The best premium tequilas and mezcals for Margarita Day

By Gabriel Power | 29 Jan 2021 | Indulge

Your choice of tequila - or its eccentric cousin mezcal - can make or break a classic margarita

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Grab your salt, a couple of limes and your Triple Sec - or agave nectar if you are so inclined - for 22 February is Margarita Day, a celebration of the classic Mexican-American mixed drink commemorated by cocktail enthusiasts around the world.

The story behind the exact origin of the drink is something of a mystery, warped by time and embellishment, and as such occupies a special place on any bartender's list of old standards. Rather than a heavily prescriptive cocktail that can accommodate only minor alterations, the world of the margarita is essentially the Wild West for mixologists, who can mix, match, add or remove flavours as they see fit in search of their own unique take on the drink.

While lime, salt and some form of sweetener are often considered key ingredients in any margarita, the choice of tequila - or its eccentric cousin mezcal - can completely change the flavour profile of the cocktail. Here, Tempus takes a look at the eight premium tequilas and mezcals that we believe are perfect for a celebratory Margarita Day cocktail.

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This classic blanco from La Altena distillery in the highlands of Jalisco, is a 100% agave tequila whose production method has not changed since its inaugural batch in 1937.

Double-distilled at 40% ABV and bottled without any additional water to preserve its authentic flavours, it shows fresh green pepper, spices, apple and earthy notes with a sweet roasted agave finish.

The Tapatio Blanco is outstanding in a margarita, lending a bold, punchy quality to the classic drink.

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Satryna is a brand with an eye for design. Their bottle designs, inspired by the Day of the Dead and topped with a skull-shaped stopper, are nothing short of stunning, and the products housed within are pretty special too.

Although the brand's crowning glory is its Añejo Cristalino, for our money the best fit for a margarita is its fabulous triple-distilled blanco. This is a crisp, herbal and ultimately gentle take on the often rough-and-ready blanco style, offering notes of grapefruit, lemon and lime as it goes down.

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Bottled immediately after distillation, this crystal-clear white tequila is a classic of the genre with its earthy, peppery and agave-heavy profile.

While it certainly works as a neat drink, the Don Julio blanco contains hints of citrus, making it a practically perfect match for a margarita, its crisp flavours melding with the lime to great effect.

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Although some purists may scoff at the idea of adding a reposado (medium-aged) tequila in a cocktail, the VIVIR retains enough of its wonderful raw agave flavours to give any blanco a run for its money. 

The smoother tequila is perfect for use in a richer, less brash margarita such as a Tommy's, and is made with 100% blue weber agave. After distillation, it is aged for up to a year in bourbon oak casks before making its way into stylish bottles.

This superb, aromatic tequila contains earthy notes of vanilla, caramel and melted butter.

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Taking the aging a step further, we enter the world of añejo tequilas; those which have been matured in oak barrels for over a year.

Typically, the more indulgent flavours of this style make these ideal for sipping neat or on the rocks, but the team at Enemigo has created a deftly balanced añejo that works superbly well in a margarita due to its gentle profile of coconut at vanilla.

A double gold winner at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Enemigo 89 Añejo is notable for its colour. Where añejos are often a deep amber shade, Enemigo's take on the style is put through a three phase Carbon-Cellulose filtration process after distillation, giving it a crystal clear appearance.

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This unusual spirit claims to be the world's first smoked silver tequila, giving off a robust, bold flavour more associated with tequila's rustic brother, mezcal.

The distillers at Maestro DOBEL looked to replicate the taste of tequila from the 17th century by using Mesquite wood in the production process, lending this fruity, floral tequila a smooth yet rugged profile.

Those looking for a truly hearty margarita should look no further than the Humito.

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As mentioned above, those who like a more indulgent, savoury and smokier twang to their margarita should be sure to wade into the waters of mezcal, which has been growing in popularity in the UK in recent years.

While the definition of tequila is extremely strict and the drink is heavily protected by Mexican law, mezcal encompasses a considerably wider range of spirits as it can be made with any form of agave plant, rather than the blue weber agave required for tequila. As a result, mezcal is a drink with a highly varied flavour profile, ranging from light and crisp to brutally thick and smoky.

Ilegal, distilled in the Oaxaca region, is made from 100% Espadin Agave using artisanal methods, and the brand's big, bold joven strikes the perfect balance between sweet agave flavours and a dense, smoky finish. For a sumptuously smoke-tinged take on the margarita, Ilegal Joven is the perfect choice.

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Tempus has cheated somewhat here; Ayuuk is the black sheep of this list as it is technically neither a tequila nor a mezcal, but a highly rare, extremely close cousin of the latter.

The spirit is based on Pasilla Mixe, an obscure smoke-dried chili grown that can only be found at around 2,700 meters above sea level in the Sierra Norte mountains outside of Oaxaca City, Mexico.

But wait, there's more: the ingredients are then sent to Empirical Spirits, a distillery based in the harbour of the Danish capital Copenhagen, where they are added to a final spirit based on pilsner malt, purple wheat and Belgian Saison yeast before being aged in Oloroso Sherry Casks for 21 days.

Added to a margarita - such as the one outlined in a recipe on Empirical's website - Ayuuk transforms the cocktail into a smoky yet refreshing explosion of flavour that is perfect for a summer day.