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Full List Of Tequila And Mezcal Finalists From The SF Spirits Competition, Just In Time For Cinco De Mayo

Now that all the medals have been awarded at this year’s famed San Francisco World Spirits Competition, it’s time to talk about the best of the best. Medals at the competition are awarded as a sort of nomination, wherein the highest-rated “double gold” winners move on to fight for “best in class” every year.

With Cinco de Mayo on the horizon (what better time to splurge on a nice bottle of booze to share with friends and family?) we’re going to start breaking down the finalists in the agave spirits — tequila, mezcal, even a Peruvian agave liquor. With so much premium spirit to choose from, you should able to find something that piques your interest.

For this list, I’m keeping it very straightforward. I’ve pulled all the finalists from the agave spirits sections that actually placed in the finals (blanco/unaged tequila, reposado tequila, añejo tequila, extra añejo tequila, mezcal, and “other agave spirits”). I’m listing them by category and adding tasting notes where I can. Some of these are pretty scarce, so for bottles I haven’t personally tasted, I’ve filled in tasting notes from the bottler/distiller, but in some cases, even those are hard to find.

In any case, we’re not talking about just “double gold” here. These are the bottles that stood out as the best of the double gold; the cream that rose to the top, recognized above and beyond their peers by professionals who know. These are the bottles you want to search for. Let’s dive in!

BLANCO/UNAGED TEQUILA

Tequila Ocho Blanco

Tequila Ocho
Tequila Ocho

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $52

The Tequila:

This tequila is made in the Jalisco highlands with Weber agave from a single estate. Those agave pinas are tasked to NOM 1445, Cía. Tequilera Los Alambiques, where old stone ovens roast them, then a stone tahona wheel crushes the pinas to extract the juice. That juice is then transferred to old wood fermenters that are open-air, allowing wild yeasts to start the fermentation process. After two distillations in copper pot stills, the tequila is cut with local water and bottled.

Tasting Notes:

The nose on this is like a plate full of roasted agave chunks next to artichoke hearts soaked in olive oil covered in lemon oils with plenty of fresh mint, fresh hibiscus, and cracked black pepper. The palate really marries the slow-roasted agave to the lemon and pepper while a little bit of potting soil draws everything back to a finish full of white pepper, dried florals, sweetgrass, and a dusting of cinnamon.

Bottom Line:

This is a super soft and smooth sipping blanco. There’s serious depth but it’s not hot or off-putting in any way. Overall, I dig this on the rocks with a little lime, but it also works wonders in a cocktail.

La Certeza Blanco

Certeza
Certeza

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $47

The Tequila:

This tequila hails from just outside of Tequila, Mexico. The pinas go through the autoclave (high-pressure steam extraction) process to get the juices ready for fermentation in steel tanks with open-air fermenting. After being twice distilled, the juice is cut with water and bottled.

Tasting Notes:

This is very peppery with a mix of cracked black pepper mixed with soft white pepper and a hint of red chili flake with a touch of orange zest and river rock on the nose. The palate largely delivers on that nose while layering in sharp agave woodiness with a hint of aloe, very faint mint, and a whisper of cottage cheese. The finish is short and peppery and almost vodka-esque in its cleanness.

Bottom Line:

I’ve only really had this while making cocktails, so that’s the way I’d go with this one.

El Tequileño Platino

El Tequilino
El Tequilino

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $63

The Tequila:

This comes from the Jorge Salles Cuervo y Sucesores distillery which grows its Blue Weber agave up in the highlands and brings it down to Tequila to turn the pinas into tequila. The ripple in the process is the old cement tanks used to ferment the agave juice after the autoclave extraction. From there, the fermented juice is twice distilled and cut with local natural spring water for bottling.

Tasting Notes (from the distiller):

Aroma: Cooked agave, herbal, delicate nuances of anise and black pepper. Taste: Slight spiciness, savory with a delicate finish.

Bottom Line:

Cement is a very unique choice for a washback or fermentation tank. I need to track this down and try it simply for that.

La Serpiente Emplumada Plata

La Serpentine
La Serpentine

ABV: 44%

Average Price: $57

The Tequila:

This tequila from Destiladora del Valle de Tequila is a mix of old stone ovens and steel tanks for fermentation. What’s interesting is that Destiladora del Valle de Tequila currently makes 158 tequila brands!

Tasting Notes (from the distiller):

Aroma: Agave, mango jam, smoky notes, citrus peel, floral. Flavor: Spices, pepper, cinnamon.

Bottom Line:

158 brands! That’s a lot of white labeling, folks. Still, I can see something breaking through and having a slightly more refined profile. Maybe.

