We Asked 3 Bartenders to Name the Best Tequila for a Margarita, and They All Said the Same Thing

published May 23, 2024
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Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Styling: Rachel Perlmutter

When crafting the perfect margarita, selecting the right tequila isn’t just about flavor; it can mean the difference between waking up with a smile or a pounding headache. But with so many tequila styles available, ranging from Blanco to Extra Añejo, and different regions of production, choosing the ideal match for a classic marg can be daunting. 

Seeking guidance, I consulted with several seasoned bartenders for their tequila preferences when creating a classic margarita. They unanimously agreed on two elements: Blanco tequilas made using agave sourced from the highlands. Here’s why.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Styling: Rachel Perlmutter

The Best Tequila for a Margarita, According to Bartenders

One key reason Blanco tequila, also known as silver or white tequila, is favored for margaritas is its smoothness. It is the purest expression of the agave plant. It is unaged or minimally aged, unlike the Añejo and Extra Añejo, and it doesn’t spend any time in oak barrels like the Reposado. This allows the natural flavors of the agave to shine through without overpowering the drink. 

Now, why the highlands? Glad you asked! Highland tequilas, distilled from agave grown in the elevated regions of Jalisco, offer a smoother and fruitier profile, while lowland tequilas, made using agave that is grown in the lower areas, are known for their earthy and herbal qualities.

Credit: Mara Weinraub

Derek Crow, lead bartender at Bar Zazu in Resorts World Las Vegas, recommends Herradura Silver Tequila for its bright citrus-forward black pepper notes. “The distillery grows 16 different fruits outside their fermentation bath,” says Crow. “So all this wild yeast comes in, ferments the tequila, and adds these wild funky flavors. It imparts a fresh vegetal agave nose and a touch of black pepper in the aftertaste.” 

Herradura is also his go-to tequila due to its approachability and easy availability. “I don’t want to sell a margarita at the bar that people love only to disappoint them by running out because we only get two bottles a month,” says Crow about harder-to-find tequilas. “And then they can’t even find it at the liquor store because it’s out of stock.”

A great-tasting margarita isn’t the only reason to spring for a better bottle of tequila. According to Crow, the process used by inexpensive tequilas is what leads to hangovers. “The first and last parts that come out of the still are a bunch of toxic chemicals. The middle is like the purest form of the distillate — that’s the one you wanna capture. You’re supposed to discard the first part and the end part, but some of these more inexpensive brands can’t afford to, so they mix it back in and sell it — and that’s why we have this hangover for the next 23 days.”  

Buy: Herradura Silver Tequila, $39.99 for 750 ml at Total Wine

Credit: Mara Weinraub

Elvis Rosario goes the craft tequila route when he serves up margaritas at the recently opened Chica & The Don in New York City, where he is the beverage director and partner. “Mijenta tequila is amazing for margaritas,” says Rosario about the woman-owned brand. Ana María Romero, co-founder and maestra tequilera of Mijenta, “takes almost like a wine-making process to the tequila,” says Rosario.

What she’s doing is an art,” he says. “You get a lot of fresh agave, but the bottle has a little tropical nose to it, and me being Caribbean, I love anything tropical.” The brand has a lovely Añejo and Reposado that you can enjoy neat, but when it comes to margaritas, Rosario prefers — yup, you guessed it — the Tequila Blanco made with agave from the highlands.

Buy: Mijenta Tequila Blanco, $44.99 for 750 ml at Total Wine

If you want something with a bit of sweetness that won’t overpower, Will Carter, head bartender at El Vez in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, recommends the Michael Jordan-owned Cincoro Tequila, a Blanco that blends both highlands and lowlands. But the co-sign of arguably the world’s greatest athlete to ever live isn’t what earned Carter’s vote. 

“I had no idea about Cincoro until somebody gave me a taster. It’s extracted with vanilla, so it has that sweet little aftertaste,” says Carter. “After I tried it and loved it, I found out it’s actually Michael Jordan’s tequila. The man makes good sneakers, plays good ball, and now sells great tequila.” 

Of course, crafting the perfect margarita at home requires more than just a great tequila — using subpar ingredients could render that fine bottle useless. “The syrups and sour mixes are what makes people say, ‘Oh, I don’t like margaritas,’” says Carter, a sentiment that Rosario echoes: “The difference is just night and day. The bottled stuff usually has this bitter, weird taste. It doesn’t matter what you’re making. If you’re making a strawberry margarita, find some fresh strawberries. It’s always going to be a lot better.” 

Buy: Cincoro Blanco Tequila, $74.99 for 750 ml at Total Wine

What tequila do you use to make a margarita? Tell us about it in the comments below.