11 Mexican- and Mexican American-Owned Tequila & Mezcal Brands You Need to Know
A primer to guide your next spirited cocktail hour. Margaritas, anyone?
You might know that tequila is a distilled beverage that’s made in Mexico. But what else do you know about the spirit that’s the backbone of America’s favorite cocktail, the margarita?
Tequila has been a part of Mexico’s agriculture and heritage for centuries, and many of the producers are family-owned businesses that have passed on their traditional harvesting, cooking and distilling methods through the generations. Tequila is made with 100% Blue Weber agave plants grown in the Mexican state of Jalisco as well as select towns in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit and Tamaulipas. Whether they’re paying homage to their heritage, blending classic and contemporary methods, or homing in on a singular expression, these Mexican- and Mexican American-owned brands are producing some of the best-in-class tequila and mezcal.
What To Know About Tequila
There are five expressions of tequila, starting with Blanco, also known as Silver, which is bottled immediately after distillation and is what you’ll often see called for in cocktail recipes. Other expressions are aged in different barrels for varying lengths of time to create a rich, nuanced spirit that’s fit for sipping neat or on the rocks, or subbing into cocktails that typically call for brown spirits. There’s Joven, which blends a small amount of aged tequila with unaged tequila; Reposado, aged for at least 60 days but less than a year; Anejo, aged between one to three years; and Extra Anejo, aged for at least three years.
But tequila is no one-trick pony: It is also the base spirit for a bevy of cocktails, including the Tequila Sour, the Tequila Sunrise, the grapefruit-forward Paloma, and one of our favorite mash-ups, Paloma Margaritas. And premium tequilas of all stripes are excellent for sipping straight, too.
Tequila vs. Mezcal
Where does mezcal fit in? Tequila is a type of mezcal, which is a category of spirits made from other types of agave plants. Rather than cooking the agave in ovens as with tequila, mezcal is typically cooked inside earthen pits and filled with wood and charcoal before being distilled in clay pots, giving mezcal its distinctive smoky flavor profile. Try mezcal in a Smokey Margarita, a Mezcal Old-Fashioned or the tropical-leaning Mango Mezcal Breeze.
Though the Gallardo family launched their tequila company in 2017, Volcan De Mi Tierra’s origins date back more than 200,000 years when a volcano, aptly named Tequila, erupted. It covered the land in volcanic soil, fertilizing the area and making it ripe for agricultural ventures, like distilling agave. Fittingly, the Gallardo family’s Jalisco distillery sits in the lowlands at the base of the volcano. Like several small batch distilleries, Volcan has its own NOM, a four-digit number printed on every bottle of tequila that represents the distillery they’re produced at and is often an indicator of a tequila’s quality. There are three expressions, including Blanco, a blend of agave from both the low- and high-lands, yielding a tequila with an herbaceous quality from the lowlands and underlying citrus and floral notes from the highlands. It’s excellent sipped neat but is equally adept at anchoring margaritas. The Cristalino is an Anejo, an aged tequila that’s best enjoyed neat or on the rocks. The Reposado is rested for 135 days in new American and European oak casks, creating a smooth, balanced blend of toasted tobacco notes offset with pineapple, light citrus and honey.
With three generations of tequileros at its heart, LALO’s pedigree and passion run deep. LALO is named after co-founder and maestro tequilero Eduardo "Lalo" Gonzalez, who earned his nickname from his grandfather, Don Julio Gonzalez, of the iconic Don Julio tequila brand. Growing up, Gonzalez worked at the family distillery where he developed a passion for agave and Blanco tequila and a dream to continue his family’s legacy. Together with his friend and business partner, David Carballido, Gonzalez co-founded LALO and started making small batches of pure Blanco tequila to share with friends and family in Guadalajara. But word got out and demand soared. Each bottle of tequila is crafted with three ingredients — fully mature agave harvested from the Jalisco highlands, yeast and deep well water. The tequila is twice distilled to preserve the characteristics of the agave, then during fermentation, a proprietary yeast that’s used in Champagne is introduced, which helps to blend the agave’s richness with the subtle fruity notes of wine. The result is an exceptionally smooth tequila with top notes of cooked agave, sweet potato, cinnamon and a whisper of dulce de leche. This is one to sip neat.
