Tequila is a joy. It’s got all of whiskey’s complexity but its aficionados aren’t quite so self-serious. There’s far less chance you’ll get judged for mixing a top-shelf tequila into a Paloma than for mixing a top-shelf whiskey into an old fashioned. Besides that, there’s something about a shot of tequila that opens the door to wild times and the fun variety of bad decisions.
With summer — checks notes — here! TODAY! I asked four of our staffers to blind taste 14 bottles of tequila in a single sitting. At the office. The whole scene turned a little messy by the end, but four of the five of us managed to keep it together through the tasting. The nice thing about this blind test is that everyone came to the table with a different knowledge base. Head drinks writer Zach Johnston was the expert and we let him know what he was drinking, to create a sort of baseline. I’m pretty solid on tequila, so I felt like I could make a few educated guesses on what was what. Vince Mancini and Mike Botticello are both more whiskey experts but they’re eager to learn (Vince just went to a weekend workshop with Herradura). Finally, Allison Sanchez was a complete newbie, which was fun and provided us with some raw, funny takes.
Check the list below to find a bottle you’re keen on. Then get outside on solstice day, have an adventure or two, and make yourself a few Palomas round about sunset.
1. Casa Noble Añejo — Retails for $74.99
What To Expect (by non-blind taster Zach Johnston): Muted vanilla should be distinct. Then a vegetal essence comes in with a saccharine cream soda vanilla sweetness and a hint of spicy fresh chili peppers.
Mike: Now this dog has bite. As in the dog of the hair, before the hair of the dog. Traditional tequila expectations reside here.
Vince: Medicinal. Mouthwashy. Not a fan. Or maybe I just need to get used to agave again, since this is dram #1.
Steve: Nice grassy agave fading quickly and growing creamy on the palate. If you could afford to mix with this — I reckon it’s pricey — you’d be in heaven. Otherwise, I’d like an ice cube to open it up a little.
Allison: I want to say very quickly that I’ve never sipped tequila in my entire life. I’ve had it in drinks and I’ve licked salt and taken shots — so when I take a sip of this first tequila I make the world’s worst face. After a couple of sips though, it’s kind of okay. Smooth. But it smells like a combo of plastic and sweet which reminds me of a Barbie who came with her own signature perfume. That could be because of the plastic shot glasses. Probably is.
2. Don Julio 1942 Reposado — Retails for $54.99
What To Expect (by non-blind taster Zach Johnston): You really should feel the roasted agave upfront on this one. There are slight notes of mellowed citrus and oak. Notes of black pepper sit next to a bitter fruitiness on the end of the sip.
Mike: Man…I really like this one. It’s too early to pick a favorite, but it sets the bar. Also, once I find out what this is, I will be ordering it at a bar. Brings the fuego and puts the proverbial fire in the belly.
Vince: very smooth, light butterscotch, nice and round. Light gold, kind of tastes like it looks.
Steve: I’ve tasted two stone-cold classics so far (this is my 11th dram) and this is one of them. It’s deeply roasted — so that grassy agave is extremely mellowed and a little dark. I get oakiness up front, too. A little pepper bite comes in mid-mouth and then fades to dried citrus. this is a nice sip, that’s for sure.
Allison: This is slippery like an eel, it slides right down my throat. Not that an eel has ever actually slipped down my throat, but you get what I’m saying. This one burned, though, stinging my lips and drying out my throat. Wasn’t a huge fan. I still finished my tasting portion though. I finished every tasting portion. This is foreshadowing.
3. Mi Campo Reposado Tequila — Retails for $23.99
What To Expect (by non-blind taster Zach Johnston): There’s an almost buttery upfront on this one that fades into a cooked blue agave. Fruity and vinous notes come in next with a peppery burn at the end.
Mike: A bit of a struggle to get this one down. If it has anything going for it, it leaves you with a tolerable aftertaste.
Vince: Caramel, wood. More of a bourbon-y character. More wood than agave, prob an añejo. Dessert tequila.
Steve: Wood and agave up front, caramel smooth in the middle, and a smoke-pepper bite at the finish. I enjoyed this a lot.
Allison: I took a long whiff of this before drinking. It was my first time ever doing so. I am very sophisticated now, but the “nose” sort of overpowered my ability to taste the drink. Oops!
4. Espolon Bourbon Barrel Finished Añejo Tequila — Retails for $33.99
What To Expect (by non-blind taster Zach Johnston): Freshly mowed lawns, green spring vegetables, and agave open this one. Then a clear sense of butterscotch and oaky vanilla come into play. It’s slightly floral, buttery, and full of spice and pepper on the backend.
