6 Inexpensive Tequilas To Buy And 6 To Avoid, According To Bartender

Not all tequilas are made alike, and while the good stuff tends to cost a pretty penny, it doesn't always have to be the case. There are quite a few inexpensive tequilas that are still fantastic when it comes to flavor, drinkability, production, and more. Of course, there are some that don't measure up, too. Let's find which is which so you can avoid the ones that are likely to cause a hangover and stick to drinking the good stuff.

To compile a list of six inexpensive tequilas to buy and six to avoid, I evaluated the prominent features of various tequilas, including flavor, production, cost, drinkability, and quality overall. I also considered my extensive background serving and enjoying tequila as a bartender, server, and entertainer in Mexico. I'll go more in-depth about methodology at the end, but for now, suffice it to say that I've had more than my fair share of interactions with tequila. Keep reading to learn what I discovered, so that the next time you're eyeing your options at the store, you come home with something you won't regret in the morning.

Buy: Espolòn Blanco

Espolòn Blanco is hands down my all-time favorite inexpensive tequila. I typically gravitate towards silver tequilas, but still, for my money, nothing beats it. I'm not the only one, either. People love ordering Espolòn Blanco in bars, and Drizly notes that it is a best seller for them as well. This tasty, affordable tequila is made from 100% Blue Weber agave in Los Altos, Jalisco, so it's definitely the real deal regarding production and quality.

One of the main reasons it is so well-liked is because it has a smooth taste with minimal burn. The flavor has elements of pepper, lemon zest, tropical fruit, and vanilla. While you may not pick up on its subtler tasting notes if you mix it into a cocktail, the balanced flavor and smooth aftertaste are undeniable. Tastings gives Espolòn Blanco a score of 86 points. While this is only a silver medal according to their guidelines, they still highly recommend it. They may not give it the highest rating, all things considered, but my experience drinking and serving it lets me know it is most certainly a crowd-pleasing, inexpensive tequila option.

Another great thing about Espolòn Blanco is that even with its excellent production standards and drinkable flavor, it generally only costs about $25 to $30 for a 750 ml bottle. Sometimes, you can even find it for as low as $20.99 at places like Total Wine.

Avoid: Jose Cuervo Especial Gold

Many people reach for Jose Cuervo Especial Gold at the liquor store because it is so widely known and comes at a reduced price. However, I'm here to tell you that you should avoid it at all costs. It may evoke images of parties and margaritas, but really, it's just a recipe for a mean hangover. It has a horrible burn going down, too.

The main reason Jose Cuervo Especial Gold leaves you with regrets the next morning is that it isn't made from 100% agave. Instead, it is a mixto tequila. A product must be created from a minimum of 51% agave to be labeled as tequila legally. It also has to be made in a specific region of Mexico. The other 49% of mixto tequilas are typically filled out with some kind of sugar and other additives. Anyone who knows anything about tequila sticks to 100% agave because they know all those fillers lead to a nasty feeling the next day. Plus, who wants the diluted version of the real thing? Not me, and unfortunately, that's exactly what you get with Jose Cuervo Gold.

A 750 ml bottle of Jose Cuervo Especial Gold costs just $13.99 at Total Wine, but don't let that tempt you. Save yourself from a headache and spend just a couple more dollars for something better. It may be the world's #1 tequila brand, but you'll thank me in the morning.

Buy: Olmeca Altos Plata

Olmeca Altos Plata is a highly awarded tequila made from 100% blue agave. It comes to us from the Los Altos region in Mexico and offers drinkers a smooth, round taste that many people have come to love. Its crisp, dry flavor profile features notes of black pepper, citrus, pear, and herbs, resulting in a spirit that both tequila enthusiasts and novices can appreciate. The full-bodied flavor also makes it an ideal tequila for both mixing and drinking straight. It is complex enough to stand out in inventive cocktails like a La Mandarina but also smooth enough to take shots of it or drink it neat.

Tastings highly recommends Olmeca Altos Plata and gave it a Silver Medal score of 88. For me, the grassy, citrusy flavor and lack of a harsh burn make it a stand-out option for mixing with plain soda water and a squeeze of lime. This fairly priced tequila is available for $26.99 at Total Wine, but you can expect a 750 ml bottle to cost between $30 and $38 at smaller liquor stores. Still, the deliciously smooth flavor and excellent quality of Olmeca Altos Plata make it well worth a few extra bucks.

Avoid: Sauza Hacienda Gold

The next tequila to avoid is Sauza Hacienda Gold. Like many other less-desirable inexpensive tequilas, it is a mixto tequila. While it is made with agave, it is not made from 100% agave, like any good tequila worth its salt should be. As a result, whatever other things they put into the blend are a surefire way to make yourself feel less than 100% the following day. You don't want a tequila that is made "with" agave. You want one that is made entirely from agave.

