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Making tequila is not a quick process. Agave plants take seven to 12 years to reach maturity, and once harvested, they need to be roasted, distilled, and left to rest for months to years depending on the style. While many high-quality tequilas come with a steep price tag, you can certainly find bottles to fit your budget—and not all are strictly for shooting. Several brands produce excellent inexpensive tequilas suitable for sipping and making cocktails, such as margaritas, sangritas, and bloody marias. We researched top brands to find premier bottles for sipping straight, mixing drinks, and, yes, taking shots.
Here are the best cheap tequilas.
Bets Overall: El Jimador Silver Tequila
Made in Jalisco, this 100 percent agave tequila rests for 40 days before it's bottled and sent to thirsty drinkers. This results in a crisp tequila that works particularly well in cocktails, and the fact that it’s one of the best-selling brands in Mexico confirms that. Tasting notes of roasted agave, lemon, and honey pair particularly well in a paloma. The name El Jimador tips a hat to the farmers, the Jimadors, who lovingly grow and harvest all the agave in Jalisco, Mexico.
“Probably the best inexpensive tequila for the money is the El Jimador Blanco,” says Gavin Humes, food and beverage director of Scratch Bar & Kitchen in Los Angeles. “It's smooth enough for shooting, but has enough kick to stand up well in cocktails. While I might not crave a glass of it on the rocks, the price is hard to beat.”
Best for Margaritas: Olmeca Altos Plata Tequila
This highland tequila is super solid, particularly mixed into cocktails. Though the price is approachable, Olmeca Altos makes sure to use eco-conscious production methods, which is pretty rare for tequilas at this price point. The flavor has sweet caramelized agave and pepper notes with a creamy finish, resulting in a serious bang for your buck.
“My favorite cheaper tequila is Olmeca Altos Plata,” says Josue Gonzalez, beverage director at Seven Reasons in Washington, D.C. “It's in the lower price range, plus it’s an exceptional highland tequila that's great for both cocktails and shots. I love making margaritas with this tequila, and it looks like I'm not the only one—the prestigious 50 Best Bars Awards have named Altos Plata the best tequila for a margarita.”
What’s the difference between a highland and lowland tequila? Lowland tequilas are grown and produced deep in the Tequila Valley outside of the cities of Tequila and Guadalajara, while highland (Los Altos) tequilas come from higher-altitude regions surrounding the valleys. The tasting differences are relatively subtle, but experts note that highland tequilas are more floral, while lowland tequilas are more vegetal and herbal.
Best White: Arette Blanco Tequila
“I like tequilas that have a strong family history and [companies who] choose to do the right thing for the land and the people,” says Dean Hurst, beverage director for Datz Restaurant Group. Each bottle is made with care in the town of Tequila, right outside Guadalajara. The brand is still run by the Orendain brothers, who are descendants of some of the oldest tequila producers in the country. That said, the tequila still holds the same quality it did generations ago, with flavors of jackfruit, lime zest, and green pepper.
“Give your margarita some punch with Arette Blanco, a steal for a cheaper tequila,” says Hurst. He also recommends the distillery’s reposado (also budget-friendly) because it's “a great sipper and adds complexity to the paloma cocktail.”
Best for Shots: Agavales Blanco Tequila
Hope Ray, a bartender at The Holler in Bentonville, Arkansas, reaches for Agavales Blanco because it often “runs under $20, so you can’t go wrong with this in your home bar.” The budget bottle clocks in at a spicy 110 proof, so it'll add a little heat in each sip. Because it's on the lower end of the price scale, it's not as elegant in cocktails as some other options are.
That said, “it makes a great margarita and an easy shooter,” says Ray. “If you want a crowd-pleasing bottle, this is the one.” Consider putting it in the freezer before enjoying. By chilling it down, the cold temperatures will balance out the higher-proof burn of making shots with this tequila.
Best Reposado: Espolòn Tequila Reposado
“Espolon is definitely my favorite inexpensive tequila,” says Kira Calder, general manager of Lona Cocina & Tequileria in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “The reposado is rested in American oak barrels, which creates subtle notes of vanilla and caramel—perfect for spirit-forward tequila cocktails. All of its expressions are delicious and highly underrated.”
The tequila, which is aged between two and four months in white oak barrels, "is a great sipper," says The Holler's Ray. “It has a touch of sweetness and citrus. It’s best with just a few ice cubes, although I also suggest drinking it with a lemon peel to bring out the citrus notes.”
Beyond a bartender co-sign, this bottle has received many medals awarded at international spirits competitions. The design on the label features a tribute to Mexican culture, inspired by Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada.
Best for Sipping: Bribon Reposado Tequila
The crystal-clear Bribon is unaged with vegetal earthy notes that work well in a margarita, paloma, or old-fashioned, though Jessica Fallon, general Manager of Ladybirds in Houston, Texas, says she prefers drinking it on the rocks.
“Bribon is a solid tequila for its price,” says Fallon. “It’s a tequila I recommend to new agave drinks because it’s approachable and has a bright flavor.”
Bottles of Bribon are produced at the historic Casa Don Roberto distillery (a company started by Spanish immigrants in 1924) in the heart of Tequila town.
Best Anejo: Lunazul Anejo Tequila
It’s tough to find an anejo tequila on a budget. To be labeled anejo, a tequila has to be aged between one and three years in barrels, so expect a lot of time and investment to go into each bottle. This gives the liquid a more refined flavor similar to a sipping whiskey or Cognac.
Luckily, Lunazul offers a rare, wallet-friendly option in this category. The simple, elegant bottle is smooth and balanced, with pure agave flavors. The 100 percent agave tequila is made with agave plants aged over seven years, roasted, distilled, and then left to rest in reused bourbon barrels for between 12 and 18 months. The oak adds subtle smokey flavors and warm vanilla spices. Try it with a bit of agave syrup and Angostura bitters to make a spicy riff on an old-fashioned.
What to Look for When Buying Cheap Tequila
How will you be using the tequila? Are you going to be mixing it in a margarita or another tequila-based cocktail? Enjoying it in a shot or sipping it? Budget-priced tequila fits well for all of these, though quite naturally, some are better than others. Find one within your price range that is appropriate for your wants and has the flavor you enjoy.
Your taste buds will sway you to the type of tequila to buy. There are many varieties of tequila—and how it is produced, including whether or not it's aged and what type of agave and other ingredients are added, has the impact on the taste of this liquor. You might find hints of citrus, honey, herbs, spices, and floral notes when tasting it.
Some tequilas are free from additives, while others have ingredients such as corn syrup, sugar substitutes, or food coloring. You might also find herbs and fruits added too. Read the label to be aware of the ingredients.
What is the proper way to do a tequila shot?
Put some salt on your hand, lick it off, slam down the tequila shot, and suck on a lime wedge.
What are the different types of tequila?
There are five types of tequila: blanco, joven, reposado, añejo and extra añejo. Blanco is an affordable, beginning level of tequila that is white in color and aged the least—if at all—while añejo and extra añejo are aged the longest and are the top-shelf preferred sipping tequilas.
What mixes well with tequila?
A wedge or squeeze of lime is a must when it comes to tequila, and this liquor has a plethora of mixers, including club soda, seltzer, grapefruit juice, coconut water, and other sodas, including ginger, coke, and lemon-lime.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Kate Dingwall is a sommelier and spirits writer. She has been writing about wine and spirits for five years and has visited the Jalisco region over a dozen times. She has even harvested her own agave.