Tequila industry pioneer Don Jorge Salles Cuervo founded El Tequileno in 1959 and its since earned a following for its craft Blancos and Reposados. The Salles family have been at the helm for three generations, and today, Master Distiller Jorge Antonio "Tony" Salles oversees production. Each batch is made using mature agave harvested from Los Altos de Jalisco and mineral rich water from El Volcan de Tequila, then distilled in copper stills. There are six expressions, including the world’s first "Reposado Rare," aged for six years and four months in large American Oak Pipon, yielding a tequila with exceptional depth and rich complexity. Tasting notes include marzipan and light spice balanced by notes of sweet agave and oak. Each bottle is also individually and signed, making this one a collector’s item, too. Other expressions include Blanco; Reposado, aged three months; Platinum, rested for a minimum of 14 days; Gran Reserva, aged for a minimum of 8 months in American Oak and blended with a small amount of Anejo aged in American Oak, creating a tequila redolent of vanilla, spice and toffee; and Anejo, an aged tequila with tasting notes of sweet oak, vanilla, cooked agave, sweet spices and orange.
Codigo 1530’s tequila started as a private family recipe and was enjoyed for personal consumption for five generations. Its co-founder, Federico "Fede" Vaughan, was part of the group of Mexican families who funded the private distillation of this tequila. He met his friend, Ron Snyder, co-founder and CEO, in Los Cabos, and it was over sharing sips of the private tequila that they made plans to make it available to the public. They named the tequila after "Los Codigos," pledging to adhere to the codes and customs of tequila making. Código’s tequilas are produced at a single, designated distillery in Amatitan, which was established in 1530 and is cited as the birthplace of tequila. (As with other premium tequilas produced at a single distillery, you’ll find the NOM representing the distillery printed on the bottle). There are five expressions, including Blanco; a unique Rosa, rested for one month in uncharred French white oak barrels, imparting a subtle pink hue and light floral finish; Reposado, aged for six months, with tasting notes of vanilla, toasted caramel and a hint of cocoa powder; Anejo, a golden-hued tequila that’s aged 18 months with a profile that mingles oak and fruit, touches of vanilla and a whisper of spice. The creme de la creme, Origen, is aged in Napa French white oak Cabernet barrels for six years, making it one of the oldest Extra Anejos on the market. Sip this one neat, and look for tasting notes such spice, caramel and sweet oak up front with a surge of dried fig and cinnamon on the palate.
Mexican-American PGA golfer Abraham Ancer and Mexican entrepreneur Aron Marquez cemented their friendship and love for Mexican culture by founding Flecha Azul, a premium tequila brand with five expressions. The tequila is produced by a multi-generational, family-owned and operated distillery whose traditions and methods date back to 1840. This means utilizing the traditional method of using stone ovens called hornos to cook the agave pinas which allow the nuances and flavor characteristics to shine. It’s considered the truest form of tequila making; there are other brands that use a diffuser, which is a faster and more cost-efficient way to produce tequila but yields a product that is much less complex in flavor. The proof is in the taste; sip the Blanco and you’ll detect the sweetness of cooked agave up front. The Blanco serves as the foundation for the other expressions which are all aged in American white oak ex-bourbon barrels. Reposado is aged for six months and has tasting notes of vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. Anejo, aged 18 months, boasts subtle hints of vanilla and a sweet finish with notes of maple and caramel. Anejo Cristalino is triple-filtered and aged 18 months, yielding a velvety texture and sweet-leaning tasting notes that include dark chocolate, vanilla and oak. Extra Anejo is Flecha Azul’s top-of-the-line tequila. It’s aged for 36 months, yielding a full-bodied spirit with a balanced tasting profile that includes notes of oak, almond and butterscotch. This is one to sip and savor.
Corralejo Tequila is one of the few tequilas produced in Guanajuato, Mexico, and Hacienda Corrlajeo, the estate where its produced, was the first in Mexico to produce tequila commercially. Today, Leonardo Rodriguez Moreno continues the tequila making traditions of the property’s storied past to produce Silver, an unaged tequila with an aroma of white and pink peppercorns and mint, and a crisp finish that makes it ideal for margaritas and palomas; Reposado, aged four months in American, French and Encino barrels, boasts a pale straw hue and balanced sweet-spice profile; Añejo, aged 18 months in charred American barrels, possesses oak, caramel and cardamom notes and is excellent sipped neat or on the rocks; 1821 Extra Añejo, aged 36 months, is best sipped neat at room temperature to appreciate the balanced blend of smoke and oak with notes of walnut, almond and vanilla, all wrapped up with a citrus-herbal finish.
