I've spent a long time working on my alcohol collection. I'm not some weirdo amalgamator of obscure liquors; I just like to have premium stuff. That means I tend to buy Ketel One (on those rare occasions that I want vodka and zakuski), Hendricks or Martin Miller's gin, etc.
While I love expensive sipping tequilas, when I want a paloma or a margarita, I keep decent-but-not-stunning tequila on hand. Historically, this has been Sauza Tres Generaciones, Cazadores or (in a pinch) El Jimador. When my wife came home with a cheap bottle of Camarena Tequila, I was suspicious. How would it stack up against the Cazadores?
First of all, let's talk about tequila. Look at your bottle. If it doesn't say “100% de agave”, it isn't good enough to drink. Legally, the liquor only has to contain 51% distillates of blue agave in order to be called tequila. The other 49% can be God-only-knows-what. It's people drinking adulterated mierda like this that has led to tequila's undeserved reputation as a blinding hangover-inducing firewater. Buy 100% de agave; accept no substitutes.
Both tequilas were tasted at room temperature and neat, no chaser. No lime and salt (whose awful idea was that, anyway?), and no sangrita, the sweet red drink that Mexicans use to chase neat tequila. Solamente tequila.
Camarena, which is so light in color it must barely qualify as reposado, has a strong vanilla nose with some undertone of spices, pepper in particular. While it is not particularly alcohol-forward (meaning that the presence of the alcohol was not immediately apparent), it does leave the familiar and pleasant “tequila burn” on the way down; like all common tequilas, it is 80 proof. The back (aftertaste) is a little bit weak; this could be due to the blend of casks used for aging; it wasn't watery, but it didn't leave the taste of agave strongly enough in the mouth.
Cazadores had more pepper than vanilla on the nose, but was much more alcohol-forward and harsher on the palate. Cazadores has a strongly oaky back; it overwhelmed the blue agave taste, leaving only the taste of wood and the burn of the alcohol. This is a tequila for people who like to be hit over the head, metaphorically speaking, with tequila.
Neither of the two is Marquez de Valencia (the gold standard, no pun intended, for tequilas reposados), and neither could even be charitably termed a premium sipping tequila, but when looking for a low-priced tequila for mixed drinks, Camarena is the way to go. The price difference is significant: $16.99 a fifth (750 mL) for Camarena vs. $26.99 a fifth for Cazadores. Just as a point of reference, Jose “Meados en Botella” Cuervo Gold is $13.99 a fifth. Spend three extra bucks on real tequila; save yourself the headache.
Next time I need tequila to take to a party, it'll be Camarena.