Tequila review: Grading 5 different margarita mixes, including Owen’s


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Dec 27, 2023

Tequila review: Grading 5 different margarita mixes, including Owen’s

Welcome back to FTW’s Beverage of the Week series. Here, we mostly chronicle and

Welcome back to FTW's Beverage of the Week series. Here, we mostly chronicle and review beers, but happily expand that scope to any beverage that pairs well with sports. Yes, even cookie dough whiskey.

I’m coming around on tequila.

The spirit that once induced nausea from a single whiff — thanks, Pepe Lopez! — has turned me back to its side thanks to my slow, ongoing introduction to brands that aren't best used for stripping varnish off old shipwreck wood. A smattering of canned cocktails slowly began changing my mind. Then, earlier this spring, 818's premium offering showcased how lush tequila can be.

This is all very good timing; 2023 has been a big year for the spirit. Like peach flavoring, it's been a focus of the ever-shifting booze landscape as brands launch into their summer fun phase (a departure from the "it's winter, let's stay inside and drink" phase that follows). So I’m gonna lean in and roll with the drink that's the word-association partner of "tequila."

This week, we’re hitting margaritas in three different, but low effort, forms. Premade in a bottle without tequila, premade in a fancy kit with tequila, and made at home with a ready-to-go mix and a couple solid, mid-tier bottles. How’d they stack up? Let's find out.

Batch and Bottle's upscale gift set looks straight-up fancy. You get all the trimmings to make margaritas well into the future … and a pint of actual pre-mixed tequila itself. That's glasses, grapefruit salt (and a bamboo salt receptacle) and dried lime slices for garnish.

Put it all together and it looks like this.

First thing you notice is that the grapefruit salt included is extremely aromatic. It not only lines the fancy stemware included in the kit but also makes your entire kitchen smell like, I swear to God, Smarties. Or some other wafer-ish fruit candy. It's pleasant, but very strong.

Picking up the glass feels delicate. Like I’m shaking hands with a kitten.

Salting the rim was … a mistake. It's overpowering. It takes over the first sip and sinks to the bottom of the glass if, say, you’re a goon like me and pressed the rim *too* deep into the salt reserve. Wiping the rim helps and the salt at the bottom maintains a dry finish.

The Milagro is apparent, but not especially strong and never overwhelming. There's no burn here, and you get a potent drink that's definitely a sipper but never a struggle. The journey from sweet to salty, agave-y bitter is a proper one, leaving me to come back for more.

Pouring into a rocks glass without salt lets the citrus shine through a bit more. It's lighter and lacks the obvious dryness of the salted version, but remains very tasty. It's not a complex tequila, but it's very smooth and lacking the overpowering boozy burn of cheaper spirits.

My only concern is … where's the rest of it? This is a lovely gift set, but the full volume of the margarita is only 375 milliliters of pre-mixed cocktail. I appreciate that it's idiot-proof, but I feel it should be at least twice as big. Who's only ordering one medium margarita for the night?

We’ll stick with Milagro, but in this case we’re going from Batch and Barrel's pre-mixed margarita to a make-your-own option. The mixer in question is Owen's Sparkling Margarita Mix — a sweet craft concoction that brings bubbles into the mix. At about 11 calories per ounce this mixer is backing up its "pure cane sugar" claim.

At first sniff, Milagro smells almost buttery in its richness. There's salt and agave right off the top but not in an overpowering way.

Without the salted rim involved in the previous margarita, the smell is pretty muted. You get lime and a little tequila and that's about it. It smells like a very nice air freshener, but one that would be used as probable cause against you at most traffic stops.

The Owen's is light and sweet and weaves its way through the tequila to create a sweet, tangy cocktail. The potency of the Milagro is muted even in a 2:1 mix, allowing it to hit those sweet agave notes without ever feeling too boozy. This is good tequila! This is a good mixer! This is a great two-step margarita.

My concern is, yeah, that's a lot of sugar. I’d like to drink this one all night but it's gonna take a serious toll in the morning.

This is Guy Fieri and Sammy Hagar's liquor brand, to which I ask: what took them so long? Sure Hagar's been in the game for a while — this isn't even his first tequila! — but a Fieri Donkey Sauce-paired spirit simply makes too much sense for the legions of visor-wearing, socks-and-flipflop throngs out there who understand they’ve been blessed by a lesser god from another dimension called Flavortown.