Like Carralejo Tequila, Los Arango Tequila is also owned by Leonardo Rodriguez Moreno and produced at Hacienda Corralejo. The tequila was originally crafted and named in honor of José Doroteo Arango, aka Pancho Villa, for defending his people in the Mexican Revolution. Moreno seeks to honor this proud moment in Mexican history with every batch of Los Arango Tequila. The tequila is made with agave that’s harvested on Hacienda Corralejo’s property, where it’s then fired in clay ovens and fermented with a specialty yeast strain. From there, the tequila is twice distilled and bottled in blown glass bottles. The bottle’s finishing touches include leather, metal and wood accents, making it one to put front and center on your bar cart. Los Arango’s line-up includes Blanco, a soft, smooth unaged tequila with an aroma of toasted agave and herbs; Reposado, an aged tequila with caramel, lemon and oak on the nose, honey on the palate and a slightly peppery finish; and Anejo, which boasts a rich palate with notes of vanilla, salt and green pepper and a spicy, lingering finish.
Equal parts smooth and spice, Tanteo Tequila is what you want for your next spicy margarita. The company is owned and operated by a co-operative of agave farmers at Destiladora Juanacatlan in Jalisco — the only distillery owned by a co-op of agave farmers. Tanteo’s agave is grown and harvested in Mexico’s fertile La Cienega region, between the Altos (highlands) and Valles (lowlands) regions of tequila country. As such, the agave reflects the terroir of both, yielding a flavor that lands between the earthy and mineral profile of the lowlands and the ripe fruit of the highlands. Once fully mature, the agave is harvested, cooked in brick ovens and distilled using traditional, small batch methods. Blanco is bright and zippy, with hints of black pepper and minerality on the palate and serves as the base for the rest of the spicy, pepper-infused line-up. Tanteo harvests fresh peppers and infuses both ripe whole peppers and the shells of young peppers in their Blanco tequila. The infused tequilas are then carefully blended by CEO and Master Blender Neil Grosscup. The expressions include a spicy Jalapeno, infused with fresh jalapenos; smoky Chipotle, infused with roasted chipotle peppers from the mountains of Chihuahua; and extra spicy Habanero, infused with habanero peppers from the Yucatan Peninsula.
Though Teremana was founded and co-owned by long-time tequila lover Dwayne Johnson, better known as The Rock, other owners include Dany Garcia, Jenna Fagnan, Ken Austin, and the Lopez family from Jalisco. At their family distillery, the Lopezes focus on sustainability in both growing and employment practices for their workers, who hail from the town of Jesus Maria and surrounding areas. Only Teremana is crafted at Destileria Teremana de Agave, using a traditional small batch process where fully mature agave is slowly roasted in brick ovens, fermented in open tanks and distilled in handmade copper pot stills. There are two expressions, including Blanco, a bright tequila with tasting notes of lemongrass, salted lime and golden pineapple and a flourish of citrus on the finish, and Reposado, a rich sipper that showcases notes of roasted agave, oak, vanilla and spices on the palate.
Sonya Vega Auvray traded in a 17-year career as a fashion PR executive for a foray into the spirits industry. Auvray was inspired by her Mexican roots to create a modern take on small batch mezcal by making it organic, less smoky and triple distilling it. She launched Dona Vega in November 2019, and it’s one of the few nationally distributed mezcal brands that’s both owned and produced by an all-woman team. The producers are based in Oaxaca and include a mother and her three daughters, who are proud fifth generation Mezcaleras. The two expressions include Espadin Capon, a super smooth mezcal with a light smoke flavor profile that’s underscored by fruit and a white pepper finish. Try swapping it in for the tequila in this Spicy Paloma. Tobala is a flavor journey with every sip, with tasting notes ranging from vanilla to coconut, nougat to toasted oak, and possesses a long, smooth finish.
Yola Mezcal was founded in 2016 by friends and entrepreneurs, Yola Jimenez, Lykke Li and Gina Correll Aglietti. The mezcal is crafted according to a multi-generation family recipe dating back to 1971 that Yola’s grandfather passed on to her. The mezcal is made with a blend of organic, full-mature Espadin and Madre-Cuixe agave that’s roasted in an earthen conical oven for four to eight days, crushed with a manual stone mill and fermented in open-air oak barrels with natural yeast for eight to ten days. Using filtered spring water and harvested rainwater, the agave is then twice distilled in a copper pot and bottled by the bottling facility’s all-female team. Yola Mezcal has a rich, full mouthfeel with tasting notes that include ripe fruit, pepper, citrus, flowers and soft smoke. Try pairing it with fire-roasted vegetables, grilled meats and citrus salads. And because sustainability is as important to the founders as taste, they are committed to sustainable planting and growing techniques; environmentally responsible production practices such as low wood distilling, solar power and rainwater catchment systems; and supporting local reforestation funds.