How Tequila Replaced Cosmos as the Celebrity Quaff of Choice

Featured in The New York Times, March 7, 2018

Below is an excerpt, read more here

What did the actress Helen Mirren drink a shot of on the Oscars red carpet on Sunday?


What did Sarah Jessica Parker’s character and her tennis-playing friend have on the rocks with extra lime on the recent season finale of “Divorce”?


What did Kelly LeVeque, a Los Angeles nutritionist, recently advise her famous client Jennifer Garner to try instead of wine?


Sixty years after the Champs’s song of that name went gold, the blue agave-based drink is having a renaissance as a beverage to sip and savor on its own, rather than disguise with Ecto Cooler colored margarita mix or shoot, eyes closed, nostrils pinched, in the back of a bar. Other famous Jennifers (Aniston, Lawrence) also drink it. Justin Timberlake and P. Diddy (who have their own brands) drink it. And so, apparently, do you.

Since 2002, sales of tequila have risen 121 percent, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a trade organization. (Sales of vodka, which filled Cosmopolitans and appletinis in the early aughts, rose by only 2.4 percent.)

Bertha Gonzalez, 47, a founder of the top-shelf tequila Casa Dragones (a bottle of its smoothest version, Joven, costs about $300; Oprah Winfrey is a fan), believes she is in a growth industry that could further enrich her country culturally and economically. “Mexico today has around 15 appellations of origin, but hopefully tomorrow, with 197 different types of agave, we’ll have 20 or 30 appellations, because if we’re smart about creating the foundation of production processes, we can learn about the terroir in different regions of Mexico, and we can grow agave distillates in an incredible way.”

Terroir? Of tequila?

When Ms. Gonzales and her colleagues opened a Casa Dragones bar in the colonial city of San Miguel de Allende, “we wanted to bring the terroir in, so we took huge obsidian rocks from our field and with a designer, created 4,000 tiles. That’s the wall of the tasting room,” Ms. Gonzalez said. It can accommodate up to six guests at a time who prepay for a 45-minute guided tasting. “That’s what people are looking for,” she said. “It’s not a bar where you go and have multiple drinks.”

Ms. Gonzalez is working with upmarket Mexican restaurants like Empellon in Midtown Manhattan, which charges $68 for a sipper of Joven, but also with Providence, a temple of American seafood in Los Angeles. There on a recent night the chef “paired” (to use fine-dining parlance) room temperature Joven with fanciful dishes like Santa Barbara sea urchin in yuzu Jell-O and grilled wild Spanish octopus with fennel pollen.

“For the proof it has, it’s remarkably silky and creamy,” said Kim Stodel, the restaurant’s bar manager. He serves Joven in Riedel tequila glasses, which look like champagne flutes. “The attention paid to this bottle,” he said — each comes with a unique serial number, like a pair of Common Projects sneakers — “is like the attention the chef pays to the food in the kitchen.”