Gastronomista: The Beauty and the Brains Behind Casa Dragones Tequila
Tequila has grown up, and you, have grown up too. Tequila no longer holds a place in your heart for cringe-worthy shots served with lime and salt, nor syrupy sweet Margarita Mixes. Tequila is quickly becoming understood as a new luxury spirit on the market, and these days acquiring a bottle of high quality tequila no longer demands a dedicated trip to Mexico. The best tequila is meant to be sipped (in a crystal Riedel Tequila sipping glass, no less), and has a diverse range of flavors from tropical fruits and fresh pears, to vanilla and sweet agave, and is silky smooth on the tongue. One of the best tequilas I've ever tasted is Casa Dragones, the ultra-luxe limited edition Blue Agave Joven tequila, and their new release, Casa Dragones Blanco, made especially for cocktail mixing, is changing the way people think about the spirit. Casa Dragones was founded in 2009 by MTV's Robert Pittman and Maestra Tequilera Bertha González Nieves, who is the beauty, brains, and brawn behind the revolutionary company. She's been named one of the 50 most powerful women in Mexico by Forbes magazine, was a top executive for Grupo Jose Cuervo, one of the biggest tequila companies in the world, and now stands at the helm of the boutique brand, Casa Dragones. We recently sat down with her to discuss what makes Casa Dragones such an amazing tequila, how she came into the tequila business, and what it's like to be the world's first female Maestra Tequilera.
Where does the name Casa Dragones come from?
Casa Dragones is named in honor of the Dragones, the elite cavalry that helped spark the Mexican independence movement. The name is a tribute to the independent spirit that the Dragones and the tequila share. My business partner, Bob Pittman, owns a house that used to be the clubhouse of the Dragones, named Casa Dragones.
What was the original vision for Casa Dragones? Did the product change at all during the development process, and if so, how did it change from your original vision?
Our original vision was to create an exceptional sipping tequila. This vision has never wavered.
You're the Maestra Tequilera for Casa Dragones, what does that job entail?
We are two maestro tequileros at Tequila Casa Dragones: Benjamin Garcia and myself. Together we design the formula of our product and are in charge of the production of every batch from harvest, to production, blending, and bottling.
You're the First Maestra Tequilera ever! Congratulations! How do you think being female in a male-dominated industry has influenced your path and how has it influenced your product?
In my early 20's I was selected by the Japanese government as a young, Mexican ambassador to Japan. As a part of my training I had to learn about the history, finance, economy, and culture of Mexico. I was invited to visit the top tequila distilleries and when I saw my first agave field I fell in love with the industry. I knew from that moment on that where I wanted my career to be. While I joke I almost had to grow a mustache to be accepted in this industry, it really is not whether you are male or female; it is the passion you have for the category.
What were you doing before, and what lessons learned have you applied
to your company?
I am an entrepreneur at heart with a career rooted in the consumer luxury goods industry. Prior to co-founding Tequila Casa Dragones, I spent ten years working for the Beckman family, who owns multiple brands of tequila, including Cuervo, Gran Centenario, and 1800. I held senior marketing and commercial positions, including Commercial Director for North America, Global Director of New Business and Innovation and Global Brand Director and was responsible for their portfolio of brands in North America. Needless to say this was a great education in luxury goods and particularly the tequila industry.
The gist of it is that I've applied my myriad experiences with the Beckman family and Booz Allen & Hamilton, where I developed marketing strategies, to launching and building a small but ever growing artisanal brand of which I am extremely proud.
What do you love about tequila?
The craft in producing exceptional tequila, one bottle at a time. Our entire approach takes time and expertise, and it is our love of the craft and meticulous attention to detail that ensures an extraordinary experience and the highest possible quality.
Casa Dragones has collaborated with many star chefs to develop pairings with cuisine, who are some of your favorite chefs you've worked with? Do you have any favorite dishes from these collaborations?
It's a distinction that we are incredibly proud of: We have had the honor to
work with some of the most respected leaders in the culinary world.
Scott Conant is a friend and I love his approach to food. His pairing of Casa Dragones Joven with a tagliolini with calamari, pine nuts & parsley remains one of my favorites.
Having a culinary legend like Eric Ripert pair our Joven with a dish as delicate and sumptuous as "The Egg," his famous 3-bite dessert of milk chocolate, crème brulée, caramel custard foam and a hint of sea salt makes me very proud.
Chef Enrique Olvera -- who we are partnering with on Mesa Abierta, a new culinary festival in San Miguel next month -- pairs the Casa Dragones Joven with everything from barbecued lamb to opera cake. I love the diversity of the chef pairings; they highlight how nuanced our product is.
What is your favorite cuisine to pair with Casa Dragones?
I don't have just one. What is most exciting for me is the exploration of each chef pairing and where the complexity of Casa Dragones kicks in. My favorite pairings are the ones that surprise me and make me taste a new note in our product; just as wine and food elevate each other, a food pairing with Casa Dragones Joven can enhance the experience of the dish and the tequila.
We love everything about the Casa Dragones packaging, from the hand etched crystal decanter to the gorgeous blue box to the minimal label. What was the inspiration for the packaging and the etched decanter?
The bottle is inspired by a traditional Mexican apothecary bottle I found in the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City when they had an exhibit on the history of glass in Mexico.
Casa Dragones Joven Tequila comes in a handcrafted, pure, lead-free crystal decanter and nestled in a stunning blue gift box. Each limited edition bottle is individually hand-engraved by Mexican artisans using the traditional technique of Pepita. Each bottle comes with a handmade crystal top, and is hand-labeled and signed, marking the details of each small batch.
In 2010, Casa Dragones was awarded the Grand Prix Stratégies du Luxe for Product Design, a product/packaging design award, marking the first time a Mexican brand has won.
Most memorable meal? Per Se
Guilty pleasure? Mexican spicy candy from Chilim Balam
Breakfast in bed? Fresh squeezed orange juice, eggs florentine, Ninth Street coffee from Chelsea Market, and The New York Times.
Pick your poison. Casa Dragones
Last Meal? Grilled fresh fish tacos, with my favorite Mexican salsas and guacamole, a bonfire on my gorgeous secret beach in Nayarit with all my favorite people -- celebrating life with Casa Dragones.
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