If there's one National Food Holiday we can get behind, it's National Tequila Day. Nothing helps you wind down after a long work week quite like a glass (or two, or three) of the most effective liquor out there. "Its excellence is dependent on the mastery of not only the hands of the distiller but also the jimador who harvests the agave," says Noah Small, beverage director of Empellón, chef Alex Stupak's award-winning Mexican fusion restaurant in N.Y.C. "A combination of technical know-how and tradition yields a spirit that stands by itself but also provides a complex backbone for creating cocktails." Here, Small sounds off on his top five favorites. TGIF, right?
Pueblo Viejo Blanco ($22; winedelight.com)
"Produced in the highlands at Casa San Matias, this tequila is our favorite for mixing margaritas. It's bone-dry style, and clearly pronounced notes of fresh pineapple and agave allow for a perfect marriage with fresh lime juice and agave nectar."
Siete Leguas Blanco ($44; winedelight.com)
"This is a beautiful and classic expression of highland agave. Named for Pancho Villa's horse, the blanco displays a vegetal nose with warm agave coating the palate. A delicate balance of herbaceous notes and tropical fruits make for one of our favorite blanco tequilas to be enjoyed by itself or sipped alongside a sangrita."
Tequila 123 Reposado ($48; klwines.com)
"Known as 'Tequila 2,' or, 'Tequila Dos,' in the series of three, their reposado offering is certified organic, and aged in white oak for six months before bottling. A strong nose of vanilla gives way to cooked agave, clay, and baking spices on the palate with a dry finish. This is an elegant and unique expression not to be overlooked."
T1 Añejo "Estelar" ($64; holidaywinecellar.com)
"Master distiller Germán Gonzalez produces his tequila in the Lowlands of Jalisco and ages this expression in used American oak barrels for up to 24 months before bottling. The nose reveals very little alcohol but shows a healthy bit of vanilla from it's time spent in a barrel. Full-bodied on the palate, it has a strong, oaky backbone that still leaves room for agave, and some faint notes of tropical fruit. Not too syrupy, it's an excellent option for lovers of whiskey looking to branch out into aged agave."
Fortaleza Reposado ($65; holidaywinecellar.com)
"This tequila spends six to nine months in oak barrels before being bottled in the village of Tequila in Jalisco, Mexico. The lowland agave is roasted in a brick oven before being crushed using a traditional stone Tahona wheel. Fortaleza uses old-school methods to create some of the finest tequilas available. This one is unparalleled in smoothness and balance, with notes of vanilla, canela, and cacao melding seamlessly with clean agave."