Cava de Oro Blanco

Tequila Orr Blanco
Cava de Oro

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $40

The Tequila:

This tequila comes from Tequilera Puerta de Hierro in the lower Valley of Jalisco. Overall, it’s a pretty standard stone oven to steel tank to double distillation process.

Tasting Notes (from the distiller):

With a luminous crystalline color, with silvery and straw-colored tones, it offers a warm flavor with spicy and herbaceous notes.

Bottom Line:

This is another tequila that has a nice enough bottle but with little information about it out there. Its distillery, NOM 1477, makes 28 other labels. But that doesn’t really tell you much about this expression/brand.

REPOSADO TEQUILA

Don Nacho Extra Premium Reposado Tequila

Don Nacho Extra Premium Reposado
Don Nacho

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $42

The Tequila:

This “premium” tequila is made in the southern “Los Altos” region of Jalisco at the Fabrica de Tequila Don Nacho distillery (NOM 1508), which only makes this and one other small brand of tequila. The juice is made from piñas cooked in old stone ovens and then fermented with local spring water in open stainless tanks. After the usual distillation, that hot juice is loaded into both used and new American white oak barrels for a short maturation.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a hint of dry cedar on the nose that leads to this mix of dark chocolate-covered espresso beans, old vanilla extract bottles, and a hint of that slow-roasted agave with a very thin sliver of ashiness. The palate has a cream soda vibe with the agave taking on a sweeter edge next to a creamy caramel on the mid-palate. The finish leans away from the sweetness towards a peppery dark chocolate bar with hints of winter spices and peach pits.

Bottom Line:

I dig this a lot. There’s a nice base that makes this a decent shooter or sipper on the rocks. But that peppery/chocolate profile helps this stand out as a dark and tasty cocktail tequila.

Cincoro Reposado Tequila

Cincoro Tequila Reposado
Cincoro Tequila

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $114

The Tequila:

Hailing from NOM 1438, Destiladora del Valle de Tequila in Tequila, Mexico (the aforementioned home to 158 tequila brands), this tequila has a little more nuance. The agave piñas are roasted in both old stone ovens and autoclave. The mash ferments in open-air stainless tanks before the standard double distillation in copper pot stills. The juice is then aged in used whiskey barrels for an undisclosed amount of time.

Tasting Notes:

This is a bourbon lover’s tequila, with a nose brimming with vanilla beans, caramel apples, floral agave, and a nice bitter chocolate edge with a black potting soil whisper. The palate largely delivers on the nose with more vanilla and dark chocolate (now touched by cinnamon and clove) with a more robust roasted agave vibe leading to dry grass and porch wicker. The finish has tiny flourishes of pancake syrup and black pepper with a touch of sweet oak on the very end.

Bottom Line:

This is a pretty solid sipper all around. It has a nice, almost bourbon feel to it, with plenty of spice, grassiness, and agave still in play. It feels familiar and fresh at the same time.

Lobos 1707 Reposado Tequila

Tequila Lobos 1707 Reposado
Tequila Lobos de Sangre Azul

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $51

The Tequila:

Rounding out this list of great tequilas, Lobos 1707 also comes from the southern Los Altos region of Jalisco (NOM 1460, Compañia Tequilera de Arandas distillery). The front end of the tequila-making process is pretty much the same — Weber, autoclave, ex-bourbon barrels, etc. — with the finishing on this one standing out. After six months in bourbon barrels, this is aged in Pedro Ximinez sherry casks for a final rest.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a hint of sour cherry on the nose alongside a base of roasted agave, winter spices, and a hint of old oak barrels from a dusty cellar. The palate marries that agave and oak into an earthy note that’s part dry moss and part dry firewood with the agave lurking in the background. The mid-palate to finish has the cottage cheese vibe with pineapple and black pepper making appearances before a dry grassiness and oakiness round out the finish.

Bottom Line:

This is another easy sipper that’s well-suited for cocktails. I really like that cottage cheese/pepper profile on these tequilas, but I can see how that’s a tad offputting. Still, this is an easy sipper/mixer worth grabbing for your own bar.

AÑEJO TEQUILA

Black Sheep Añejo

Black Sheep Añejo
Black Sheep

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $109

The Tequila:

This tequila comes from the Ciénega (wetlands) and Highlands of Jalisco. The process Integradora San Agustin distillery is pretty common with stone overs, steel tanks, copper stills, and deep well water. The whiskey ages in used bourbon and new white American oak before vatting, proofing, and bottling.

Tasting Notes (from the distiller):

Aroma: Warm oak, natural sweet baked agave, rich caramel. Taste: Complex, toasted oak, roasted agave, honey. Finish: Elegant, evolving over time. Baked agave, lingering oak, caramel.

