Casa Dragones: Tequila with a Pedigree

When passion and expertise meet, extraordinary tequila emerges

Bob Pittman, a tequila aficionado and Bertha González Nieves, a certified tequila expert and first woman to be named Maestra Tequilera by the Academia Mexicana de Catadores de Tequila, founded Casa Dragones in 2008. At $275 per bottle, it is both exceptional and aspirational.

As the story goes, Bob Pittman (founder of MTV, CEO of Clear Channel) has spent many summers in San Miguel de Allende, where he has a home, and over the years became a true tequila lover. In 2007, he and Bertha met at a party and talked about their mutual passion for tequila. Bob shared his dream of creating one. Bertha told him that she always wanted to become an entrepreneur. Together they set on a quest to deliver a true sipping tequila, smooth enough to sip, with no “wince factor.” A short time later, the two founded Casa Dragones.

Bob Pittman and Bertha Gonzalez Nieves
Bob Pittman and Bertha Gonzalez Nieves

I don’t know Bob Pittman but I know Bertha González very well. She and I worked together when she was the Commercial Director North America for Jose Cuervo International and I was a consultant/advisor to the company. Actually, Bertha had a number of positions at JCI, under the leadership of Carlos Arana, including business development, new products and brand management. In short, she knows tequila and how to run a tequila enterprise.

While at JCI, I marveled at her ability to balance the whims of the Beckmann family (owners of Cuervo) and the arrogance of Diageo (distributors at the time). Clearly Bertha’s wit, intellect and charm came in handy.

Here’s an example – when asked in an interview a few years ago whether anyone ever mixed anything with Casa Dragones, Bertha’s reply was, “not in front of me.”

The Product

Casa Dragones Joven tequila
Casa Dragones Joven tequila

I guess the first thing everyone says about the original Casa Dragones tequila is the price tag. If you’re a particular type of spirits consumer, it’s worth it. It’s a 100% Blue Agave Joven Tequila, crafted in small batches. Joven tequila is a rare blend of silver tequila and extra aged tequila. It’s a style rarely used and it took both Bertha and a master distiller, coaxed out of retirement, over a year to perfect the blend.

So, it’s tequila to be sipped and savored and never, ever mixed. Trust me, it’s not like any other tequila you’ve ever tasted. But don’t take my word for it – Wine Enthusiast gave it a 96 and here is what Tequila.net had to say about it.

From the soil to the Agave plant to the craftsmanship to the bottle – this is not tequila to use in a margarita or even as a shot. Like the lady said, sip it.

But, if you must drink your tequila in a cocktail, they have recently introduced Casa Dragones Blanco, 100%Blue Agave silver

Casa Dragones Blanco
Casa Dragones Blanco

tequila designed to be served on the rocks or in signature craft cocktails developed by leading chefs and mixologists. Cocktails like San Miguel, Pink Panther and my favorite, Michelada Primaverde, described on the website as follows:

James Beard Award Winning Mixologist and Owner of New York City’s P.D.T (Please Don’t Tell), Jim Meehan has created the Michelada Primaverde exclusively with Tequila Casa Dragones Blanco. A mixture of dry vermouth and tomatillo juice is complemented perfectly by a splash of Victoria beer and a spicy, salted rim for a refreshing, summer cocktail.

The Blanco sells for $75 for a 750 ML. Feel better now?

It’s All About Mexico

As to the heritage, the elite cavalry that helped spark the Mexican independence movement inspires the name. La Casa Dragones, the original 17th century stables still standing on a street in San Miguel de Allende, is the spiritual home to the tequila.

What makes Casa Dragones especially unique is that it is thoroughly Mexican. A product that comes from the lowlands and the rich soil of the Trans-Mexican volcanic belt; a formula based on the merging of the traditional art of tequila making combined with an innovative process; a product designed for a consumer who is looking for quality and authenticity. It’s the real deal.

Bertha
Bertha

It’s also about Bertha Nieves González and her passion for tequila and innovation. So add her to the list of Booze Business’ Shaker’s and Stirrers – the new breed of alcohol industry entrepreneurs.

