Popular Tequila Brands Ranked Worst To Best

Tequila is the great equalizer of a night out, in that everyone's going to equally regret those four rapid rounds of shots they decided to do after midnight. However, the classic late-night-at-club unwise decision of the salt-rimmed variety is far from the only face of this agave spirit. Delicious as they may be, margaritas, too, are only scratching the surface.

A quality tequila can be just as fine a sipping alcohol as any Scotch or bourbon out there. The trick is to find out precisely which tequilas are the good stuff, and which ones are best reserved for those barely-remembered early morning hours. What's more, an aspiring tequila enthusiast needs to make sure that they have reliable access to some of the better brands. In order to determine what the true delicacies of the tequila world are, and to ensure maximum access to them, we've taken a look at some of the most popular tequila brands out there and ranked them from worst to best. 

10. Montezuma

One of the biggest tricks to tasting like quality alcohol is to avoid tasting like industrial alcohol. This should be pretty easy, given that very few human beings voluntarily seek out to sample the latter. However, a merest sip of Montezuma tequila gives the drinker a pretty good approximation of what that must be like. 

Montezuma Gold currently enjoys a less-than-solid average of 1.5 stars out of five on Master of Malt, with reviewers calling it "horrible" and lambasting both its taste and smell. "This Montezuma Gold is the absolute WORST tequila I have ever tasted," one review says. "Taste is full of false sweetness and, could it be? ... Liquid smoke. Not bottom shelf. Not good enough for that." Oof.

So, if you absolutely, positively need to have a margarita and Montezuma is the only tequila brand left in the store, perhaps you can minimize the damage by going with Silver instead? Unfortunately, no. The community reviewers at Tequila Matchmaker are, if possible, even more unkind to the see-through stuff. In fact, they've reported aromas ranging from chlorine to varnish and flavors from acetone to soap. 

Incidentally, if you find yourself reading all that and thinking, "Wait, isn't that what tequila always tastes like?" chances are you've only sampled bottom-shelf stuff like, well, Montezuma. Let's see if that can be fixed. 

9. Jose Cuervo

If you're even vaguely familiar with the concept of tequila, chances are you know Jose Cuervo. Per The Spirits Business, the 250-year-old brand is the world's best-selling tequila by a pretty comfortable margin. As befits its stature, the brand also has a sizable array of products out there, so, in all fairness, if you want a nice Jose Cuervo, you do have options. Apart from the higher-end stuff, VinePair points out that the silver Jose Cuervo Tradicional Plata is a pretty solid budget mixing tequila. So, what does this super-famous brand do so low on this list? You can thank Jose Cuervo Especial for that.

There's a pretty good reason you shouldn't drink Jose Cuervo Especial, the king of all "mixto" tequilas (per The Daily Meal). Mixtos are, essentially, all the cheapo tequilas that don't explicitly mention that they contain 100% agave. Legally, such concoctions are fully free to fly the tequila flag, as long as they contain the legal minimum amount of blue agave, which is as little as 51%. The rest tends to be a hodgepodge of cane sugar syrup and various additives that you might know under their common name, "tequila hangover." 

Jose Cuervo Especial is far from the only offender out there, but as the most popular one, the blame for a great many unnecessarily awful Sunday mornings rests squarely on its shoulders. As such, its existence keeps the Jose Cuervo product family lower on this list than it otherwise might be. 

8. Juárez

While noticeably less merciless for the old taste buds than Montezuma, Juárez is still very much a member of the "Oh god, what did I drink last night?" family of cheaper tequilas. To its credit, though, it doesn't pretend to be anything else. Outlets like Total Wine and Sam's Club happily note that the brand is a bar and party staple that works great as a margarita ingredient.

Since Juárez pretty much wears its mixto heart on its sleeve, there's little point in analyzing the higher nuances of its flavor profile, aside from perhaps a general note that it tastes surprisingly smooth, but still has that bottom-shelf tequila punch. Instead, let's focus on the margarita aspect.

