If you frequent alcohol-centered message boards, Facebook groups, or even this very booze-heavy website, you might’ve seen mention of a “new” expression of tequila that is quickly gaining popularity in the states known as “Cristalino.” In truth, cristalino — which is a form of aged tequila that is further filtered to remove its golden color (with some flavor loss along the way) — has been popular in the Mexican spirits space for close to a decade now, ever since Don Julio launched the 70th-anniversary bottle Don Julio 70 in 2012. That expression was a first-of-its-kind filtered añejo dubbed an “añejo claro,” a designation that has since morphed into “cristalino,” according to Forbes.
If you’re a seasoned spirits sipper (especially if you love barrel-aged expressions), you might be wondering why in the hell anyone would want to filter añejo tequila to remove anything, let alone the beautiful amber hues and woody flavors that time spent in barrels imparts. That’s a fair point, shared by many a tequila connoisseur. It’s worth noting that cristalinos are not officially recognized by the Tequila Regulatory Council as an official category like your blancos, reposados, or traditional añejos — though the council does now have guidelines and standards in regards to filtered, aged tequilas. Also, some cristalinos actually add back flavor through agave syrup or other sweeteners, outing the style as not meant for true aficionados.
Does this mean, cristalino is just a catchy cash-grab and ought to be ignored?
Not exactly. They’re simply created for a certain type of drinker — newcomers who want a tequila with its harsh edges sanded down by both barrelling and a second filtration (many of these expressions are also bottled at a lower proof than their añejo counterparts). Speaking personally, I’ve enjoyed the silky smoothness of many of the cristalinos I’ve tasted. These are easily sippable expressions, perfect for someone just getting into taking tequila straight. They’re not going to be as vegetal as blancos, nor will they be as oaky-spicy as añejos. Instead, they exist as something of a tweener and, if you have the means and don’t crave a ton of agave taste, they make some beautiful margaritas.
Here are five picks (with tasting notes) for anyone looking for a bottle of cristalino to add to their bar cart.
Distillery: Casa Cuervo
Average Price: $54.99
Launched this year, 1800’s cristalino is first aged in American and French Oak barrels for 16 months before being finished in port wine casks for half a year and finally filtered into its cristalino state. The bottle design is the label’s simplest, featuring a crystalline bottle that glitters as light passes through it.
You’re greeted with warm notes of roasted agave, vanilla, and white chocolate. On the palate, the 1800 has a subtle fruity lift with flavors of cherry emeging before making way to a round vanilla-caramel finish with almost no lingering burn.
At almost $60 a bottle, 1800 Cristalino can’t be described as “cheap” or “budget-friendly,” but the bottle makes a great special occasion toasting tequila (for non-hardcore tequila drinkers) and plays nice slow sipped over rocks.
Distillery: Casa Herradura
Average Price: $42.99
Herradura Ultra is made using blue weber agave hand-harvested by jimadores in the volcanic lowland regions of the Amatitián. The agave hearts are then roasted in traditional ovens for 26 hours and the distillate is barrel-aged in American White Oak for up to 49 months before being filtered. Why Herradura chooses to call this expression “Ultra” rather than Cristalino, we can’t say, but make no mistake — this is a cristalino.
Subtle hints of sweet nectar and fresh coconut give way to a rich vanilla and honey finish that is greatly enhanced served over rock. Sipping straight will give you less of the expression’s brighter notes and more of the honeyed smoothness — we say open it up a little.
Herradura makes hands down one of the easiest drinking cristalinos on this list. In 2020 the brand scooped up several awards across the spirit tasting competitions, making it a great bottle to start with for first-time cristalino drinkers.
Distillery: Tequila Sauza
Average Price: $29.99
Made using triple-distilled añejo, Hornitos’ new cristalino expression is aged in American White oak casks before being carbon-filtered into a crystal clear state, delivering all the warmth and velvety tannins of an aged tequila with an ultra-smooth mouthfeel.
Hornitos’ Cristalino has more intense flavors than the other tequilas on this list but still provides that silky vanilla finish that is so characteristic of cristalinos — with notes of sweet honey and some subtly bitter butterscotch that lingers on the palate between sips.
At just $30 a bottle, Hornitos Cristalino is a much more comfortable blind bottle buy without sacrificing the craft and luxury bottle design that comes standard with higher-priced bottles.
Penta Diamante Cristalino
Distillery: Casa Aceves
Average Price: $100
Unlike the rest of the cristalinos on this list, Penta Diamante uses a reposado tequila and filters it through charcoal into a cristalino state (rather than an añejo). This expression looks very high-end vodka-ish in presentation and drinks that way too — ultra clean and smooth.
Bursting with flavor, this vanilla forward expression has complex notes of caramel with a creamy-coffee middle that is finished by a bright citrus bite that fades pleasingly from the palate.
While Penta Diamante can be seen as a bit of an anomaly on this list since its the only Cristalino made from Reposado rather than Añejo tequila, it shows just how flexible and versatile the category of Cristalino can be and allows you to enjoy the spirit in a cocktail. If you can afford to make a cocktail with a $100 bottle of tequila, Penta Diamante is the way to go, it’ll transform your kitchen margarita into something that feels made for a VIP.
Don Julio 70
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Distillery: Tequila Don Julio
Average Price: $54.99
Closing out our list is the bottle that started it all, Don Julio 70. This expression is made with Don Julio’s añejo tequila which is aged for 18 months in oak barrels before being charcoal filtered — resulting in perhaps the smoothest expression out of the entire Don Julio core line.
The intoxicating aroma of slow-roasted agave greets once you pop the cork on a bottle, making way for a vanilla forward expression with a supremely silky caramel, pepper, and oak finish.
If you’ve reached the end of this list unsure of which bottle is worthy of your first pick, you really can’t go wrong grabbing Don Julio 70. It is the bottle that started the cristalino craze to begin with.