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6 Under the Radar Tequilas That Are Low-Key Amazing

6 Under the Radar Tequilas That Are Low-Key Amazing

Photo Credit: Hiatus Tequila

Few spirits have the widespread appeal of Tequila. The well-known Mexican liquor has captured the hearts (and palates) of American drinkers for many reasons. Fresh, lively, fruity, and fun, it’s ideal for cocktails and plays exceptionally well with a range of ingredients and cuisines. Then there’s the lifestyle and aesthetic appeal that has skyrocketed it to viral and social fame. But at its core, the agave spirit is rich in culture and tradition— elements that should be celebrated with the production of every bottle. Much more than alcohol, tequila symbolizes fellowship. “It’s truly the one spirit that brings everyone together and has always been a centerpiece of meals and family gatherings,” says Eric Torres, General Manager at Brooklyn’s Oaxacan-focused restaurant Claro.

In the last few years, tequila has had an explosive renaissance and today there are plenty of offerings for every kind of drinker. Still in the sea of celebrity-backed brands and exclusive luxury bottles, finding true gems can be a challenge. “Tequila is a special spirit that’s often taken for granted,” says Bar Calico’s head bartender Alex Dominguez. As he explains, the process from plant to bottle is a long haul that can take more or less a decade to complete. 

Unlike grain-based spirits, tequila is made from blue agave— a large succulent plant native to Mexico. For centuries, skilled farmers called jimadors have cultivated and harvested plants to reach the sweet core that would become tequila. But agriculture is just one of the factors that make it unique. There is also a strict set of guidelines that must be followed. These include certifying the liquid is made in Jalisco and from the correct ingredients. 

Production is no easy feat, and as Dominguez says, it deserves to be treated with a bit more respect. “Additive-free recipes and sustainability should be prioritized by every tequila maker, but that’s not always the case,” he says. Mixto tequilas, a popular version of the spirit, are required to have only 51% of their base made from blue agave, while the rest can be distilled from other non-agave sugars. This often delivers a taste that feels more mass-produced than bespoke— and, make no mistake, tequila can be as bespoke as it gets. 

True tequila offers a range of diverse tasting notes, whether a blanco, reposado, or añejo style. And, despite the numerous bottles that overcrowd liquor store shelves, many brands are putting the juice front and center. On this list, you’ll find some of the most underrated bottles making waves for the right reasons. Not only do they showcase the versatility of the category, but they also honor the process.

5 Tequilas to Try

Volans Still Strength Blanco

Style: Still Strength Blanco

Location: Los Altos de Jalisco

Born in the highlands of Jalisco, each of Volans Tequilas is a love letter to Mexican culture. True tequila enthusiasts will recognize the famed distiller Felipe Camarena. As a veteran in the industry, Camarena is most known for his G4 tequila (another noteworthy brand), but his work with Volans is top-tier. “The Still Strength is a winner because of Camarena’s unique production method,” says Torres. Usually, only the juice from the agave is used to ferment, but this blanco also makes use of the plant’s fibrous materials. “The fibers really add a lot to the tequila’s spice and minerality that helps enhance the citrus flavor you can find in most tequilas,” he adds. With 10% of the overall expression derived from fiber-fermented tequila, it’s rich in fresh earthy flavors like green apple, lemon, and peppercorns and has just a touch of salinity.

Alma del Jaguar Tequila Blanco

Style: Blanco

Location: Los Altos de Jalisco

Alma del Jaguar gets its name from its commitment to ​​wild jaguar conservation in Mexico. But philanthropy aside, the brand is highly regarded for its hand-crafted batches and sustainably produced juice. “The tequila is developed in partnership with the well-respected NOM 1414 estate and tastes distinctly of citrus and subtle hints of pepper,” says Dominguez. Easy-going enough to enjoy neat or on the rocks, Dominguez notes that it really sings with a splash of soda water and an orange peel. “I can easily say that it’s by far one of my favorite ways to drink a tequila soda,” he says.

Hiatus Tequila Reposado

Style: Reposado

Location: Tequila, Jalisco

The team behind Hiatus had a simple vision: to make delicious-tasting tequila. Though they produce three expressions, their reposado is one of the most unique bottles. After resting in reclaimed American Whiskey barrels for 6 months, the tequila has a natural sweetness that’s hard to resist. On the palate, you’ll get rustic hints like cinnamon and hazelnut. There’s even a touch of vanilla to round it out. 

Caballito Cerrero Chato Blanco 46

Style: Blanco

Location: Amatitán, Jalisco

Despite being one of the oldest tequila brands, Caballito Cerrero doesn’t currently fall under the Tequila D.O. But it is, in fact, a good tequila. Hailing from Amatitan, Jalisco, it’s made with the same agave and method as true tequilas. “Cerrero Blanco 46 is probably the closest we can get to the original tequilas that made Vino de Mezcal de Tequila famous in the late 19th Century,” says Torres. Now recognized as “Destilado de Agave” or agave distillate, the spirit boasts a ripe vegetal quality aficionados will enjoy. “Most blancos will give you citrus notes, but with this bottle, you’ll also get eucalyptus, slate, and pepper,” he says. The pro notes that the unique blend even spices up a round of shots. “If you’re going that route, why not fill the fun with flavor?”

LALO Blanco Tequila

Style: Blanco

Location: Los Altos de Jalisco

Tequila-making runs deep in the family at Lalo. Founded by Eduardo “Lalo” González, the grandson of tequila pioneer Don Julio González, the brand follows a long line of tradition. Despite bursting on the global scene in 2021, LALO has gained a cult following for good reason. Their signature blanco delightfully reminds drinkers of how bright tequila can be. Made with just three ingredients (agave, yeast, and water), it’s one of the purest expressions of tequila–and tastes like it. On the palate, you’ll find fresh citrus notes accented by the cooked agave’s natural sweetness. It’s well-balanced enough to sip neat but is also a good choice for elevating traditional tequila cocktails.