Sipping Tequila with Bertha Gonzalez

Sipping Tequila with Bertha Gonzalez

With her singular vision to create her own brand, the first female Maestro Tequilero is changing the way we think about tequila.

Bertha Gonzalez, tequila expert and CEO of Casa Dragones.Don’t even think about shooting it, chasing it or mixing it – at least if Bertha Gonzalez is watching. That’s because it’s not just any tequila, and certainly not what most people are used to. This is Casa Dragones “sipping” tequila and at $275 a bottle at Wally’s and around $34 a pour (1.5 oz.) at an upscale restaurant/bar like La Sandia on the dining deck of the new Santa Monica Place, you’ll want to savor the sipping too.

When Gonzalez says to sip it, not shoot it, she knows what she’s talking about. She’s the co-founder and CEO of Casa Dragones tequila. Besides realizing her dream to create the “perfect” tequila, she is also recognized as a “Maestro Tequilero” by the Academia Mexicana de Catadores de Tequila.

What does that mean exactly? “It’s like being a black belt in tequila,” Gonzalez says, “and I’m the first woman to be honored with that title in what is a male driven industry.”

A male driven industry indeed! Gonzalez grew up in Mexico City and while other women in her family focused on developing their culinary skills, she was learning everything she could about the spirit created by the agave plant, specifically from the signature region of Tequila, Mexico.

After graduating Magna Cum Laude with a BA in Business Administration from Universidad Anahuac in Mexico City and then going on to earn a Masters degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from the Medill School of Journalism and the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, Gonzalez resumed her passion for tequila, starting at Jose Cuervo, the largest tequila company in the world.

tequila boxAlthough she was working for someone else, she never forgot her dream — to create a very special tequila — one that would take its place beside other luxury exports from her homeland. “Mexico offers luxury hotels and resorts, luxury architecture, art, fashion and tequila is part of that too,” Gonzalez says.

A fortuitous decision to attend a party in New York opened the door for Gonzalez to realize her ambition. “I met Bob (Bob Pittman – a former AOL Time Warner COO and a founder of MTV) at a party in Brooklyn,” she says. “He’s always wanted to launch a tequila too and so we got to talking and eventually collaborated to create Casa Dragones, a tequila that would stand out from the others for its exceptional, smooth taste.”

So what makes it so special — or how do you know a sipping tequila when you taste one?

In the case of Casa Dragones, it means using one hundred percent blue agave plants grown in the rich, volcanic soil in the Tequila region of Mexico and then individually selecting the plants, something Gonzalez and her team does by hand.

That’s followed by a multiple-distillation process using pure spring water through an advanced column procedure that removes any natural impurities. It’s the ultra-modern filtration system that Gonzalez credits for her tequila’s brilliant platinum color.

The next step is to add a hint of extra añejo tequila and then to allow the yet to be realized tequila rest in virgin American oak barrels for over five years to perfect the balance in taste. Gonzalez says that’s an extra year more than most tequilas on the market.

When it’s finally ready, the tequila is poured into handcrafted, pure, lead-free crystal bottles that are individually engraved by Mexican artisans. Gonzalez, or her second in command, individually initial and number each bottle, by hand, before it’s placed in a beautiful, sky blue box and shipped to limited distribution points in Mexico, California, Florida, New York and Las Vegas.

tequila glassAnd how does one savor such a Mexican treasure?

Gonzalez says it starts by pouring an ounce into a clear, impeccably clean Tequila Overture glass by Riedel. Swirl it and note the “legs” — note how the tequila rolls down the walls of the glass – the platinum color, the rich consistency. Then the sniff test — from the bottom, the middle and the top of the glass.

“Note the low, sweet notes,” Gonzalez says as she takes in the aroma from the lower part of the flute. She pauses, and resumes. “From the middle you’ll find the citrus aroma similar to a Valencia orange peel which comes from our distillation process. And from the top,” as she pauses to take it in, “that’s where you pick up the pepper and wooden notes,” she says. “That comes from the wooden barrels.”

Then time for the taste — finally. “There’s a long, warm finish,” she says as she swallows the platinum liquid. “There’s no aftertaste, no spikes, no need for a chaser.”

Is Casa Dragones the only “sipping” tequila out there? Gonzalez says no.

“There are many tequila brands out there that claim to be for sipping,” Gonzalez says as she sets glass on the table before her. “But the true test is in the taste — whether you really can really sip it or not. That’s the bottom line.”

Copyright © Kim Calvert / 2010 Singular Communications, LLC.

Sipping at La Sandia

With 250 brands of tequila available for the tasting, there are plenty to try at La Sandia, a new, upscale Mexican eatery and tequila bar on the dining deck at Santa Monica Place. La Sandia bartender Brandon Lavoie, a singular who describes himself as a tequila connoisseur, suggests starting with these, a few of his personal favorites, in addition to Casa Dragones:

Asombroso la Rosa / $11 a pour

“This tequila is fruity and floral. I often recommend to my female customers who want to keep up with the men who are tequila aficionados. It’s aged in Bordeaux wine barrels and has hints of raspberry and chocolate.”

Chinaco Reposado / $12 a pour

“This is a great tequila for sipping, as it doesn’t have the heaviness associated with traditional tequilas. I often recommend this tequila for people who enjoy sipping on bourbon or whisky because it is aged for 8 months in oak barrels.”

Clase Azul / $15 a pour

“This tequila has a smooth and smoky flavor with a hint of sweetness, ideal for sipping before enjoying a Mexican meal.”

Fortaleza Blanco / $11 a pour

“This is also a great sipping tequila for beginners who are just exploring new flavors in the world of tequila. While I use this in a lot of margaritas, it’s also great on its own and has a hint of smoky flavor.”

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