Bottom Line:

This sounds sweet and oaky. I can dig that. Overall, the price isn’t too out of control, but I think I’d try this at a bar before committing to a bottle.

Don Julio Añejo Claro (70th Annivesary)

Don Julio 70
Don Julio

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $66

The Tequila:

Don Julio is pretty well known for making damn fine tequila. This spirit comes from Diageo México Operaciones in Jalisco’s Ciénega, though the agave is from the Highlands. The difference here is that the spirit is distilled three times before resting in used American oak, ex-bourbon, and new American white oak barrels for a spell. Then the tequila is color filtered to make it clear again before proofing with deep well water and bottling.

Tasting Notes:

This tequila is a bit of a mind trick. The nose is full of vanilla, woody spice, dried orange peels, rich toffee, honeycombs, grilled pineapple, and plenty of raw agave. The palate really leans into the vanilla with a creaminess leading to crushed almonds rolled in toffee candy and then dusted with dark chocolate. The mid-palate veers slightly toward dried florals, more of that dried orange peel, and a hint of an old cigar humidor.

Bottom Line:

Not gonna lie, it’s weird this is clear but tastes like it should be dark brown. That aside, this is a damn fine sip of tequila. It’s damn near perfect with a single rock in a big glass.

Siempre Añejo

Siempre Añejo
Siempre

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $53

The Tequila:

Back at Destiladora del Valle de Tequila (NOM 1438), we get Siempre Tequila. This expression goes through stone ovens, roller mills, steel fermenters, and copper stills before aging in used oak and used bourbon barrels. The just is then blended, cut with natural spring water, and bottled.

Tasting Notes (from the distiller):

You can taste alluring notes of toffee, salted caramel, chocolate, vanilla, and peppercorns followed by a lasting-lasting, warm finish. Enjoy in a snifter with dark chocolate and mixed nuts.

Bottom Line:

This sounds lovely. I might actually go out and buy this out of all of these and give it a shot.

EXTRA AÑEJO TEQUILA

CaliFino Extra Añejo Tequila Aged 8 Years

CaliFino Añejo
Califino

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $96

The Tequila:

Made in the Jalisco Highlands at NOM 1468, Grupo Tequilero Mexico, this tequila keeps things pretty standard up until the aging process. The juice rests in a combination of used French oak and new American white oak barrels. When those barrels are in their prime, they’re blended, cut with deep well water, and bottled.

Tasting Notes:

This is subtle from top to bottom with a nose full of brown butter, cinnamon sticks, vanilla pods, singed agave spears, and woody tobacco stems. The palate leans into the spice with anise and clove joining the cinnamon, a touch of black pepper, and agave. The mid-palate veers toward salted caramel with a hint of nori lurking in the background before the woody spices kick back in at the end.

Bottom Line:

This is subtle, yes, but it’s also very complex. There’s a lurking smokiness that feels like something green was just singed but the fire is already smudged out. It’s kind of fascinating and worth taking more time with.

Rancho Sierra Mar

Rancho Sierra Mar
Rancho Sierra Mar

ABV: 40%

Average Price: Limited Availability

The Tequila:

There is very little known about this one. It’s made at the Tequila Las Americas distillery (NOM 1480) with stone overs, open-air fermentation, copper stills, and old bourbon barrels. But little else is available.

Tasting Notes:

None available.

Bottom Line:

I’m intrigued.

Etéreo Extra Añejo

Etereo Añejo
Etereo

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $280

The Tequila:

Everything about this tequila is a “vibe.” There’s a whole section of their website devoted to “lifestyle” but not telling you about their tequila. It’s made at NOM 1610 in the southern Highlands at Casa Tequilera Dinastía Arandina. Beyond that, the details are under wraps.

Tasting Notes (from the distiller):

“Rich, unique and complex.”

Bottom Line:

As I mentioned, there are simply not a lot of details offered about his product. It, uh… looks cool though?

MEZCAL

Los Vecinos del Campo

Los Vecinos
Los Vecinos

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $35

The Mezcal:

This brand comes from Sazerac (of Buffalo Trace fame) and Casa San Matias of Tequila San Matias de Jalisco. This expression is, however, made in Valles Centrales Oaxaca by 10 master mezcaleros working together. Beyond that, the rest is kept under wraps like most Sazerac products.

Tasting Notes from the distiller):

Powerful aromas of baked pineapple and canned pineapple juice with an earthy core. It is all spice upfront in the mouth and quickly moves to roasted tropical fruits, tender young ginger, and green bell peppers.

Bottom Line:

Pineapple, spice, and peppers sound like a great mix on a mezcal. I’m going to have to track this one down.