Just don’t let her catch you drinking the Joven product with a mixer.

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Gary (gaz) Regan: A Man For All Seasons

Bartender, innovator, author, publisher, educator and more

gaz regan 2012 in suit by jimi ferrara - Copy
gaz regan

I first met gaz in the early 1990s when I was Seagram. While I’ve always known him as Gary, the name gaz is his nickname and has become his nom de plume some time ago. Whatever he calls himself, he’s a heck of a guy and has made major contributions to the booze business.

Before I get into all that, here’s a story I heard from gaz. (He spells his name without capital letters.)

I think it might have been on his radio show (with Paul Pacult) in the late 90s. They invited me on and we were discussing single malt scotches in general and The Glenlivet (a Seagram brand at the time) in particular.

To illustrate the nature of the category, gaz told a story about when he was bartending in the 1980s on South Street in NYC. It seems that a particular Scottish gentleman would come in for lunch everyday, order a hamburger and ask for the “book.” It was a guide to single malt scotches and differences in brands, regions, water, grain and distillation styles. After work, the gentleman would meet with friends and colleagues and hold forth on the verities of various malts. While he sounded like an authority on the subject, the information he provided was less than 5 hours old.

To me, the story illustrated the nature of the single malt category and the focus among those drinkers on discovery and what’s in the bottle. Portend of things to come.

There are two other things I learned from gaz – the power of stories in the booze business and the crucial role of the bartender.

Regan's orange Bitters
Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6

Writer, storyteller

Did I say writer? I meant to say prolific writer. He has written a column for the San Francisco Chronicle for 14 years, publishes three newsletters a week, has won two Best Cocktail Writer awards and written more than a dozen books. He is also a regular contributor to Liquor.com and an advisory board member.

If you want to reach bartenders, he’s the man to see. Two of his books, gaz regan’s Annual Manual for Bartenders and 101 Best New Cocktails are published annually and reach a wide audience all over the world. Oh, and let’s not forget the Joy of Mixology and The Bartender’s Bible.

New edition to be released in May
New edition to be released in May

My favorite is The Negroni: A gaz regan Notion, the second edition of which will be released in May. Not only has he made that drink famous but has also cleared up many of the myths about its origin. All I’ll tell you is the originator was one Count Negroni, the broncobuster who first created the drink in the early years of the 20th century. It’s a fun read.

The consummate bartender

Credited by many as one of the godfathers of the mixology movement, gaz is a bartender’s bartender. In addition to books and bartending appearances (The Dead Rabbit in NYC), one of his newsletters is devoted to job opportunities around the world. Mention his name to any professional bartender and their eyes will light up and a big smile will appear. Along with other famed bartenders like Dale DeGroff, gaz has been a judge at Diageo’s World Class bartending competition.

In fact, companies like Diageo and Pernod Ricard have been smart enough to avail themselves of his services. I think it’s because he has his fingers on the pulse of the bar trade – consumer and bartender. That is, of course, when his finger is not stirring one of his world class Negronis. (Check here and here for more about this.)

Just One Shift

gaz came up with the Just One Shift idea to help raise money for a charity called Wine to Water, which has been bringing potable water to thousands of people all over the world since 2004. Doc Hendley, a bartender from North Carolina, founded Wine to Water.

Each year gaz organizes and promotes a campaign for bartenders to contribute the tips from ‘just one shift’ and 100% of what they raise brings clean water to needy people worldwide.

Great idea. I’ll let you know when the next campaign comes around.

Cocktails in the Country

Cocktails in the Country Workshop
Cocktails in the Country Workshop

This event, which you can learn more about here, ran for seven years from 2001 until 2007. He has decided to bring it back this year, and from what I’ve heard from bartenders, that’s really good news. Cocktails in the Country 2015 is a Master Class that focuses on the importance of service in the hospitality business and much more.