 As Serious Eats points out, tequila is just one of the building blocks of a mixed drink, and some of the main mistakes when making a margarita are using sub-par ingredients, like pre-packaged lime juice or, worst of all, margarita mix. Sure, you should ideally also use a great tequila, but sometimes things just don't roll that way. You know how the saying goes: If life gives you a bottle of Juárez, grab some quality ingredients and use it to make reasonably tasty margaritas.   

7. Sauza

You'll notice that the entry-level versions of Sauza Tequila also distinctly avoid the words "100% agave." While the brand does have full-agave stuff at its disposal, the fact that it's an inexpensive tequila brand that dabbles in mixto territory keeps Sauza on the lower rungs by default. Even so, there's one important thing that sets it apart from the baser fare: Sauza happens to be very, very good for what it is. 

While the Sauza brand still exists firmly in the land of salt and lime, it's far from the worst mistake you can make at the margarita stage of the day. In fact, The Spruce Eats recently named Sauza Silver Tequila the best budget tequila for shot-and-margarita purposes. This doesn't mean it's necessarily delicious — for instance, Honest Booze Reviews is quick to make clear that Sauza Silver's aftertaste is only worth writing home about if all you're planning to put on paper is the word "Aaaaargh." 

Still, much as serious tequila aficionados may scoff at mixtos, the cheap brands will always be around wherever unwise drink order decisions are made at 2 a.m. Should you find yourself in that situation, you could do a whole lot worse than Sauza.   

6. El Jimador

On paper, El Jimador is a pretty decent tequila, especially when you take into account that it's one of the best-sellers not just Stateside, but in Mexico as well (per Spirits Hunters). A hand-harvested bearer of the "100% blue agave" mark, El Jimador's flagship product is an award-winning tequila Reposado with taste notes that include citrus and tobacco, according to The Spirits Business.  

In reality, though, the brand has a history of conflicting reviews. El Jimador Silver Tequila has been dubbed a fairly underwhelming two-star spirit by 31 Whiskey, while well over half of its Influenster raters give it a solid five stars out of five. Likewise, the Reposado variety gets critical-to-middling reviews from Tequila Matchmaker, however, the Master of Malt community has surprisingly high praise for it. 

In the end, it all seems to come down to whether you're looking for a decent mixing tequila, in which case El Jimador works just fine, or for straight drinking fare, in which case it may or may not be your cup of distilled agave juice. Unfortunately for El Jimador, our palate falls in the latter camp, but if you do get the chance to try the stuff, there's no reason not to — it's well ahead of bottom-shelf liquor, and if you do end up loving it, it's affordable enough to make a pretty decent everyday spirit. 

5. Hornitos

Tequila can be a divisive drink, and considering the whole "100% agave" thing acts as a clear border between the bad and the good, it's easy to forget that some tequilas are simply alright. Cue Sauza's mid-shelf brand, Hornitos

Named after a process in which agaves are roasted in small ovens called "hornitos," the brand includes many of the usual suspects: the unaged "silver" of Hornitos Plata, the two-months-plus oak aged Reposado, the Añejo that has at least a year of aging under its belt, and a handful of specialties and pre-mixed drinks. The brand is completely missing a gold tequila — which, for reference, would be a mix of a silver and one of the aged tequilas. 

The all-agave Hornitos is, in many ways, the quintessential mid-list tequila. When Delish listed Hornitos Plata among the best tequila brands, the reasoning was, essentially, that it's nice for its price. Complex has given it three points out of five, noting that "all things considered it goes down well." As for the Reposado, Spirits Review has given it an incredibly middling review that uses the adjective "tired" more than once, yet the publication doesn't truly lambast the drink. 

In our opinion, these are all pretty accurate assessments. Hornitos is by no means bad, but it's far from great. In fact, the most accurate descriptive is probably ... fine, with the hesitant three-dot stop very much a part of the sentence.

