The Rise of Cristalino Tequila
Cristalino tequila is made up of proprietary mixtures of reposado, añejo and extra añejo or aged tequilas, which are then charcoal filtered to remove color and any slight impurities.Read More
Tequila has skyrocketed in popularity over the past decade. What was once considered a cheap drinking option, often followed by an excruciating hangover, is now being mixed and sipped as a premium liquor, including in some of the most fashionable watering holes in the world.
The rising popularity of aged and small-batch artisanal tequilas, including in a litany of craft cocktails, showcases the high demand for prestige spirits. As for the largest growing category within the ultra-premium category? That just may just be cristalino.
Cristalino tequila is made up of proprietary mixtures of reposado, añejo and extra añejo or aged tequilas, which are then charcoal-filtered to remove color and any slight impurities. It was originally referred to as “añejo claro” to denote its age and clarity. All cristalino is considered an ultra-premium tequila, which means it is made using 100 percent blue weber agave, employing artisanal methods. The ultra-premium designation on bottles means that the spirit was made to extract the most flavor, but in reality, can also refer to limited availability and a higher price point.
The first commercially launched cristalino tequila debuted in 2012 with Don Julio 70 Añejo Claro, which has since been renamed cristalino. Since cristalino looks like a blanco, or unaged, tequila but has the taste of an aged tequila, these expressions were seen as something of a novelty, with the combination of the smooth texture of aged spirits and the clarity of new agave spirits. Cristalino can be used in cocktails, but the finish is slightly sweeter without the harsh burn. Unlike many other tequila styles, it’s really meant to be sipped.
Cristalino’s visual clarity attracts the clear spirit market, like vodka and gin drinkers, while the complex aging helps bring in whiskey and bourbon drinkers. In fact, according to the IWSR, 100 percent agave spirits have seen massive growth since 2016, with cristalino representing the highest volume, despite its relatively small production.
If you want to try some of the best ultra-premium cristalino tequilas out there, we’ve got you covered—these are the top expressions to scoop up right now.
The Best Cristalino Tequilas to Try Now
Don Julio 70 Cristalino
The category of premium tequila made significant strides in 2012, thanks to Don Julio. A special bottle to celebrate distiller “Don” Julio González Estrada’s 70th anniversary as a distiller was made from tequilas aged for 18 months in American white oak ex-whiskey barrels. This mixture was then filtered, bottled and released as the initial “claro añejo,” simultaneously creating the category and opening up the world of tequila to local and international markets. The unusual marriage of roasted agave notes and baking spices from those months of aging melded into a subtle yet robust flavor profile that changed the world of tequila.
Cuervo Reserva de la Familia Añejo Cristalino Organico
While the Añejo Cristalino Organico isn’t Cuervo’s first cristalino, it is the brand’s first cristalino offering in the Reserva de la Familia line. Every bottling in the Reserva line is considered premium, but the ultra-premium category that cristalino falls into has a few other stipulations. Part of the categorization is based on price and availability, but technique and ingredients are integral to the quality of the spirits. Their ultra-premium tequila is made using only the heart of the piña by stripping the postre, or outer leaves, away from the center. Nine-year-old organically grown agave is then traditionally cooked, fermented and distilled with an initial year of aging in virgin American oak barrels. That aging, which can vary slightly depending on the desired flavor profile, is followed by six months of resting in Pedro Ximenez casks. Aging in new oak introduces tannins to the agave spirit, which gives a mellow, honey-like mouthfeel with rich notes of raisin, musky vanilla and dark berries. With a double dose of wood and the added stewed fruit residual flavors from the Spanish Ximenez barrels, expect round, complex flavors that are completely different from other Cuervo offerings. The tequila is then filtered to remove the color while retaining smoothness with a lightly sweet finish. Even the streamlined black bottle itself is a standout, with silver embossing and a deep gray wax dipped top. This tequila is meant for sipping, and to be enjoyed neat.
Avíon Reserva Cristalino
Avíon harvests only fully matured agave, with a minimum of seven years of age but up to 10 years for the Reserva Cristalino. They source their highland agave from eastern Jalisco; the agave is then roasted and fermented in small batches at the Productos Finos de Agave distillery in Jesús María. The high elevation and extra few years of maturation brings a subtle complexity to the fermented agave sugars, while the elevation and soil make for a slight minerality in the rested spirit. What ensues is a three-day roast in brick ovens, followed by open stainless steel tanks fermentation to get all of those roasted sugars working so that they can then be double distilled in handmade pot stills. The spirits are then aged in American oak barrels for a minimum of 12 months, and then blended with just a bit of extra añejo for depth of flavor, followed by a double-charcoal filtration for crystal clarity.
