The “very beautiful role” played by tequila at family meals across Mexico is the prism through which Bertha González Nieves remembers her first sip of the spirit, at one of her grandmother’s weekly lunches. “It was a wonderful experience because it was being enjoyed in the context of the family table, of great conversations, of celebrating and being together,” she says.
González Nieves, the first female maestra tequilera recognized by the Academia Mexicana de Catadores de Tequila, founded Casa Dragones—the small-batch sipping tequila that enjoys a cult-like tribe of devotees—with media guru Robert Pittman, the impresario behind MTV, AOL and iHeartMedia. The pair celebrated the brand’s tenth anniversary by inviting a couple hundred friends to join them in the company’s spiritual home of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, for a weekend-long costumed culinary extravaganza.
“Bob Pittman has a house in San Miguel de Allende, where he’s spent many summers,” says González Nieves. “While he was there, he came across a local aguardiente, noticing both how smooth it was and how much people enjoyed drinking it. One weekend, Bob’s son Bo came down to San Miguel with some of his buddies. After trying some of this, one of them said that he could sell it in his club in Las Vegas if Bob were able to produce something similar out of 100-percent agave.
“Months later, Bob and I were both at a party in Brooklyn,” she continues. “After being introduced he asked about my background. I told him I had been at Grupo Jose Cuervo and he said, ‘Really? I’ve always wanted to start a tequila company.’ We realized that we shared a very similar vision for the business, and that we both wanted to focus on craftsmanship.”
Casa Dragones was established as a true sipping tequila that pairs well with food. “We wanted to compete with established sipping categories like single malt and cognac. Mexico had the necessary professionalism and experience in production. And though tequila had been paired with Mexican cuisine for years, we wanted to prove that it can go beyond borders, pairing just as well with the cuisines of France, Italy, Japan and America.”
A proprietary blend of a white (blanco) tequila and a five-year-old (extra añejo) tequila, Casa Dragones Joven is aged in charred barrels of American white oak, after which the amber hues of the extra añejo are removed by filtering the blend through a bed of charcoal. The resulting flavor profile features the best of both worlds, balancing the floral and citrus notes of the blanco with the extra añejo’s sweet and spicy notes of vanilla and pepper. “This blend gave us the opportunity to be innovators in the category,” says González Nieves. “Aficionados look for products that expand their repertoire.”
Many of the brand’s loyalists have made a pilgrimage to the Casa Dragones Tasting Room. Located in San Miguel de Allende’s historic Dôce 18, the intimate space was designed in collaboration with bespoke firm Meyer Davis. The heavy use of the naturally formed volcanic glass obsidian—transformed by acclaimed Mexican designer Gloria Cortina into 4,000 tiles used by Meyer Davis to embellish the walls and ceiling—alludes to the terroir of Casa Dragones’ agave fields in Jalisco, on the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt.
But while its agave is grown and harvested in Jalisco, Casa Dragones considers San Miguel de Allende its spiritual home, for it was here that the Dragones—the elite cavalry that helped spark Mexico’s independence from Spain—were based, spending much of their time at their stable, La Casa Dragones. The building still stands, on the same narrow, cobbled street as it has since 1671, now serving as the headquarters of the brand.
Casa Dragones Joven has received praise from culinary leaders such as chef Enrique Olvera—renowned for his Mexico City haute-cuisine restaurant, Pujol—who says, “A good wine has to be well-rounded. Casa Dragones has this virtue.” And a key inflection point came when Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg sat down with Oprah Winfrey for an interview. When Sandberg asked whether she preferred wine or tequila, Winfrey threw an arm over her head and said, “Tequila!” She then continued, “There’s a new tequila out, Dragones. It’s in a blue box, and inside there’s a crystal bottle.” A few months later, Winfrey included Casa Dragones on her Favorite Things gift guide, a distinction it—as well as the more affordable, cocktail-ready Casa Dragones Blanco—has maintained through the most recent list in 2020.
“It’s been very important for us to have this fairy godmother who has supported us,” says González Nieves. “She genuinely loves entrepreneurship.”
Casa Dragones’ bottle was inspired by a traditional Mexican apothecary vessel that González Nieves came across at Mexico City’s Museo de Arte Popular. Within the blue presentation box is a lead-free crys- tal decanter made by craftsmen in Mexico City who individually mold, sculpt and polish each bottle before it is engraved using the traditional technique of pepita, during which a grinding wheel carves decorative patterns in the shape of small seeds. Each bottle has a handmade crystal top, is labeled, dated, numbered and signed, and, as a final flourish, is finished with a black ribbon around its neck— an homage to Mexico’s Dragones cavalry.
The brand recently launched Casa Dragones Barrel Blend, featuring two 100-percent blue-agave añejo tequilas, one aged in French oak barrels, the other in American oak barrels, before being blended at the conclusion of the aging process. “We met with cooperages in different parts of the world in order to find partners that would be open to tailoring their barrels to our unique specifications,” says González Nieves. “The French oak is sourced from five forests in the center of the country, and the American oak is from Pennsylvania.”
Chef/restaurateur Thomas Keller of The French Laundry and Per Se says Casa Dragones has created another winner: “This is the first time I’ve enjoyed aged tequila without ice. The body and color are extraordinary.” And Yana Volfson, beverage director at Cosme and Atla in New York, describes it as “so elegant, not too dry and not too sweet. We don’t typically carry añejos because they are too sweet, but this is really beautiful.”
Casa Dragones Barrel Blend offers a bouquet of fresh florals and pear with notes of fig and almond. Take a sip and your tongue comes alive with flavors of nuts, nutmeg and blackberry, after which comes the long, round finish, with notes of cacao and spicy black pepper.
This is only the latest in a continuing series of expressions inspired by San Miguel de Allende. “Our mission is to push the conversation of tequila production into the future,” González Nieves says. “We want to leave the category in a more advanced place for the next generations.”
Few cities are as picturesque as San Miguel de Allende. Pedestrian-friendly with streets of cobblestone, the town offers Instagram-worthy spots around every corner, and the locals are incredibly hospitable to guests from America and beyond. Here, a few tips for your trip
Rosewood San Miguel de Allende
Opened in 2011 as a colonial-style Mexican hacienda in the historic cobblestoned center of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Rosewood features only 67 rooms and a handful of rentable town-house residences. The property incorporates a large pool area, an award-winning spa, an art gallery and a rooftop featuring some of the most expansive views in town.
Moxi and Monkey Bar
Located in the chic Hotel Matilda, Moxi has become one of San Miguel de Allende’s most acclaimed restaurants, serving chef Paul Bentley’s elegant Mexican cuisine, sourced from local farmers, in a contemporary, art-filled setting. After dinner, walk outside to the pool, where the Monkey Bar presents a cocktail menu curated by the region’s most sought-after mixologist, Mike Espinoza.
Día de los Muertos
A highlight every October, San Miguel’s renowned Festival La Calaca (Festival of the Skull) culminates with the Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration. Get your sugar-skull makeup done in the style of La Calavera Catrina—the skeletal socialite made famous by Diego Rivera—and join in the Los Labradores Catrina parade that begins in front of the Rosewood.