The Geniuses of Jalisco
Meet the master distillers turning years of history and experience into tequila perfection.
Patrón: Francisco Alcaraz
Patrón is Spanish for “the good boss,” and that boss might as well be Francisco Alcaraz, tequila’s unsung hero. Alcaraz has been Patrón’s master distiller since the company’s inception in 1989, when it announced its goal to create the world’s first ultra-premium luxury tequila. Alcaraz developed the Patrón recipe, which uses 100 percent Weber Blue Agave (a novel technique for tequila exports at the time).
Because there are no agave fields on the property, Alcaraz oversees the hand-choosing of the brand’s agaves from eight local plantations. Alcaraz insists the agaves go from field to oven within 24 hours. Patrón’s distillery utilizes a special combination of traditional tahona crushing methods and mechanical roller-mill shredding methods to produce its different flavor profiles. For an even smoother finish, Alcaraz brought in copper stills (as opposed to stainless steel), which turn the sulfur components produced during fermentation into liquid waste. All in all, more than 60 hands touch each bottle of Patrón before it leaves the property.
Don Julio: Enrique de Colsa
Enrique de Colsa worked with Don Julio until the Don retired in 2004. Don Julio’s personal philosophy, which de Colsa adopted, was to create the best tequila in the world, even if it never sold. This involved developing a meticulous attention to detail and tradition that de Colsa has overseen for the last 18 years as the brand’s master distiller.
Each agave piña is hand-selected, hand-chopped, and stacked in the oven, so that all are uniform and none overcook in the furnace. Every six months, a strain of the original yeast in Don Julio's recipe for fermentation is brought in from Mexico City and isolated in the distillery, where it will be used once (so that it never mutates). The new version is then transported back to the city for safekeeping.
Since Don Julio, as a brand, was a pioneer in Cristalinos as well as bottle design, de Colsa developed the exclusive Don Julio 70 Añejo Cristalino in honor of the brand’s 70th anniversary in 2012. De Colsa approaches tequila much like the legendary Don Julio approached everything — with extreme seriousness and gravity — but he handles everything else life throws at him much like Don Julio’s brother, Don Carlitos, who was notorious for his pranks and humor during his five-year tenure at the distillery.
Señor Lopez, Avión founder Ken Austin, and Master Distiller Alejandro Lopez in their barrel storage. Photo courtesy of Avion.
Avión: Alejandro Lopez
The Lopez family has employed many of the citizens of the Jesús María region of Jalisco in their shoe factory or agave plantation at one point or another. When Ken Austin was searching for a distillery for his new Avión Tequila in 2009, he fell in love with the region. He brought on master distiller Alejandro Lopez from the family’s small-batch distillery with the goal of developing a recipe that removed the bitterness and sting of the drink.
Lopez roasts the agaves in the distillery’s brick ovens for two days, then allows them to rest and stew for a day before extraction, which creates more agave juice. As Avión proves, location matters: the Lopez family’s agave plantation is 7,000 feet above sea level in the highlands, which gives their agaves a natural, uniquely high sugar content.
Volcán De Mi Tierra: Ana María Romero Mena
The Gavilana property, which looks out over the region’s famous Volcán Tequila, stayed in the Gallardo family for 250 years, until it became one of the first lands to be dismantled after the Mexican Revolution. Don Juan Gallardo and his cousins rebuilt this incredible sprawling estate as a gift to his father. Creating Möet Hennessy’s only tequila alongside the poetic Tequila Volcano is no small feat, so Volcán De Mi Tierra called in the big guns: Ana María Romero Mena, a tequila master who has been in the business for 25 years.
More than 600 flavors are involved in developing tequila, and Mena can identify most of them by smell alone. For the brand’s impressive Cristalino, Mena chose to experiment with the challenging lowlands agaves (which have an herbal and citrusy flavor, along with a distinct flavor profile thanks to dark, volcanic soil) and a very unique highlands champagne yeast. Volcán De Mi Tierra’s Cristalino tequila (which just launched this year) is finished off in Möet’s cognac casks for a month — Mena insists that it be served over ice.
Herradura: Maria Theresa Lara
Maria Theresa Lara’s unique background (first as Guadalajara city’s water quality manager, then in chemical control for a pharmaceutical company) led her to a lab manager job at Casa Herradura. Years later, in 2009, she became Herradura’s master distiller. Herradura tequila starts out with a mix of 80 percent highlands agave (which is sweeter, fruitier and more floral) and 20 percent lowlands agave (which is more potent because of the valley’s volcanic soil).
While the basic Herradura recipe has not changed since the historic distillery’s inception, Lara gets to experiment with external elements. This is the only tequila distillery with its own cooperage, full of 55-gallon American white oak whiskey barrels. Lara’s unwavering curiosity about how far she can push the limits of tequila’s flavor profiles has led to some of the brand’s most popular and unique products, like Herradura Ultra (a mix of añejo and extra añejo tequilas), which is aged in those white oak barrels on-site. Herradura was also the first distillery to petition for a distinction between añejo and extra añejo.