Five cristalino Tequilas to get to know

The crystal-clear style of Tequila is on the rise. Laura Foster explains how the drink has come into fashion and selects five cristalinos to try

Words by Laura Foster

cristalino tequila in glass and agave plant

A new Tequila style is doing a great job of recruiting those less familiar with the agave spirit to the category. Called cristalino, it’s Tequila that has been aged in barrels, before undergoing either charcoal filtration or a redistillation to remove the colour that the barrel has imparted on the liquid (with charcoal filtration by far the most common method). The first cristalino out of the blocks was Don Julio 70 Cristalino Añejo, which went on sale in 2012 to mark 70 years since the brand’s founder, Don Julio González, first started making Tequila.

‘It was launched with the aim of creating a singular variant which embodied both the smoothness and complexity of our añejo and the vibrant flavour of Don Julio Blanco,’ explains Karina Sánchez, Don Julio’s global brand ambassador. ‘The production process is the same one we follow for the other Don Julio variants, from harvesting to distillation. The liquid is then treated as ‘añejo’ [añejo Tequilas are aged in barrel between 12 months and three years]. Through a specific filtration process we can remove not just colour but some of the notes and tannins provided during the ageing process.’

volcan cristalino tequila bottle resting on charcoal
Cristalino Tequilas, like those made by Volcán, typically get their crystal-clear appearance through charcoal filtration

This innovation lit the touch-paper within the Tequila industry that has led to a number of brands launching their own cristalinos. One such company is Volcán, a new premium Tequila that came to market with just a blanco and a cristalino in its original line-up. ‘Most of the [Tequila] category growth in Mexico [is coming] from cristalino,’ declares Santiago Cortina Gallardo, Volcan’s chief operating officer. ‘Also, a lot of non-Tequila drinkers have started to drink Tequila off the back of this trend. It’s a different way to get into the category.’

Tequila is an extremely pleasant distillate on the palate, and when the process makes it cristalino clear it is even easier to drink

Cristalinos lend themselves to neat drinking, but are also good for mixing. ‘Tequila is, to me, an extremely pleasant distillate on the palate, and when the process makes it cristalino clear it is even easier to drink,’ explains Gabriela Lozada, head bartender of Brujas, a leading bar in Mexico City. ‘I like to exploit the velvety part of the cristalinos by combining them in a Negroni structure, with vermouths and amaros.’

As it stands, cristalino is not recognised as an official classification of Tequila by the CRT [Tequila Regulatory Council] in its official set of rules. However, the last revision of these Tequila specifications occurred in 2012, the same year that Don Julio 70 came to market, so official recognition may still happen in the future. Whether it becomes officially recognised or not, it looks as though cristalino is here to stay.

Five top cristalino Tequilas

don julio 70 cristalino tequila bottle

Don Julio 70 Cristalino Añejo

The original cristalino, this was the spirit to start it all. Aged for 18 months in American oak barrels before being charcoal filtered, the nose boasts aromas of orange syrup, cooked agave, dulce de leche, dusty cocoa and terracotta pots. The palate is smooth and creamy, all meringue, marshmallow and white chocolate, with wood shavings and chilli heat on the finish.
RRP £69.90, Master of Malt

volcan cristalino anejo tequila

Volcán Añejo Cristalino

This cristalino has a rather complicated production process. It’s a blend of añejo and extra-añejo tequilas, which are filtered separately, before they are further aged for 15 days each – the añejo in whisky casks and the extra-añejo in brandy barrels. Aromas of vanilla, eucalyptus, plasticine, celery and crème brûlée lead onto a simultaneously creamy and dry palate of marshmallow and burnt caramel, with a white pepper kick.
RRP £62.94, Master of Malt

tequila enemigo cristalino bottle

Tequila Enemigo 89 Añejo Cristalino

Aged in American oak barrels for over a year before going through a ‘three-phase carbon-cellulose filtration system’, the resulting spirit is fabulous. A nose of cooked agave, marmalade on brown sourdough toast, Granny Smith apples, cloves and sultanas also manifests on the palate, alongside warming spice, orange oils and vanilla. The most characterful cristalino I’ve tasted to date, this is a wow of a Tequila.
RRP £59.95, The Whisky Exchange

avion reserva bottle

Avión Reserva Cristalino

Another blend of añejo and extra añejo Tequilas that have then been put through a double charcoal filtration process, the resulting liquid is an interesting mix of sweet, spicy and green notes. Aromas of marshmallow, New York cheesecake, cut grass, pencil shavings and white pepper on the nose continue in the mouth, with a sappy, green note coming through on the finish.
UK stockist coming soon

butterfly cannon tequila bottle

Butterfly Cannon Silver Cristalino

A proposition at the other end of the ageing spectrum, Butterfly Cannon’s cristalino is a silver Tequila that has only been aged for 30 days before undergoing charcoal filtration. Seashell minerality mixes with rubber, the citrus-sour tang of kumquats and icing sugar on the nose. Tasting reveals a clean, very subtle palate with flavours of cream, vanilla, warming pepper and a lift of lime zest on the finish.
RRP £28.95, Master of Malt