How to Buy the Best Tequila

A bottle of Patron Silver beside a margarita

If the ever-growing number of celebrity-owned tequila brands is any indication, this alcohol is poised to be the spirit of the summer. But are all tequilas made equal? And how do you know if the pricey ones you’re buying are actually worth it? To find out, I journeyed to the Jalisco region of Mexico to learn all about how the spirit is made from start to finish. Read on for the ultimate guide to buying the best tequila.


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What is tequila made of?

Tequila is made of only three ingredients: agave, yeast and water. However, because the Tequila Regulatory Council allows for 100% pure agave tequila to contain up to 1% additives without disclosing it on the label, many popular brands do this to alter the flavour and appearance.

The four additives allowed in the alcohol are glycerin, caramel colouring, oak extract, and jarabe or sugar-based syrup. This is why some tequilas (including the premium, celebrity-owned ones) taste like your favourite desserts, and others are labelled as “gold” despite not being aged at all — more on that later.

A jimador trimming an agave plant to be made into tequila


How is tequila made?

Every company has its own exact method, but typically, agave is harvested and baked, then transferred to a roller mill or the more traditional tahona mill for crushing. The agave is then fermented, distilled, blended and bottled. Depending on the type of tequila, it may also be barreled to create aged variations like reposado, anejo and extra anejo, or additives may be added to give it a distinct flavour or colour.

The process of making tequila has a rich Mexican history, and heritage brands like Patron are striving to uphold these traditions by using tahona mills, hiring expert jimadors who can identify and properly trim the best agave — ensuring every step of the process is done by hand. I got to witness the Patron process firsthand and I was surprised and impressed to see how rustic and romantic it is. The agave fields are stunningly beautiful, and expert jimadors skillfully trim the agave’s outer leaves by hand using a “Coa de Jima,” an extremely sharp tool that looks a bit like a flat shovel. In an age when so much of our food and drink is highly processed, it’s comforting to see that brands like Patron are making an effort to keep these traditions alive — and providing a well-made and authentic product in the process.

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Is it bad to buy tequila made with additives?

There’s no “right” or “wrong” when it comes to buying tequila, however, being well-informed on exactly what you’re buying can help you make sense of your options. Many popular and celebrity-owned alcohol brands contain additives because they’re a simple, cheaper way to give tequila an easily enjoyable, often sweetened flavour.

A helpful comparison is to think of the difference between tequila with and without additives as the difference between a Snickers bar or a Lindt 85% Cocoa Dark Chocolate bar: both are delicious and distinctly craveable, but not necessarily interchangeable. That said, most experts would consider additive-free tequila like Patron the preferred choice because of its higher quality and more authentic taste of the natural ingredients.

How can I tell if I’m buying the best tequila?

All tequila brands have a NOM identifier, which distinguishes where the tequila was distilled. Fascinatingly, despite the fact that there are over 2000 tequila brands, there are only 160 licensed distilleries. This explains how a new celebrity tequila brand can pop up every month despite the limited distilleries and agave available.


Premium brands distinguish themselves by having a signature NOM identifier, which is why Patron proudly displays their exclusive NOM (1492) on every bottle, as an indicator that not only is their tequila all made in one place, but no other tequila is made there. In contrast, many celebrity tequilas feature the NOM 1137, and 69 tequilas are produced there, so while the bottle may look different, the product is the same at its core.

All that to say, a high price tag or a celebrity endorsement doesn’t necessarily mean you’re buying a quality bottle, but the best tequila is ultimately the one you enjoy drinking the most. The Tequila Matchmaker website and app are a great, unbiased resource for researching NOMs, keeping track of your favourite tequilas and discovering new ones.

Two walls of Patron tequila barrels


What are the 3 types of tequila?

While there are many different kinds of tequila (a lot more than three), the three most popular are silver (AKA blanco), reposado and anejo. You might be surprised to learn that all of these tequilas contain the same ingredients. The only difference is that the darker tequilas are aged in barrels for longer. It’s worth noting that all of them start out as “silver,” but any tequila labelled “gold” indicates that instead of being aged, caramel colouring has been added to give it the aged appearance without the true flavours or process.

Silver tequila has the brightest flavour and has stronger notes of agave since the flavour hasn’t been changed by barrel aging. This is the best tequila for margaritas. In contrast, reposado has slight barrel-aged notes of caramel and honey. Meanwhile, anejo has deeper notes of vanilla and spice that come from its longer barrel aging. Many compare the notes of anejo to that of whiskey.

Read more: Try This Refreshing Brazilian Lemonade Margarita With Tequila

Why is tequila a healthier alcohol?

It is made with such simple and natural ingredients that some consider it a healthier alternative to other spirits. All tequilas aren’t made equal, but if you’re looking to maximize the health factor, look for tequilas that are additive-free. These won’t contain any added sugars that could potentially give you a hangover. That’s certainly not to say that additive-free tequila won’t give you a hangover at all, but instead, just that it could be milder compared to a sugary counterpart.

Is all tequila made in Mexico?

Similar to how all champagne needs to be made in the Champagne region of France, all tequila needs to be made in Mexico with Blue Weber Agave in one of five Mexican regions (Jalisco, Guanajuato, Nayarit, Tamaulipas, and Michoacan). This is because the Mexican government copyrighted the term “tequila” in 1974 and created strict regulations on where and how the alcohol can be made. In short, if it’s not made in Mexico, it can’t be called tequila.

A bottle of Patron Silver

Patron Silver Tequila, from LCBO, $87.

How can I make the best margarita?

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine 1½ oz good quality silver or blanco tequila (like Patron), ½ oz orange liqueur, ¾ oz fresh lime juice and ½ oz agave syrup. Shake and serve over ice!

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