Join the Blue Agave tequila & mezcal discussion forum to ask questions, make comments, vote in polls, rate your favourite tequilas or simply meet other tequila aficionados.
There are two different types of worm in mezcal - red (rojo - considered superior because it lives in the root and heart of the maguey - colloquially known as the chinicuil) and the less-prized white or gold (gusano de oro), which lives on the leaves. However, in some areas, the red is more numerous and harms the maguey more. The red gusano turns pale in the mezcal, the gold turns ashen-grey.
How & Where to Buy Tequila
Where to buy tequila in Mexico
You can buy tequila in literally hundreds of places in any Mexican city, town or village, including pharmacies, grocery stores and specialty outlets - licorerías. Local corner stores as small as a closet usually have a selection, which may be surprisingly better than that in some large shops, and a lot cheaper. There is also a reasonable selection of tequilas in airport Duty Free shops.
Look around for discount sellers - usually warehouse-style operations hidden in urban centres - that sell wholesale. They may sell off-the-shelf at a discount to the retail trade as well (at a savings of 20-30%).
Although many brands in Mexico are considerably cheaper than in the US or Canada (especially Canada, where imported liquor prices can easily be triple or quadruple the local price), many of the premium brands are still very expensive - from $50 to $350 US a bottle! Prices since mid-2000 have risen 35-100% for many brands. However, there is still a good selection of tequilas priced from $30 to $50 US. It helps to take along a copy of my Pocket Guide to Tequila when you're shopping.
Read the NOM number on the label. You may discover that several brands are all made in the same plant. if you want variety, look for brands with different NOMs.
Some brands are simply not available in Mexico because they are either for export only, or have no national distribution.
A few decades ago, the best bottles were exported or sold only in small luxury or tourist shops where the buyers could afford premium bottles. Since then, Mexican consumption of tequila - particularly 100% agave brands - has grown tremendously, and Mexican consumers have become more conscious of quality brands, so there are more outlets for them. Reposados seem to be the most popular, with blancos coming second. But in some communities, you may not be able to get the more expensive varieties outside the tourist zone or airport shops. If you see a brand in a bar that you haven't been able to find locally - ask the bartender where he/she got it. You may discover a new source!
For production blends or large distilleries like Sauza, Cuervo, Orendain, Cazadores and Herradura, try the shops and markets away from the tourist areas (check the local mercado for example) - you'll probably save a lot of money (20-40% over tourist store prices). Most of these brands are also available in the USA and sometimes in Canada. try to look for brands you can't find at home.
Airport 'duty-free' shops may have a limited selection of products from the large distilleries, but you can save a few pesos shopping there - products are 10-40% lower than in stores. They may also have a rare reserva de casa no one stocks locally - it's sometimes a bit of a gamble if you're looking for special brands and decide to wait until the last minute.
Remember that US and Canadian Customs have regulations on how much you can bring back without paying duty. Of course you can always bring back more and pay the extra - but check the regulations and duties first, to make sure it's worth the cost.
Also keep in mind that most airlines will not allow liquids in carry-on baggage, so come prepared to ship your tequila home in your checked baggage. A few feet of bubble wrap is handy to bring south in that case.
Sometimes the labels or bottles are different from what you may find at home, so check the labels first before buying. You should also check to be sure the label says 100% agave, because unless it says so, it is a mixto.
Your best bet for the combination of selection and price are stores that specialize in vinos y licores, where the price may not be the lowest, but the stock may have the most variety and highest turnover. Be careful of bottles with faded labels or obviously sitting in the sun - the quality of the tequila inside may have degraded. Check any cork tops to be sure the bottles are properly sealed, too. You don't want that tequila to spill out into your luggage on the flight back home!
My advice is to check out all sources first, make notes of the prices for the brands you plan to buy, and then make your purchases where the value is best.
There are also specialty stores that serve the growing interest in tequilas both for local and tourist consumption; prices may be high, but selection is usually good and they may offer an opportunity to taste select brands.
The exquisite tequila bottles are collectibles, but do not necessarily reflect the quality of their contents. You might look for a store that offers samples or tastings before buying anything very expensive, to be sure what you get is worth the bottle's price.
Of course, the very best place to buy tequila is right from the distillers (tabernas or fabricas) and the nearby stores in Jalisco state around the producing and growing regions. You can sometimes get tours of distilleries and sample their wares on the premises. Before you embark on your trip, however, contact the distilleries first to ensure that they will allow you to visit and even if they sell their products at the plant. Large distillers (Sauza, Cuervo, Herradura) have regular tours at specific times and charge for the privilege. They also have gift shops which sell their products.
The Tequila festival at the end of November-early December is another good time to visit and see the distilleries. It is actually a rural festival, so it's also a good opportunity to enjoy Mexican culture. See my page on Tequila Tours for more.
While you're doing your research, be sure to find a set of caballitos - traditional tequila glasses, also called tequilitos - for your home. The best allow you to see the colour of the tequila through the glass. Many gift shops have handmade glasses you can purchase individually or as a set (often with decanter). Some have small glass maguey or cactus or other decoration inside - make sure these decorations are are solidly made and that glass slivers won't break off when you're drinking!
You may find it more difficult to get good, premium mezcal in Mexico, at least outside Oaxaca. Many stores carry the bulk brands, but few have premium labels such as Del Maguey, although you may be able to find a reasonably good brand in an airport duty-free shop. Good mezcals should say 100% agave and not have a worm.
Some regional brands may also be available at local shops. There are some small distillers in Guerrero state now making commercially available mezcal, so visitors to resorts areas on the west coast may be able to find some locally. Premium Oaxacan mezcal is also very expensive in other Mexican states.