As demand for Mexico’s spirit continues to rage globally, the “agave renaissance” in the past 20 years transcends the tequila region as Mezcal and even American-made agave spirits pique drinkers' interest.

According to the Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS), tequila and mezcal in the high-end premium category has almost doubled in the past four years alone. To help you sort through the dizzying array of products to choose from,  our expert judging panel evaluated dozens of agave spirits. From classic tequilas to smoky mezcals and even funky American-made offerings, here are some of our favorites, and the results might just surprise you.

All photos by Cullen Dalheim

Inspiro Luna Blanco Tequila

Vitals: 80 Proof (40% ABV); $52
Barleycorn Blind Tasting Rating: Double Gold

To create Inspiro, founder Mara Smith teamed up with master distiller Ana María Romero Mena to produce a clean, additive-free tequila designed for women by women. Judges agree it hit the mark from the sleek bottle design to the “easily sippable” agave spirit. “Rich and fruity aromas” feature “dark berries and agave.” On the palate, expect “light and fruity” flavors flecked with “grassy undertones and hints of spicy fennel.” The tequila concludes with a “clean finish” that’s “pleasantly earthy.”

Learn more about Inspiro Tequila

De-Nada Tequila Reposado

Vitals: 80 Proof (40% ABV); $49
Barleycorn Blind Tasting Rating: Double Gold

The young entrepreneurs behind De-Nada Tequila teamed up with distillers Sergio Cruz and Jose Manuel from the Vivanco Estate to create this “tasty reposado” that scored best of 2021 in the Barleycorn International Spirits Competition. A “lovely dance” of oak, earth, and cooked agave leads to a “honeyed and round” sip that “retains a great minerality.” Judges were equally impressed with De-Nada’s “tart, sweet, and earthy” flavors on the “warm, long finish.”

Learn more about De Nada Tequila

Ardent Agave

Vitals: 90 Proof (45% ABV); $40
Barleycorn Blind Tasting Rating: Gold

Old Herald Distillery and Brewery in Collinsville, Illinois, is a family-operated restaurant that produces spirits and craft beer and frankly took our judges by surprise with this “truly unique” American-made agave spirit. Ardents first impression reveals sweet honey on the nose interspersed with minerality, caramel, and tart fruit. “Almost rum-like” flavors of toffee and bananas foster permeate the palate, concluding with a “clean, treacle and sweet agave finish.” The consensus? Ardent Agave is an “atypical spirit, which is exactly why I like it.”

Learn more about Ardent Agave

Cutwater Mezcal

Vitals: 90 Proof (90% ABV); $50
Barleycorn Blind Tasting Rating: Double Gold

“Oh, baby!” Not for the feint-of-heart, this Durango-born Mezcal made with Maguey Cenizo delivers a “pure agave blast” that’s enveloped in smoke. Judges were equally impressed with Cutwater’s “crazy green vegetal pop,” featuring “lime zest, roasted root vegetables, and epazote.” Smoked pineapple, cooked aloe, and a dry minerality with slate and clay appear on the “long, slow finish.” “Great!”

Learn more about Cutwater Mezcal

Mezcal Amarás Cupreata

Vitals: 80.6 Proof (40.3% ABV); $60
Barleycorn Blind Tasting Rating: Gold

“Green apple, lime, and pine needles plus a whiff of smoke” greet the olfactory with this “funky” Mezcal distilled with the wildly grown Cupreata agave from Mexico’s Rio Balsas Basin. “Earthy, vegetal, and citrus” are a few palate descriptors here, so expect a complex and contemplative sip that concludes “long and dry,” delivering a “wild ride” of a sip.

Learn more about Mezcal Amarás Cupreata

Iron Goat Rested Agave Spirit

Vitals: 80 Proof (40% ABV); $30
Barleycorn Blind Tasting Rating: Gold

If this Texas-born Blue Webber agave spirit presented by the Williams family was made in Jalisco, it would qualify as a tequila. Iron Goat’s Rested Agave Spirit opens with a “toasty nose” with burnt oak, caramel, cooked plums, and a sweet agave forward flavor profile that’s amped up with “salinity, light tannin, and oak” for a “surprising complexity.”

Learn more about Iron Goat Rested Agave Spirit

Spirits writers, marketers and designers are among the most influential forces in the spirits industry. Their opinions, ideas and creative talents inform and influence consumer perceptions and buying decisions. The John Barleycorn Society was started by a group of spirits journalists seeking to honor excellence in all facets of the industry. The journalists spent several years creating a comprehensive competition that became the John Barleycorn Awards. An elite team of authoritative and influential spirits journalists was selected to administer the flagship component of the Awards, a blind tasting competition destined to become the preeminent arbitrator of spirits taste, quality and character.