevate any high-energy occasion.

Bottom Line:

If you love the rich flavors of aged tequila and the fruity and bright characteristics of a top-shelf plata, then Herradura Ultra Añejo is for you.

Best Etra Añejo Tequila: Avion Reserva 44 Extra Añejo (95 Points)

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Avion Distillery
Average Price: $119

The Tequila:

Avion’s Reserva 44 is aged for 43 months in oak barrels before spending 1 month in petite barrels, which are then rotated daily, resulting in a rich, scotch-colored expression that pulls together flavors of luscious fruit and American oak. This Extra Añejo was the winner of the USC top honor, the Chairman’s Trophy and comes in a sleek bottle that really shows off its rich amber hue.

Tasting Notes: (From The USC)

Pungent aromas of sandalwood, cantaloupe, mesquite-smoked meats, and sage are softened by sweet notes of vanilla and coconut. Robust flavors of sweetgrass and milk chocolate dominate the palate before green vegetables, reminiscent of asparagus, and pepper take over the finish.

Bottom Line:

At $119 a bottle, the Extra Añejo is a bottle you keep for special occasions, enjoying just a glass at a time with someone who truly enjoys the complexities of an aged tequila.

Best Flavored Tequila: 21 Seeds Valencia Orange Infused (87 Points)

ABV: 35%
Distillery: Undisclosed distillery in Mexico
Average Price: $39.99

The Tequila:

When the founders at 21 Seeds were discussing how they wanted to approach tequila, their mission was to create something that was smooth, simple, and casual, to reposition tequila as an option right alongside a glass of wine or a nice cold beer on a spring afternoon. The result was their fruit-infused line of tequilas, and their best bottle seems to be the Valencia Orange, a mix of Blanco tequila infused with real Valencia oranges. What sets 21 seeds above other flavored tequilas, is their dedication to using natural ingredients, infusing each of their tequilas with real fruit and botanicals.

Tasting Notes: (From Drizly)

The juicy, delicious essence of hand-sourced Valencia oranges lends itself beautifully to the natural smoothness of the blanco tequila.

Bottom Line:

There is flavored tequila, and then there is fruit-infused tequila. Reach for the infusion every time, with a more natural process you’ll find that it still feels like you’re actually drinking tequila.

Best Joven Tequila: Viva XXXII (84 Points)

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ABV: 40%
Distillery: Destileria Leyros
Average Price: $30.99

The Tequila:

Remember when we said if you want to sip tequila, don’t opt for the joven? Okay, well that’s usually the case, but Viva XXIII’s Joven is the exception. Designed to be sipped, Viva XXXII’s Joven takes Blanco tequila and blends it with 3-year old extra Añejo and goes through a 4-stage filtration process that results in a crystal clear liquid. At just $30 a bottle, this is likely the best Joven/Gold tequila you’ll find at a decent price point.

Tasting Notes: (From Drizly)

With an agave forward aroma, the flavor features notes of vanilla, lemon peel, and white pepper. The taste is crisp and clean with an exceptionally smooth finish.

Bottom Line:

Get this bottle to prove to your snobby tequila or whiskey sipping friends that joven can hold its own in the dram department.

Best Reposado Tequila: Storywood Speyside 7 CS Reposado (95 Points)

https://www.instagram.com/p/CC3-I4Cnd_C/

ABV: 53%
Distillery: La Cofradia
Average Price: £33

The Tequila:

Storywood Tequila has an interesting… er… story. Made from agave harvested in the lowlands of Jalisco, this tequila is then locked away in Scotch oak casks from Scotland in an effort to make the finest sipping tequila in the world, able to hold its own alongside the greatest Scotch Whiskeys. For the bottle of Speyside 7 CS Reposado, Storywood aged the tequila for 7 months in Scotch Speyside barrels, which help to bring out caramel flavors and hints of oak, vanilla, and honey against an agave base. Unfortunately, this is yet another bottle not available in the states.

Tasting Notes: (From The USC)

A golden yellow in the glass, the aromas of this aged agave spirit stay true to the category with plenty of grassy and roasted pineapple notes. Gently sweet on the palate, spice and woodsy flavors are bold, yet continue to let agave shine through.

Bottom Line:

If you happen to be quarantined in Europe (where things are way more open than here), definitely grab a bottle of this fine Reposado — whether you’re into sipping or mixing it up in a cocktail.

Best Añejo Tequila: 818 Añejo (96 Points)

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Unknown
Average Price: $59.99 (According to USC)

The Tequila:

Ahh, the ever-elusive 818 Ańejo. Best in its class, winner of the Chairman’s trophy, receiving a near-perfect score of 96 points in the Ultimate Spirits Challenge, sharing a spot with Tequila Ocho as the greatest tasting tequila of 2020 and yet we don’t know what it looks like, who makes it, or how to get our hands on a bottle. It’s not even listed on Tequila Matchmaker, which is a sort of Wikipedia for tequila. We hope a bottle of this stuff will make its way stateside soon, but for now, we’ll have to defer to the other highest-scoring añejo tequilas if we want the best of the aged expressions.

Tasting Notes: (From The USC)

Earthy aromas of pine and yellow fruits mix with vanilla. Sweet on the palate with brown sugar, vanilla syrup, and spicy cinnamon, the rick texture coats the palate. Hints of roasted agave come through on the long spicy-sweet finish.

Bottom Line:

By all means, if you can get your hands on a bottle, definitely do. Then slide a glass our way.

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