Mike: OK, now we’re talking! This one’s not for the faint of heart. Basically, if you want to challenge your friends to a drinking duel, have it in your arsenal. All around great.
Vince: Don’t like this one and can’t put my finger on why. Puckery? Too much wood?
Steve: This seems to be an añejo but whereas the other añejos have been barrel notes fading to agave, this is the opposite. I’m getting the agave first and the warm oak second. Little bit of vanilla and a nice finish. I’d like to have this with an ice cube to see how that shifts my opinion. Right now, this tastes like a nice $35 bottle to me… God, I’ll feel like a jackass if it’s priced at $100. Or $12.
Allison: This is very sweet, it smells like a sugary cocktail. I also wrote “middle dry.” This is the point where I start to get tipsy, so…get ready. I don’t know what middle dry means. Also, I am now telling coworkers I’ve never spoken to before that I’m genuinely upset they’ve never invited me to their homes. So this tastes like I’m being annoying and invading personal space.
5. Patron Reposado Tequila — Retails for $58.99
What To Expect (by non-blind taster Zach Johnston): Agave should be front-and-center here. You’re also getting hints of vanilla and oak from the barrel which will be more buttery. That all leads to a dusty spice shelf of chili pepper flakes and white pepper alongside floral notes and clear agave nectar. There’s a slight honey sweetness that gives way to a lemon zest bitterness.
Mike: [Bleck!] Tastes like a sock. Next!
Vince: Buttery. Butterscotch. I’d drink this.
Steve: Vanilla and agave are central. There’s what Zach would call… leather. Like an older taste. No opposed to it; not my fave.
Allison: This had a light apple flavor. It also made me vaguely nauseous so like “kind of gross” is what I wrote. I should not have finished it, but at this point, we’re at a no return kind of sitch. It paired well with the cold taco I ate with it while asking a lot of questions to a new friend about the healing properties of crystals.
6. Don Julio 1942 Añejo — Retails for $164.99
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What To Expect (by non-blind taster Zach Johnston): Cooked agave and rich caramel open this one. Notes of peppery spice, agave, and a little bit of honey sweetness come in next.
Mike: This one will make you friends when you buy a round. A spice rack in a glass. Meanwhile, it’s a smooth, even finish and very, very sippable.
Vince: Good nose of roast agave. Butter, with a hint of spice. Very Solid.
Steve: This is a classic añejo — all the vegetal notes are smoothed on the front end by the barrelling, but you get a sense of the agave mid-palate. Then it fades to earthy honey at the finish.
Allison: Smells fresh, like it was just picked from the tequila tree or caught in the tequila river or just delivered by the tequila fairy who slips into your bedroom to leave a tequila under your pillow. It’s light with just a hint of sweet agave and is delicious. At this point, I’m like a big fan of tequila. I’m also blowing a lot of kisses. That’s a thing I have never done. But suddenly every time someone leaves the office, I’m blowing them a kiss. Normal behavior.
7. Casa Noble Joven Tequila — Retails for $50.99
What To Expect (by non-blind taster Zach Johnston): Fresh agave should be coming through on the nose. The taste balances subtle agave nectar, light citrus, and mild pepper spices.
Mike: Not terrible, but not the best thus far. I could see this more being a mixer than something you’d want straight or with just lime and/or salt.
Vince: Deep roasty, agave flavor. Comes in smooth, finishes spicy and complex.
Steve: This is pretty light… a young reposado? I’d bet on that. A little more peppery and agave-forward up front, mellowing out so that you can taste some light barrel notes at the finish. If you had the money to mix cocktails with this — I’m pegging it at around $50 — you’d be stoked.
Allison: I’ve written the word, “sharp.” It’s totally possible I am trying to drink a pair of scissors. Who can say?
8. Don Julio Añejo 70th Anniversary — Retails for $65.99
What To Expect (by non-blind taster Zach Johnston): There’s a vanilla cream note on the front end with an almost buttery popcorn hint. Notes of freshly cut green herbs sit next to the agave. The end is spicy and herbaceous with a hint of dryness.
Mike: Summertime party vibes here. I’m thinking you get a bottle, festivities, and hijinx ensue, and you wake up in the sand, under a palm tree with a hazy recollection of what happened the previous night.
Vince: More medicinal. Light spice. Solid blanco?
Steve: This is the añejo blanco. It’s the only clear tequila in the mix, so… no big mystery. But I expected it to be vegetal like a blanco and it wasn’t. There’s a really light, smooth, vanilla flavor at the front of the sip. It grows a little more agave-ish later, but not much. This, to me, is a quite interesting dram and one I’d love to play with behind the bar. It’s also great alone — that smoothness carries throughout.
