I recently read an article regarding the sale of Casamigos Tequila – owned by celebrities George Clooney and Randy Gerber – to Diageo for close to $1 billion. I didn’t know that Clooney owned a tequila company, but it isn’t that surprising given that many celebrities involve themselves in these types of projects. According to the story, Clooney and Gerber were “forced” in to starting the company after a their small batch orders at a Mexican distillery ballooned to over 1,000 bottles a year. I took that story with a grain of salt as I believe many of the anecdotes thrown around by marketing firms are complete bullshit. It makes for a good provenance yarn to be sure; sounds better than the typical origin story.
I looked in to the brand and discovered it to be rather pricey, a given – I guess – when a celebrity is involved. Why that would be I do not know. They certainly didn’t make it and you won’t be their friend if you buy it. The story is that Clooney and Gerber were not happy with the local tequilas in Cabo so they contracted with a local distiller to make something more palatable to them and their friends. They should make a movie. Clooney could play, um, Clooney I guess. Mark Wahlberg could play Gerber. I’m sure he would like to distance himself from Transformers 5. Maybe not.
I was curious as to the quality of the tequila so I looked for some online reviews. They were generally positive with a few bitches about being overpriced. As I was reading through the review sites I began to get curious as to the ratings of other tequilas, specifically Jose Cuervo Gold, the brand I usually buy. I was surprised to find that it did not rate well at all among aficionados. In fact, it was generally scoffed at.
Ever since I did my first shot of tequila as a naive teenager Cuervo Gold has been the standard bearer. I don’t even think twice when purchasing the beverage, just grab a bottle of the Gold and know that people will appreciate it. I don’t drink a lot of tequila, but I like a few shots now and then or a margarita. I was dismayed to find that it was held in such low regard. I wondered why.
It turns out that Jose Cuervo Gold is not actually tequila. It is considered a mixtos. A mixtos uses no less than 51% agave, with other sugars making up the remainder. The formula was originated when the Mexican government relaxed tequila standards due to a shortage of blue agave during a particular brutal harvest period. Cuervo is at least 51% agave, but certainly not 100%, with caramel coloring added to the finished product to give it the gold color. It’s also obviously cheaper to produce since it can be blended with other ingredients that are less expensive than distilled agave.
I was disappointed, needless to say. And thirsty for some tequila as well. I made a list of three “real” 100% agave tequilas and headed to the liquor store. Applejack is a huge, well stocked liquor store in my area that has an unbelievable number of people on the floor stocking and assisting customers. I was perusing the tequila aisle when an employee asked if I needed assistance. I said no thanks, then abruptly called him back and explained my newly found tequila knowledge. He agreed that Cuervo was not a good choice; in his words it is mostly vodka. He then went on to school me on the different types of tequilas and their properties. He also gave me his opinion on the three brands I had made note of. He was as enlightening as a wine sommelier in a fancy restaurant and we spoke at length. I did not know that tequila was that complex.
I left the store with a nice bottle of Olmeca Altos Reposado, a 100% blue agave tequila that was, surprisingly, in the same price range as the pretender Cuervo. When I had a taste later that evening I certainly could tell the difference. It’s the same old story really, marketing trumps quality and a lesser quality brand is able to command a top shelf price and customer base. Much like the horse piss that is Corona beer, a brew that is not very highly regarded in Mexico but is a top import in the U.S.
In fact, Cuervo is the top selling tequila in the world and Corona is the top selling imported beer in America. There’s no accounting for taste I guess. Or the gullibility of the masses, myself included. Madison Ave can make anything palatable, even coveted.
I see a shot of Olmeca Altos Reposado in my near future.