4. 1800 Tequila

When it comes to sheer versatility, it's very hard to beat 1800 Tequila, a brand that makes the fact that it's "just refined enough" a point of pride on its website. This is actually a pretty accurate description of 1800. Per The Spruce Eats, it's good enough to employ as a sipping tequila, cheap enough to use in cocktails without worry, and smooth enough to soothe the stricken palate of a wary tequila drinker whose opinion of the spirit has been scarred by too much Jose Cuervo. Knowing this, it's perhaps surprising to discover that 1800 falls under the same corporate umbrella as Jose Cuervo (per 31 Whiskey). Yes, we realize this technically breaches our Especial-induced grudge on Jose Cuervo products, but we just can't stay mad at 1800. After all, it is just refined enough.

1800 is not the finest thing in the tequila world, but if you ask a genie for a bottle of nice tequila, this is what you might very well get. It's made in a classic way and performs well in any and all tequila-themed scenarios out there. As such, if you only have room for one all-purpose utility tequila in your drinks cabinet, a member of the 1800 Tequila family is a solid choice. In fact, the brand only ranks this low on the list because certain others outshine it — but not necessarily by much.

3. Espolòn

Yes, the cheap, seemingly unassuming Espolòn makes it to the Top Three — but then again, if you've tasted it, that should come as no surprise. If you're looking to combine a great price with great taste, the world of tequila can often find you wanting. Not so with Espolòn, which Liquor.com recently called the absolute best sipping tequila of the under-$30 price group out there. 

So, what can you get for that comparative bargain price? Espolòn's surprisingly complex Blanco and fuller Reposado are both 100% agave, and though somewhat spicier and rougher around the edges than some high-end fare, they carry a signature punch that works very well in mixed drinks — something the brand's Facebook page takes full advantage of, as it bombards you with inventive and nigh-invariably delicious Espolòn-themed mixology, Paste Magazine reports. The brand has a measure of smoothness, but for those who prefer their tequila with some character, Espolòn Reposado in particular will give more bang for your buck than anything else on this list. 

2. Don Julio

Look at any list of fine tequilas, and you're likely to find at least one bottle of Don Julio in there. From Liquor.com's latest list of best sipping tequilas (Don Julio Añejo) to Delish's recent listing of best tequila brands (Don Julio 1942), 2021 seems to be no different. A true premium tequila brand, the makers of Don Julio openly call it the world's first luxury tequila, and it has the reviews to match. Drinkers praise the baseline Blanco for its fresh, restrained, distinctive taste (per The Whiskey Exchange), and the Reposado adds a little smooth sweetness in the mix (via Drinkhacker). 1942, of course, is a noted top shelf tequila on the restaurant circuit ... and if you want to go all in, there's the super-expensive Don Julio Real, which one Total Wine reviewer has called "the Bentley of all tequila." 

All of this prestige and nuanced taste is enough to make Don Julio a great best-selling tequila. So, how on earth is it not topping the list?

1. Patrón

An uninspired choice? Perhaps, but when it comes to best-selling tequilas, there's no denying that Patrón reigns supreme. It might be the world's second best-selling tequila, according to The Spirits Business, but it's also very much the real thing. 

Per Esquire, Patron was in the frontlines when premium tequilas started fighting their way through the spirit's reputation as a cheap student hooch. With a combination of careful pricing and an extremely solid product line, it has managed to maintain its street cred through the years. Some praise the virtues of the complex Roca Patrón product line, and the brand has an ultra-special Gran Patrón line as well, but even if you don't want to break bank, the baseline Silver, Reposado and Añejo variations all hold their own. 

Granted, Patrón's popularity and lengthy tenure as the top dog of premium tequila industry — as well as the fact that it flies under the Bacardi flag these days — has soured some enthusiasts on the stuff, as The Spruce Eats reports. However, when it comes to big name tequilas, it simply has no equal. Though the brand is famous and thus can be somewhat overpriced, it's also delicious through and through. Patrón Silver alone is a reliably enjoyable, smooth spirit that works extremely well as a mixer — and if you want to wean yourself off those chemical-tasting cheap brands, it's hard to find a better starter premium tequila to blow your mind.