This is my first go-round with Santo, and going from Milagro's silver to the more-aged reposado should provide a richer taste but may not translate as well to a mixed drink. You can smell a little more organic presence right off the top. A little oak, a little musky fruit and then the lime of the margarita mix.

The first sip belays that complexity. There's a deeper flavor to the Santo than the Milagro before it, creating a more intense cocktail. Again, the Owen's does a great job working in concert with the booze rather than overpowering it. It's not as neat and tidy as the Milagro, but that's going to be a selling point for some people.

It's not a cosmic gumbo of flavors, but there's more than meets the eye here. I’m gonna go in for a rocks glass and see how Santo's reposado holds up.

You still get that agave and fruit off the job when it's in a rocks glass, a little like a creamsicle tequila mix. I’m gonna chalk that up to the vanilla oak coming from the barrel, even with minimal aging.

The first sip is kicked off with a distinct sweetness that gives way to tingly warmth that never progresses to a burn. There is a *lot* of fruit up front in a way I’ve never experienced in a tequila before. But at the same time, please realize I am a tequila neophyte, so this may not be as rare as it seems to me.

This is a great sipper; there's no harshness and a lot of flavor up front. While it's not complex after that, it's a worthy tequila that goes beyond the meme-tastic imagery of Fieri and Hagar wasting booze and ruining guitars in the promos.

It's better than you’d expect, unless you’re a resident of Flavortown. Then it's exactly the quality you’d want to see from your most public representative.

This one's a bit of a cheat code. It's made with agave wine rather than tequila, which means it can be served in restaurants or bars that aren't cleared to serve hard liquor. Flix Brewhouses, for example, typically keep a fluorescent batch of margaritas rolling in frozen tides behind their bar when they don't have any hard liquor at hand. That's because, like Night & Day, it's a wine product rather than a spirit.

It clocks in at 15 percent ABV in a pre-mixed bottle. That's always a bit of a warning sign, but seeing as the most work I’ve put in so far is the two-step process of joining tequila and Owen's, I have little room to complain. It smells like margarita mix out of the bottle and … honestly? nothing once poured into a rocks glass.

The good news is it's sweet and refreshing. There's gentle lime up front and a sugar-adjacent coating that keeps it from hitting the dryness of the salted rims or tequila-based drinks before it. It's a little thicker and less aggressive, like a starter margarita.

The bad news is that the lack of actual spirit is telling. There's no balancing warmth, no notes of agave, nothing that really sets this apart from a fizz-less hard seltzer. Which I suppose is a good thing if you’re looking for easy to drink but uninterested in wasting your time with a 4.5 percent ABV can of bubbles.

I think I would have liked this more a year ago before this job opened my horizons to more tequilas. While I’m still extremely basic on that side of the booze rainbow, there's something I’m missing there. A little richness and complexity that's missing. But if you’re not a tequila person this has got to be a home run; a margarita you can serve and enjoy without the panic sweats and instant flashbacks to college and a plastic pint of Pepe Lopez.

Again, we’re looking at a margarita without tequila, instead opting for agave wine. The traditional lime was perfectly fine, a hard-seltzer version of the real thing without any of the bubbles (and roughly three times the alcohol of your typical canned cocktail). The strawberry kicks off a little candy sweetness when you go in for a sniff.

The first sip tastes more like a weak strawberry wine than a margarita. There's very little taste up front, then a rush of berry sweetness, then very little aftertaste. It's drinkable — though like its forebearer I imagine there's gonna be a pretty brutal hangover tax coming tomorrow — it's just not really distinguishable as a margarita.

The result is a useful product that's halfway to an actual margarita. A margarita baby step. It's the one in this group I’m least likely to drink, but it’ll do in a pinch.

via Todd Liljedahl / Flickr

Welcome to a new feature on these reviews; a pass/fail mechanism where I compare whatever I’m drinking to my baseline cheap beer. That's the standby from the land of sky-blue waters, Hamm's. So the question to answer is: on a typical day, which of these margaritas would I choose over a cold can of Hamm's?

The Batch & Bottle is a yes. Same for anything mixed with the Owen's — though its high sugar content suggests I’d be switching to tequila-rocks after a couple in order to tame my pending hangover (and kinda/sorta manage that calorie count).

Day & Night's stuff wasn't anything special, but it was convenient and potent without tasting that way. I’d take a Hamm's over it, but that doesn't mean it's lacking a place on the boozing horizon.

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