The First Lady of Tequila

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This month’s tequila-soaked Cinco de Mayo celebrations prompted late-night revelry all around Los Angeles. The Mexican spirit has been the motive behind this year’s openings of locales like the Agave Cantina in Los Feliz and downtown’s mecca of mezcal, Las Perlas.

Bertha Gonzalez, the first woman to be given the title of Maestra Tequilero by the Mexican government, is bolstering the top-tier-tequila movement with Casa Dragones tequila. Her artisan distillation is a spirit that you sip without the requisite salt and lime—in other words, it’s for grown-ups.

“We believe we have developed a style of tequila that’s not meant to be mixed. It’s a very smooth and very rich tequila…So we serve it straight or with one or two rocks,” Gonzalez says by phone from Mexico City.

Casa Dragones has been garnering attention among the liquor cognoscenti for its $250 price tag and unique smooth taste, as well as the reusable crystal decanter in which it is shipped.

While working in various high-level capacities at Jose Cuervo, Gonzalez began to feel the pull to go off on her own. Through a stroke of serendipity, she met MTV cofounder and, later, AOL COO Robert Pittman at a party in New York. Seems he’d been spending much of his time in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and had come upon a bootlegger there making tequila that was knock-your-socks-off smooth. So, with Pittman’s backing, Gonzalez’s experience in the spirits world, the two put their own spin on the process, and Casa Dragones was born.

Unlike other brands that offer several styles of tequila, such as blanco, reposado, and añejo, Casa Dragones focuses on only one—joven—literally translated as “young.”

“Because we are not a mass producer, it’s all about one plant at a time—joven is a rare and forgotten type of tequila that’s white with a hint of extra añejo,” Gonzalez says. Naturally, the small-batch Casa Dragones is 100 percent blue agave, but with hints of vanilla and pear, it offers a softer finish. It’s sip-worthy quality comes from a combination of careful attention in crafting the agave nectar, including a multiple-distillation process similar to that used for vodka production. Then each bottle has a bit of añejo added by hand to achieve an ideal balance and unique taste.

Although suggested to be imbibed in its pure form, Gonzalez does recommend chasing the spirit with a fresh juice-infused sangrita. The traditional nonalcoholic sipper is not only an ideal companion to agave-based drinks on a hot summer day, it acts as a palate cleanser between tastes of tequila. “We have our own recipe on our website that we call the Blood of the Dragon,” Gonzalez says. (Jennifer Georges and Rivera barman bar none Julian Cox share their favorite sangrita recipes).