Held in Cornwall on Hudson NY, it’s a two-day bartender workshop that covers a wide range of issues for the trade and even culminates in a special certification for bartenders. It runs all summer and the first workshop is coming up on May 11 to 12. (See Schedule)

* * *

I think the best way to sum up a story on gaz regan is to show the headline from the Food Republic written by Simon Ford, founder of The 86 Company and formerly a top notch on premise guru for Pernod Ricard:

Gary ‘Gaz’ Regan Knows More About The Culture Of Drink Than Basically Anybody

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Sorel Liqueur Moves Up a Notch

Sorel Artisanal Liqueur has a new partner

The Buffalo Trace Newsletter (Industry News Update) and Wine and Spirits Daily have announced that the Mahalo SpiritsScreen Shot 2015-03-31 at 2.03.09 PM Group and Sorel Liqueur have joined forces. Here’s the story behind the story.

Mahalo cofounded Angel’s Envy (recently acquired by Bacardi) and also Papa’s Pilar Rum.

Sorel Liqueur is owned by Jack From Brooklyn Inc whose CEO is Jackie Summers. If you have been a reader of this blog then you’ve met Jackie, starting in 2012 with this post. In fact, I’ve written about him and Sorel at least four times since then.

From the first time I met him, I knew that he and his unique product were here for the duration; that he was destined to move forward and beat the startup odds.

Briefly put, Jackie and Sorel have, what I like to think of as, the 4P’s of growth.

Product

Sorel is a modern twist on an exotic classic. An artisanal hibiscus liqueur, handcrafted in Brooklyn, Sorel is based on a traditional Caribbean recipe. Its ingredients read like a World Almanac – Brazilian clove, Nigerian ginger, Indonesian cassia, Moroccan hibiscus, Indonesian nutmeg, blended with organic New York neutral grain alcohol. Its unique taste, aroma and distinctive flavor have caught the attention of consumers and mixologists alike.

What I especially like is it’s a terrific product over ice, neat or with a mixer. But, it’s also an awesome addition to other products like whiskey, rum, vodka, and sparkling wine. That’s why mixologists and consumers love it. In some respects it reminds me of St. Germain, but more universal in its use.

So, check the box marked, “it’s what’s in the bottle that counts.”

Perseverance

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 2.01.33 PM
Jackie Summers

And… persistence and patience. Three years ago, all Jackie had was an idea and a dream. Four years ago, he had a life-altering event (golf ball sized tumor on his spine) and was given a 5% chance of survival. He survived and decided to change his life “by doing something serious.” Jackie founded the company and Sorel was launched.

As if startup growing pains and headaches weren’t enough, along came Hurricane Sandy. Together with most of the Red Hook section of Brooklyn and other fledgling distilleries, Jackie’s facility was literally under water. Five feet of seawater, to be exact.

Jackie didn’t give up. Just worked harder. When I blogged about him and Sandy (Oct 31, 2012), I said that he reminded me of one of my favorite expressions: What doesn’t defeat me makes me stronger.

People

Here is this newcomer to the booze business and right off the bat he does a few things – simple things – that most startup entrepreneurs don’t do. He listens and learns and surrounds himself with people who can offer advice.

In the three years I’ve known Jackie we have had dozens if not scores of conversations about the business. Truth be told, I’ve learned as much from him as he did from me.

And, by way of full disclosure, I am now on his board. Also on the board are Stephen Lewin of Lewin Brand Group and Diana Sonis, a successful entrepreneur and startup founder. Rounding out the team is Summer Lee, VP Sales at Jack From Brooklyn and among the smartest salespeople I know.

So add people skills to the mix.

Partnership

As I’ve written many times, the booze business is about people and relationships. All it took for the Mahalo people was to listen to Jackie talk about Sorel and share his vision for the future. They haven’t really worked on other people’s brands so Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 2.00.43 PMSorel is a departure for them.

They get to partner with a brand that’s poised for future growth and Sorel gets a world-class sales and distribution network run by Bill McGough, an accomplished industry marketing and sales executive with an incredible track record.

This is a ‘marriage’ made in heaven.

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