Sauza Hacienda Gold appeals to some because it is relatively sweet, but that same sugary taste will lead to your downfall. It may go down easy, but all that sugar will leave its mark. Even with its smooth flavor overall, Sauza Gold has an intense burn. You may get hints of caramel and hibiscus on the nose and tongue, but the lingering flavor is pretty harsh.

Total Wine prices a 750 ml bottle of Sauza gold at just $12.99, but even that won't make me consider buying it. In case you are eyeing other Sauza products, Sauza Silver is also a mixto tequila, so I recommend steering clear of that as well.

Buy: Corazón Blanco

Proudly a single-estate tequila, Corazón Blanco boasts exceptional quality from start to finish. It may be priced super low, but don't let that fool you. The brand's attention to detail, use of 100% superior highlands Blue Weber agave, and expert production methods shine through in every sip. From the second distilling process to the absence of additives, this tequila tastes more like a top-shelf option than a bargain-priced spirit.

Corazón Blanco features a well-balanced flavor with hints of smoky agave, roasted jalapeno, toasted pineapple, and tangerine zest. It also has a touch of spiciness at the end, giving it a nice bite. It may not be everyone's favorite tequila to sip neat but experienced tequila drinkers often prefer a longer finish, and Corazón Blanco definitely provides one. If you're not into a prolonged spicy finish, this tequila is perfect for mixing into palomas, classic margaritas, spicy margaritas, and other citrusy cocktails.

Total Wine sells this delectable tequila for just $20.99. However, depending on where you shop, it may cost as much as $23 to $26. Either way, it is extremely affordable.

Avoid: Pepe Lopez Gold

You've probably seen giant plastic jugs of Pepe Lopez Gold at the store, and maybe you've even considered making large-batch drinks with it because of its low price. Still, I recommend leaving it on the shelf. As a general rule of thumb, pretty much any tequila labeled "gold" and not silver/blanco/plata, reposado, or añejo should be avoided at all costs. The term gold is often just a sneaky way of labeling a mixto tequila without having to come right out and say it.

Aside from its less-than-desirable mixto composition, Pepe Lopez Gold has a strong burn and a lingering alcohol flavor that doesn't sit well with me. It's so strong that if you ever take a shot of it, it might just leave you gasping for air. It may be made from a blend of blue agave and natural spring water that is double distilled, but I don't pick up on any of that in the flavor or aroma.

According to Drizly, a 1.75 L of Pepe Lopez Gold only costs $26.99. Sure, that's a lot of tequila for a ridiculously low cost, but you should view that as a warning, not an invitation. Honestly, this is such a low-quality tequila that I'd definitely avoid Pepe Lopez Silver, too.

Buy: El Jimador Silver

El Jimador Silver is known for its unbelievably low price tag. However, it's much more than a cheap tequila. Actually, it deserves recognition as one of the best inexpensive options around. After all, it's expertly made from 100% Blue Weber agave that is harvested by hand and double distilled. So, you know it's not lacking in production quality. Plus, it has a bright, citrusy taste that makes it as versatile as it is affordable.

Overall, El Jimador Silver's flavor is crisp and citrusy, but it also features a touch of fruitiness and herbs. Pair that with its spicy finish, and you have a classic tequila that isn't overpowering but also won't get lost amidst other ingredients. Basically, it mixes well into an abundance of creative tequila cocktails and is still smooth enough to drink neat or as a shot. Regardless of how you choose to imbibe, a 750 ml bottle of El Jimador Silver costs between $20 and $25 through various vendors on Drizly.

Tastings highly recommends this tequila and awarded it a score of 88, putting it in the Silver Medal category. For a bottle that only costs about $20, that's pretty impressive. In addition to this reputable ranking, I developed a taste for El Jimador Silver while living in Mexico. Not only did locals order it at bars, but they bought it for their homes as well. Considering Mexico is the land of tequila, that says something, so I gladly jumped on the bandwagon.

Avoid: Montezuma (all types)

Montezuma makes a full range of tequilas. From Blue to Aztec Gold to Silver, they are all awful. That may sound kind of harsh, but it's nothing compared to the taste they leave behind. Regardless of the variety, Montezuma tequilas have a potent burn and a strong acetone flavor that leaves you begging for something to wash the taste out of your mouth.

I have worked at and frequented many bars that use Montezuma as their well tequila. I may not be an official expert, but I have decades of first-hand experience serving and drinking it, and let me tell you: It is the absolute worst. Sure, it blends into cocktails fairly well, but it'll leave you at death's door in the morning. Take my word for it, so that, unlike me, you don't have to learn that lesson the hard way.

A 1.75 L bottle of Montezuma tequila will only set you back between $18 and $25, but it should definitely be avoided. One more thing: The brand doesn't even have an official website, so I'd take that as a sign that they don't have much to boast about.

Buy: Espolòn Reposado

True to the brand's name, Espolòn Reposado is another phenomenal, inexpensive tequila worthy of this list. It may cost a bit more than Espolòn Blanco, but that's to be expected since reposado is a spirit that's barrel-aged. This company most certainly knows what it is doing and its reposado proves it.