Montelobos Mezcal Artesanal Espadin

Monetlobos Mezcal
Monetlobos Mezcal

ABV: 43.2%

Average Price: $40

The Mezcal:

This mezcal comes from mezcalero Don Abel Lopez in Santiago Matatlán, the Oaxacan town known as the World Capital Of Mezcal. This expression is made from 100 percent organic Espandin agave that’s roasted slowly underground before it’s slowly distilled in small batches. It’s then bottled as-is after proofing.

Tasting Notes:

This is very grassy — sweetgrass, dry straw, alfalfa, freshly mowed lawn — with hints of smoked honey, burnt orange rinds, and a savory green note, kind of like an artichoke soaked in saltwater on the nose. The palate leans more into the smokiness but now it’s attached to the agave with warm, sandy dirt, a savory herb garden, and orange syrup. The end feels like rosemary stems that have been singed and then ground into the smoked honey next to a deeply charred agave that’s still smoldering.

Bottom Line:

This is bold mezcal. While it’s pretty intense, a rock or two will calm it down and bring out more of the orange, honey, and herbal notes, which means this is a great cocktail candidate.

Mezcal Vago Ensamble en Barro

Vago Mezcal
Vago

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $80

The Mezcal:

Vago makes a lot of great mezcals. This expression specifically uses a mix of agaves (wild and cultivated) that are at their peak when it’s time to make this mezcal. Mezcalero Salomon “Tio Rey” Rodriguez picks an assortment of plants, hand grinds them, roasts them in the ground, and the works clay pot stills. All of this gives each release of this expression its own feel.

Tasting Notes (from the distiller):

“Although every Ensamble en Barro batch is unique, they are generally rich, earthy, and full-bodied. The mineral and clay tones clearly define its style.”

Bottom Line:

These are always phenomenal. And although I haven’t tried this exact expression yet, I can’t imagine that it’s not great too.

Magia Mezcal Pura

Mezcal Magia
Mezcal Magia

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $85

The Mezcal:

This mezcal from Tlanipatla in Guerrero (on the Pacific coast) is all about low and slow traditional mezcal making. The mash is made from Agave Cupreata before going into a slow roasting, fermenting, and distilling process in the hills above the ocean. The juice is then cut with local spring water before bottling.

Tasting Notes (from the distiller):

Aroma: Subtle aroma of cooked agave, with a slight smell of wet earth. Taste: Smoked throughout, with delicate citrus notes and a captivating flavor of sweet fruits. Finish: Penetrating on the palate, filled with the soul of the agave Cupreata characteristic of Guerrero.

Bottom Line:

Wet earth, sweet fruits, and “the soul of the agave” have me hooked. This is another bottle I’m probably going to go out and buy immediately.

La Luna Mezcal Artesanal 100% Espadincillo

La Luna
La Luna

ABV: 48.51%

Average Price: $60

The Mezcal:

Coming from the state of Michoacán, this mezcal is made with 100 percent Espadincillo, which is indigenous to the local area. The process is then very similar to the standard for mezcal with slow roasting, clay pot, and a lot of fire before bottling the spirit as-is.

Tasting Notes:

Hints of burnt citrus as sandy soil mingles with green banana leaves, a touch of sweetgrass, and plenty of hardwood charcoal that still feels a little warm from the fire mingle on the nose. The palate leans into dark citrus with a balance of dried agave and wet rainforest floor with and almost sticky orange vibe. The end adds in a line of citrus-laced smoke with plenty of dark woody smolder.

Bottom Line:

This feels like a classic that hits pretty hard. I coughed when I first sipped it. Once I got past that, it was a smooth, smoky, and citrusy ride. Though I did pour it over ice to get deeper into the flavor profile.

Raumen Mezcal

Mezcal Raumen
Mezcal Raumen

ABV: 50%

Average Price: Limited Availability

The Mezcal:

There’s very little about this mezcal out there besides this YouTube video. It’s worth a watch to learn how mezcal is made in general.

Tasting Notes:

None available.

Bottom Line:

I’d love to try this if it’s ever available a little more widely. Until then, I’ll just keep enjoying that YouTube video.

OTHER AGAVE

Aqara Agave De Los Andes Reposado

Agave de los Andes
Agave de los Andes

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $55

The Spirit:

This Peruvian agave spirit is made from 100 percent agave grown in the north-central mountains of Peru. The distillate goes through a similar process of roasting, fermentation, and distillation as tequila with this spirit spending one to three years mellowing in new American oak barrels in the Andes. The juice is then blended, proofed with local water, and bottled.

Tasting Notes (from the distiller):

On the nose and palate expressions of coffee, toffee, butterscotch, hints of vanilla, stone fruit.

Bottom Line:

An aged Peruvian tequila (basically)? Sign me up! I’m definitely tracking this down and giving it a shot. You should too.

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