I’ve got to admit I don’t get too jazzed up about $200 bottles of tequila. In most cases, you’re spending that money on the fancy packaging and the marketing hype, not so much on what’s inside. What really gets me excited is when I find something in the stores for $20 or $30 that rightfully could pass for something selling for many times that number in a blind taste test.
My latest find on that note is Camarena Tequila, from Los Altos (the highlands) of Jalisco state. This is where much of the best tequila comes from for those who like to have a lot going on in the nose and palate. Tequila from this region is generally more floral, more aromatic, and filled with a bouquet of spice notes. It’s not something you down with a grimace: you savor it on your tongue and then ask for another pour. They attribute it to lower rainfall and an altitude of 8,000 feet for the agave plants, but for whatever reason this region tends to produce the best sipping tequila.
The Camarena family may not be a household name in the U.S., but their lineage founded the town of Arandas in Jalisco state in 1761. A century later they started growing agave plants. In the 1930s they founded their own tequila distillery. For much of its history this brand was known as Casco Viejo and at one point was the #3 brand in the country. After a purchase from the Gallo company—yes, the jug wine people—it relaunched in 2010 with this new brand name, Camarena.
So you can be forgiven if you’ve never heard of it before, but often that’s a good thing. While your friends succumb to the big marketing splash or the celebrity TV endorsements of the priciest brands, you can go for the less hyped ones that deliver more for the money. Honestly, if you lined this Camarena reposado up next to the $100 to $200 brands in a blind test, even those with some of the most developed palates would fail miserably.
I’ve only tried the reposado, but it was one of the best I’ve ever had. (And yes, since I lived in Mexico for a year I’ve had a lot.) As smooth as well-known Centenario but with all the floral notes and spiciness of a good highlands tequila like nearby neighbor Corzo, this is hands-down the best bargain I’ve encountered in a regular U.S. retail store. The words that sprung to mind when trying this were unorthodox ones like “juicy,” “fruity,” and “taste explosion.” Yet it still felt very balanced and refined.
I’m stocking up with a few extra bottles because I don’t think this price—I bought it for $20— is going to last for a premium 100% agave tequila. If you see it, grab it.
See our tequila tour story for more on the distilleries outside Guadalajara.