Like the Blanco, Espolòn Reposado has a smooth taste with just the right amount of bite and no burning aftertaste. It is also made with 100% Blue Weber agave in Jalisco. However, unlike its younger counterpart, the reposado is aged in American oak barrels for at least two months. As a result, it has a golden hue and an oaky flavor paired with elements of caramel, tropical fruit, roasted agave, warming spices, and vanilla. The finish also leaves a lingering spiciness that people love.

Impressively, Tastings gives Espolòn Reposado a score of 94. The Gold Medal rating denotes that it has an exceptional ranking overall, and this doesn't surprise me one bit. I often found people flocking toward this smooth, rich tequila in bars because of its affordable price, excellent flavor, and quality overall. If you prefer the deeper flavor of reposados, it is your best bet. This quality reposado should only run you about $26 to $32 for a 750 ml bottle at your typical liquor store. At Total Wine, it's only $24.99.

Avoid: Hornitos Plata

Widely recognizable, Hornitos Plata is just okay. I wouldn't necessarily avoid it at all costs, but really, I'd only drink it as a last resort. Like, if I'm at a dive bar and it's the best they've got, I wouldn't turn my nose up, but that doesn't mean I'd enjoy drinking it or experiencing the harsh aftertaste it leaves behind.

Hornitos Plata has a floral, fruity aroma and flavor that I dislike. Sure, it also has citrus and agave elements, but not enough to make me ask for it by name or buy a bottle. I'm not alone in this sentiment, either. Many of my previous customers agreed. I'll admit, it's miles ahead of any kind of gold mixto tequila, but that's not enough when you consider all the fantastic options available. Additionally, the floral undertones of this tequila alter the taste of cocktails more than other options, so it can be trickier to mix.

At Total Wine, a 750 ml bottle of Hornitos Plata costs $19.99, but it is generally priced between $22 and $25 at other liquor stores. Tastings hasn't reviewed Hornitos Plata in quite some time, but they gave it a Silver Medal when they last did. While that doesn't sound bad, I still think there are plenty of other, better options on the market in the same price range.

Buy: Lunazul Añejo

Añejos are perfect if you prefer a deeper, more robust flavored tequila, but when it comes to inexpensive options that won't make you suffer the next day, they tend to be few and far between. However, Lunazul Añejo has got you covered. It is created using 100% estate-grown Blue Weber agave and aged for 12 to 18 months. As a result, it has all the richness you'd expect from a quality añejo but without the high price tag that usually accompanies a tequila of this caliber.

Lunazul Añejo features prominent vanilla and warm spice flavors with undertones of toasted oak, smoke, and pepper. It is the ideal tequila for sipping straight up or enjoying on the rocks. You may be tempted to mix it, and you can, but I find the sweetness of it delicious as is. Tastings impressively gave Lunazul Añejo 94 points on their ranking scale, denoting that it is exceptional and worthy of a Gold Medal. Still, a 750 ml bottle of Lunazul Añejo only costs $26.99 at Total Wine. It could run you as much as $30 to $33 depending on where you purchase it, but for a quality aged añejo, it's still a screaming deal.

Avoid: Cazadores Blanco

The final inexpensive tequila to avoid is Cazadores Blanco. While it's not going to make you feel bad the next day or even taste all that bad, it isn't going to wow you, either. It may be acceptable to mix into cocktails with lots of other flavors, like a fresh margarita. Still, I recommend choosing something else, particularly if you prefer your tequila straight or mixed with something less flavorful, like soda water.

Cazadores Blanco is relatively smooth, especially compared to mixto tequilas, but it still has a noticeable acetone flavor. Its tasting notes include fruit, citrus, and agave, but it is also pretty sweet. If you prefer sweet drinks, you might want to give it a try, but overall, it's not nearly as drinkable as other popular options.

Reasonably priced, a 750 ml bottle of Cazadores Blanco typically costs between $20 and $26 on Drizly. Even so, I'd still opt for one of the other fantastic tequilas on this list before settling for Cazadores. You could do a lot worse, but you could also do much better.

My methodology explained

Whether a particular brand of inexpensive tequila is good or bad ultimately comes down to personal preference. Still, there are lots of traits and qualities that easily steer brands in one direction or the other. To determine which tequilas to include in this article, I evaluated production, quality, flavor, burn, cost, potential for a hangover, and overall drinkability. I also referenced ratings on websites like Drizly and Tastings. For the most part, silver tequilas tend to be cheaper because they don't take as long to produce, but I made sure to include a reposado and an añejo to buy for good measure.

I also love tequila. So, I have lots of experience tasting various types and deciding which are my favorite. Plus, I worked in the entertainment industry in Mexico for a couple of years and as a server and bartender in the United States for 20 years. As a result, I like to think I have a firm grasp of what people prefer and what they don't, especially when it comes to tequila.