Flecha Azul Cristalino
Flecha Azul uses ex-bourbon American oak barrels to age their spirits, which results in an añejo that is smooth and easy to sip. Unlike other premium tequilas, they triple filter the spirit to make an ultra-smooth spirit, which leads to a light body with a deep flavor profile. That extra filtering makes their añejo cristalino softer and lighter, with a hint of gentle vanilla and dark chocolate, and a silky, long velvet finish.
Gran Centenario Cristalino Tequila
Founded in 1857 by Lázaro Gallardo, this small-batch tequila is still distilled in the highlands of Jalisco at Ex Hacienda Los Camichines. Following the artisanal practices, the agave piñas are cooked in a traditional furnace for 48 hours before fermentation. The liquid is then double distilled in what is known as their "selección suave,” which blends the younger, newer tequilas with older, smoother aged reserves. This makes for a bold and flavor profile. The Art Deco-inspired bottles hold a blend of the añejo tequila that is aged for 16 months in new American white oak barrels, in addition to a mix of extra añejo tequila, which has been aged for four years in new American white oak. Just to add a bit of sweet complexity, the last few months include a final rest in former Calvados casks before the aged tequila is filtered through a top secret process that uses Mexican silver.
Gran Coramino Cristalino Tequila
Launched in 2022, Gran Coramino is a relative newcomer to the tequila world. Tequila producer Juan Domingo Beckmann Legorreta and actor and comedian Kevin Hart focused their attention on producing only two expressions: a reposado cristalino and an añejo. The process starts with agave that has been hand-picked and trimmed so that only the hearts of the agave remain. These slowly cook in traditional stone ovens for three to four days, and are then cooled slowly and gently to preserve the integrity of the caramelized sugars. This extends to the slow fermentation process, which lasts for several days, followed by a double-distillation in copper pot stills. The first maturation then occurs in Eastern European oak barrels with medium toast, and finishes in casks that formerly held cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley. Another slow filtration process keeps that richness of the mouthfeel intact, with a crystal clear liquid that boasts clean agave aromas and a hint of stone fruit, spice and butterscotch.
Maestro Dobel 50 Cristalino Extra Añejo Tequila
Juan Domingo Beckmann Legorreta is also the founder of Maestro Dobel Tequila, and this cristalino celebrates his 50th birthday. The extra añejo cristalino tequila is made using single family-owned estate agave from the lowlands of Jalisco. This agave matures in soil that grew at the base of a volcano for between eight to 12 years, and is then harvested for its high sugar concentration. A traditional 72-hour roasting process is followed by fermentation, and then the juice is double distilled in copper pot stills. This process is followed by a minimum three years of aging in American and Eastern European oak barrels, before being filtered and bottled.
1800 Cristalino Tequila
What do you get when you age spirits made using agave grown in the highlands of Jalisco with the finest American and French oak casks around? A very reasonably priced cristalino with a clean, bright finish and gentle depth and sweetness thanks to a six-month finish in port wine casks. The 16 months of initial aging takes place in a mixture of American and new French Limousin casks, considered to be some of the best in the world. The trapezoidal glass bottle shape is an homage to ancient Mayan pyramids that can still be seen throughout Mexico, and the brand’s name, 1800, is a reference to the year historians believe that the first agave spirits were aged in barrels.
Herradura Ultra Añejo Cristalino
Herradura has been making tequila in Amatitán, Jalisco since 1870. Since constructing Casa Herradura next to the original factory in 1963, they’ve been able to expand their offerings to include reposado tequila, and have even been credited with creating the category of reserva and extra añejo. Herradura Ultra Añejo Cristalino, which has been around since 2014, is a blend of añejo tequilas, which are aged for a minimum of 25 months in barrels from their parent company, Brown Forman. This means that those barrels previously held Jack Daniel's, Old Forester and even Woodford Reserve whiskeys, which gives the spirit a uniquely full-bodied flavor with lots of caramel, dried fruit and rich wooden notes. This is then filtered to remove that color and let the roasted agave notes shine through.