The “very beautiful role” played by tequila at family meals across Mexico is the prism through which Bertha González Nieves remembers her first sip of tequila, at one of her grandmother’s weekly family lunches. “It was a beautiful experience because it was being enjoyed in the context of the family table, in the context of great conversations, in the context of celebrating and of being together,” she explains.
González, the first Maestra Tequilera recognized by the Tequila Regulatory Council’s Academia Mexicana de Catadores de Tequila, founded Tequila Casa Dragones—the small-batch sipping tequila that’s established a cult-like tribe of devotees comprising a coterie of connoisseurs, chefs, influencers—in 2009, with media guru Robert Pittman (the impresario behind MTV, AOL, IHeartMedia, etc. who once sagely advocated that you should "treat your brand like a human"). In the fall of 2019, González and Pittman celebrated their company’s tenth anniversary by inviting a couple hundred members of that tribe to join them and their families in the company’s spiritual home of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, for a weekend-long costumed culinary extravaganza, over the Día de Los Muertos holiday. It's been nearly two years, and I’m still recovering.
González—with a voice, at once sonorously passionate and soothingly calm, that brings to mind the radio format known as Quiet Storm (that genre of contemporary R&B/Jazz, best-known for the music of such artists as Sade, Luther Vandross, and Anita Baker)—sets the scene for the Casa Dragones origin story.
“Bob has a house in San Miguel de Allende, where he’s spent many of his summers. And really, since his MTV days, he’s loved tequila. While he was there, he came across a local aguardiente, noticing both how smooth it was and how much people enjoyed drinking it. One weekend, Bob’s son, Bo, (who was working in Las Vegas, at the time) came down to San Miguel with some of his casino buddies; when, after drinking some of this liquid, one of them said that he could sell it in his club if the elder Pittman was able to produce something similar out of 100% Agave. Bob thought about it, and figured there was a business idea, somewhere; and put it in the back of his mind.
Then, months later, we were both at a party in Brooklyn, celebrating the tenth anniversary of some mutual friends from England; where, after being introduced and inquiring about my background, he asked me ‘What do you want to do?’ So, I tell him that I’m in the tequila industry and I do this, that and the other thing; and he says ‘Really? I’ve always wanted to start a tequila company,’ to which I replied that I’d always wanted to be a producer and an entrepreneur. When I left the party, I wasn’t sure this was going to lead anywhere; but the next day, I received an e-mail from his secretary, letting me know that Mr. Pittman was available to meet with me, on such and such a date.
Once we sat down, together, we realized that we shared a very similar vision for the business and that we both wanted to focus on creating something extraordinary, reflecting true craftsmanship and quality. Finding that our values were aligned, we decided to form a partnership; and together, set out on our quest to produce a true sipping tequila.”
Laying out the path they traveled in developing Tequila Casa Dragones, González continues, “We knew that we wanted to produce a true sipping tequila that paired well with food. And, with 250 years of history, combined with our focus on craftsmanship, we wanted to produce a tequila that could compete with other very established sipping categories like whiskey, single malt, and cognac; because Mexico has the professionalism, sophistication, and experience in production. Further, we also wanted to deliver a tequila that paired well with food—tequila has been paired with Mexican cuisine for years; but we wanted to showcase that tequila can go beyond borders, pairing just as well with the cuisines of France, Italy, Japan, and America—and really show the depth of the spirit that way.
Our mission is to be among those tequila producers pushing the conversation of tequila production into the future; while ensuring that we showcase the beauty of the spirit and that we leave the category in a more advanced place for the next generations.”
It was 2009 when Tequila Casa Dragones launched its first expression, Casa Dragones Joven. Not sure what a Joven is? (Neither was I.) González explains, “There are five official classifications of tequila, Blanco, Reposado, Añejo, Extra Añejo, and Joven; and for some reason, Joven has been an overlooked style in the tequila category.”
A proprietary blend of a white (or Blanco) tequila and a five-year-old aged (or Extra Añejo) tequila, Casa Dragones Joven is aged in new charred barrels of American white oak; after which the amber hues of the extra añejo are removed by filtering the blend through a bed of charcoal. The resulting flavor profile features the best of both worlds, tequila-wise, resulting from the balance of the floral and citrus notes of the Blanco with the Extra Añejo’s sweet and spicy notes of vanilla and pepper. “We found that we weren’t just achieving our objective, with this blend,” González points out, “but that it gave us the opportunity to be innovators in this category, and bring the style to life in a way the industry had never before seen.”
Continued in Part 2...
Bertha González Nieves
Tequila Casa Dragones
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[Editor’s Note: A different version of this article was published in American Way, May 2021 (ink Global)]