Liquor Laboratory

What Is Top Shelf Tequila? Explained (2024 Updated)

What is Top Shelf Tequila

They say if you want to taste the best tequila, select from one of the bottles at the top of a bar shelf; however, that can be expensive. 

There’s nothing wrong with splurging on top-shelf tequila, but how do you consider a top-shelf tequila as one? 

But what is top shelf tequila? In this article, we will answer that question and the common qualities to be considered as one. 

What Is Top Shelf Tequila?

2 glass shots of tequila

A top-shelf tequila is commonly referred to as a high-quality and excellent spirit and is commonly seen at the top of a bar shelf. 

In general, bar owners display tequila bottles on the top shelf behind the bartender for some good reasons: to show off that in-stock tequilas are high quality, expensive and rare.  

The “top-shelf” is an outdated bar terminology that implies higher quality and more expensive liquor. 

Common Qualities Of A Top-Shelf Tequila 

Made With 100% Agave 

agave plants

A top-shelf tequila is made with pure 100% agave. These tequilas are highly sought after for their smooth and premium taste

Premium and high-quality tequilas are labeled with “100% agave azul or 100% blue agave,” and stuff without labels are mixtos or tequilas made from 51% agave [1]. 

Top-shelf tequilas made with 100% agave are much more complex because of their base ingredients. 

Hard To Find

Great stuff is never easy to find, so you should not be surprised that a top-shelf tequila is hard to find. 

Top-shelf tequilas are typically rare, and it can be because it is an old expression, in high demand, or in limited production. 

It is rarely seen in liquor stores and usually at the top of bar shelves by bartenders.

Sometimes, top-shelf tequilas are sold at the auction because of their extreme rarity. 


bartender mixing cocktail drink

Top-shelf tequilas are expensive. Due to the premium ingredients, production process, and rarity, top-shelf tequilas come with a hefty price tag. 

As the bar lingo implies, tequila deserves the top place on the bar shelf due to its high price.

It can be a marketing strategy for bar owners, but it is also done for three good reasons:

  1. To prevent theft of expensive tequilas
  2. To avoid damages on expensive bottles as it is rarely reached
  3. To show off bottles that are less frequently ordered, rare, and expensive. 

What Does Top-Shelf Tequila Taste Like? 

Top-shelf tequilas are smoother and tastier with a complex flavor profile.

Since it is made from premium ingredients, it has a fruity, sweet, and earthy profile that will not burn your throat. 

Top-shelf tequilas have amazing tasting notes that you don’t need mixers, lime, or salt to enjoy.  

“[Top shelf] is a fantastic spirit with lots of rich and subtle flavors… the customer is missing out”

– Ron Nadel, Pub Bartender (on people ordering top shelf for cocktails)

Also, top-shelf tequilas are more flavorful as they are not alcohol dominant. It is sweet but not too sweet, as it does not contain flavoring agents. 


Are all top-shelf tequilas always rare?

Yes, top-shelf tequilas are always rare. It can be because of limited production and high demand.
These tequilas are not typically found on grocery shelves or in local liquor stores. 

Can top-shelf tequilas be cheap?

No, top-shelf tequilas are never cheap. Top-shelf tequilas are usually expensive, as denoted by their placement on a liquor shelf- top or high. 
These types of liquors are placed on top of the shelves because of their hefty price tags.  

What Exactly Is Top Shelf Tequila?

Top shelf tequila refers to high-quality tequila that is considered premium or luxury. These tequilas are often crafted using the finest ingredients, traditional production methods, and extensive aging processes to achieve exceptional flavor and smoothness.

How Is Top Shelf Tequila Different from Regular Tequila?

Top shelf tequila distinguishes itself from regular tequila by its superior quality and craftsmanship. While regular tequila may be mass-produced and aged for shorter periods, top shelf tequila undergoes meticulous production and aging to achieve unparalleled taste and complexity.

What Makes a Tequila Top Shelf?

Several factors contribute to a tequila being considered top shelf, including the quality of the agave used, the distillation process, the aging duration, and the expertise of the master distiller. These elements come together to create a tequila of exceptional flavor, smoothness, and character.

Is Top Shelf Tequila More Expensive?

Yes, top shelf tequila is typically more expensive than regular tequila due to its premium quality and craftsmanship. The use of high-quality ingredients, extensive aging, and attention to detail in production contribute to the higher price point.

What Are Some Examples of Top Shelf Tequila Brands?

Top shelf tequila brands include names like Don Julio 1942, Clase Azul Reposado, Patrón Añejo, Casa Noble Añejo, and Tequila Ocho Extra Añejo. These brands are renowned for their exceptional quality and are often sought after by tequila connoisseurs.

How Should Top Shelf Tequila Be Enjoyed?

Top shelf tequila is best enjoyed neat or on the rocks to fully appreciate its complex flavors and aromas. Sipping slowly allows the nuances of the tequila to unfold on the palate. Some people also enjoy top shelf tequila in premium cocktails like the Margarita or Tequila Old Fashioned.

Can Top Shelf Tequila Be Used in Cocktails?

While top shelf tequila is typically enjoyed neat or on the rocks, it can also be used in cocktails for those who prefer a premium drinking experience. However, using top shelf tequila in cocktails may mask some of its subtle flavors, so it’s essential to choose recipes that complement its quality.

Key Takeaways

It can be a marketing strategy of bar owners to make tequilas more expensive, but top-shelf tequilas are on the top of the shelves for many good reasons.

Top-shelf tequilas are premium tequilas usually found at the top of a bar shelf, and they are usually placed there because of their premium ingredients, rarity, and hefty price tag.


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