Aged and then filtered, premium cristalino is making its way across the border as well. Here are the best bottles to seek out.
About a decade ago, tequila makers Maestro Dobel and Don Julio were faced with rising agave prices and a dwindling demand for reposados and añejos. To create a more accessible expression, they each began charcoal-filtering their barrel-aged overstock into what is known as cristalino. The richer, sweeter spirit, stripped of its color and heavy wood notes, is now Mexico’s fastest-growing tequila category, particularly among young women seeking a premium product. “You expect the flavor to be bright and green, but it’s a surprise shock to your palate,” says booze expert Sean Kenyon of Denver’s Occidental bar. Cristalinos are versatile, too, adding interest to a margarita or served neat, chilled with a slice of orange.
Volcán De Mi Tierra Cristalino
Grover Sanschagrin of the Tequila Matchmaker app recommends LVMH’s añejo because it doesn’t undergo the same aggressive purification as lesser rivals. “Hold it up to the light, and you’ll see a tiny bit of color left in the liquid,” he says. “Some of the natural barrel notes are still present.” The result: rounder, more natural flavors of tobacco and chocolate against a dry, peppery agave spine. $70
Tuyo No. 3
Get past the packaging—nobody needs a Swarovski charm on a 14k gold necklace—and Tuyo’s quartet of cristalinos are “flavor bombs, but in a good way,” Kenyon says. The 16-month añejo is the standout: crisp and smooth, all caramel custard and tropical fruit. $100 for 375ml
Tequila Komos Añejo Cristalino
How Sombra Mezcal’s Richard Betts crafts his “Mediterranean” tequila is likely to rankle purists already irked by cristalinos, but let them rage: French oak white wine barrel aging and a post-purification rest in Greek clay amphorae produce a sublime salty-sweet, floral sip. $120
Partida Añejo Cristalino
This smaller producer entered the cristalino market last fall with two savory-sweet expressions, one based on a sherry cask reposado and the other on its añejo. The latter is a favorite of agave aficionados, because it retains a vanilla-forward silkiness from an 18-month rest in bourbon casks instead of acquiring taste from the now common fix-it of dosing the spirit with flavorings after filtration. $60
A rare bargain in a premium category, this reposado-based cristalino is made by the same team as El Silencio mezcal. Roman Romaya of Old Town Tequila, a specialty store in San Diego, notes its “robust, roasted agave” flavors. The Occidental bar’s Kenyon is another fan. “I was amazed by the creaminess of it when I tasted it blind,” he says. “There’s a florality to it that really shocked me.” $40
El Tequileño Cristalino
Sanschagrin likes the deft filtration here, which lets the agave funk sing against a baked spice background picked up from four months in giant American oak pipón barrels. Its long, fruity finish is characteristic of highland tequilas. $70
Tierra Noble Cristalino
Master distiller Octavio Herrera avoids the artificial-tasting trap that snares many cristalinos by using nonactivated charcoal. The result is a wholly unusual pour, says Romaya: “eucalyptus, minty flavors of a blanco” with the honeyed, cocoa lushness of time in a cask. $45