Allison: “Mystery.” I must be just scribbling random words that I’m sure will jog my memory. But. They. Did. Not. Because: Drunk Allison. I have no idea what “mystery” means in this context. Like the taste is a mystery? I’m involved in one? I feel like I was writing myself clues Memento style about who the real murderer is by this point in the tasting. And by murderer, I mean of “murderer of my head tomorrow” because I have had too much tequila.
9. Cazadores Tequila Reposado — Retails for $27.99
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What To Expect (by non-blind taster Zach Johnston): Classic notes of roasted agave alongside oak barrel caramel and vanilla with a hint of spice. Notes of citrus, rich caramel, earthy green leaves, more agave, and pepper all pop up in the sip.
Mike: This one ran out and I didn’t get to taste. Seems like a good sign.
Vince: VERY butterscotch, vaguely herbaceous. Too sweet in the finish.
Steve: This ran out first and for good reason. It’s light and smooth, very heavy on the sweet. A crowd pleaser. The agave notes are not overpowering… but… it’s almost as if the sweet flavors sort of mask the agave?
Allison: This is a subtle drink, a little dry. Definitely a better sipper than some of the others. Not as sweet. Really had a moment of lucidity here. Spoiler: it doesn’t last.
10. Clase Azul Reposado Tequila — Retails for $70.99
What To Expect (by non-blind taster Zach Johnston): Floral notes and jasmine are up front. Wet soil, vanilla, apples, cinnamon, and a whisper of tobacco come into play. This is spicy, floral, and very smooth.
Mike: Sweet, decadent — if there was a “dessert tequila” this would be it.
Vince: Heavy brown sugar. Smooth. A little cloying.
Steve: The right kind of sweet. The agave notes are there and the barrelling has clearly added the sweetness in a way that doesn’t overpower but does provide a smooth, floral, butterscotch cream flavor throughout.
Allison: Dry, extremely light. Oaky. I can not even taste the liquor at this point.
11. Camarena Tequila Reposado — Retails for $19.99
What To Expect (by non-blind taster Zach Johnston): Lots of agave all over this sip. The oak tends to lean towards bitter more than smooth vanilla. Slightly bright and light with a herbal end.
Mike: I missed this one too. This is not like me. I am not the dude who misses free drinks.
Vince: Very nice butterscotch nose. Nice round agave flavor, thinking reposado. Vaguely minty finish.
Steve: A perfect mixing repo! Butterscotch and agave all throughout. Nice floral-herb finish. Man, I could make a hell of a paloma with this!
Allison: I know I drank this but I wrote nothing. Just the number and a blank space. A real metaphor for the state of my mind.
12. Camarena Tequila Añejo — Retails for $31.49
What To Expect (by non-blind taster Zach Johnston): Vegetal notes with agave boldness. Notes of vanilla and spice hover in the background. Wet brown sugar should come through on the end before the agave takes back over for a warm finish.
Mike: While it doesn’t exactly ring an alarm at first encounter, it finishes strong. Not for the uninitiated.
Vince: Nice agave aroma. Spicy like a blanco, but nice agave flavor.
Steve: Lot of enjoyable agave grassiness and peppery spice. Fades a little mid-dram and eases off the vegetal notes with a little sweetness on the finish. A dream mixer that will stand up in a margarita. That’s rare.
Allison: This smells like brown sugar and it’s just a little bit spicy. I’m a fan. I LOVE TEQUILA.
13. Roca Patron Añejo — Retails for $80.99
What To Expect (by non-blind taster Zach Johnston): Classic notes of roasted agave, oaky vanilla, and baking spices up front. Those notes carry on through the sip with the addition of an earthy maple syrup sweetness.
Mike: Sharp. Smooth. Subtly sublime. Top three for me.
Vince: Incredibly smooth but weirdly flavorless? Super easy to drink but doesn’t taste like much to me.
Steve: Almost eerily smooth and a little woody on the back end. For my taste, this almost feels like it was barrelled too long.
Allison: I’ve been forcibly put in an Uber and am on my way home.
14. El Espolon Extra Añejo Tequila — Retails for $99.99
What To Expect (by non-blind taster Zach Johnston): Big notes of roasted agave. Woody nature with strong hits of vanilla and spices. Florals and raw sugar cane sweetness that feels green. Mild pepper spice on the end that warms up nicely.
Mike: A bouquet of tequila greatness. Just leapfrogged to #2 for me.
Vince: Heavy herbaceous nose. Licorice? Don’t love. It’s fine.
Steve: Lots of herbs here. Maybe… coriander? Some lemon? Then you get the agave and butterscotch. There was plenty of age here — I’m betting on añejo or even extra añejo — so it’s smooth throughout. I like it!
Allison: I am asleep.