Tequila isn’t exactly the de rigueur libation of the art world. At most art fairs, you’re more likely to see champagne flutes than liquor tumblers. But that hasn’t stopped Casa Dragones sipping tequila from making an impression at two recent shows.
In the last few months, the tequila label made cameos at Dallas Contemporary and at Art Basel Miami Beach. The appearances were no coincidence: Last November, Casa Dragones introduced a limited-edition bottle designed by Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco. With only 400 bottles, each priced at $1,850, the collaboration was intended to appeal to the cultural, moneyed elite. The project came about after the brand was served at Orozco’s openings, as his retrospective traveled through New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Switzerland’s Kunstmuseum, London’s Tate Modern, and Paris’s Centre Pompidou. Orozco wanted to give the people who helped with the exhibition a special gift, so he partnered with Casa Dragones to create a bottle engraved with the artist’s famed “Black Kites” checkered skull.
So, where did this Orozco-endorsed tequila come from?
Casa Dragones began by happenstance, when Bertha González Nieves met MTV founder and Clear Channel chairman Bob Pittman at a party hosted by mutual friends in Brooklyn. The businessman asked González Nieves what her dream was. She told him she wanted to become an entrepreneur and somehow use her love for tequila, which she learned about as a Mexican ambassador to Japan in her early twenties and in her 10 years as an executive at Gruppo Cuervo. The two decided to go into business together to “push the boundaries of what has been done before in the tequila category.” Even its name — which comes from the Dragones, a cavalry from San Miguel de Allende that led Mexico to independence — alludes to revolution.
If tequila is still associated with shots of Jose Cuervo or frozen margaritas, González Nieves hopes Casa Dragones will help change the collective perception. She wants to elevate fine tequila into the same conversation as high-end cognac or whiskey. Just don’t ever use it for cocktails; Casa Dragones is meant to be sipped slowly neat, or, if you must, with one or two ice cubes.
Made from 100 percent blue agave, Casa Dragones represents a rare style of tequila, joven (Spanish for young), which blends white tequila with a hint of extra aged tequila. The result is platinum shine that is specific to Casa Dragones, and tequila that contains citrus and floral notes, finishing with touches of hazelnut and vanilla. The taste has impressed the refined palettes of sommeliers, chefs, and celebs, including Scott Conant, Thomas Keller, Oprah Winfrey, and Martha Stewart.
“It doesn’t have that little bite on the back end that many other tequilas have,” Conant told ARTINFO via email. “It’s elegant and soulful.”
The small-batch producer takes pride in the hand-crafted approach of its tequila. The Maestro Tequilero selects the best blue agave plants before it’s distilled with pure spring water through an advanced column process and put through a highly advanced filtration system to achieve the color. The Maestro Tequilero then finishes the process by hand, adding extra añejo tequila that has rested in American oak barrels for more than five years. Even the bottles are made by hand from lead-free crystal and then labeled and numbered.
“We’re in the business of taste, not in the business of volume,” González Nieves told ARTINFO.
While Casa Dragones may never be a household name, it is well on its way to securing a respected place in the luxury world – both for tequila and its homeland, Mexico. It 2010, the label garnered the product design award at the Grand Prix Stratégies du Luxe, the so-called Oscars of the luxury world, “The French and Italians and English have done a good job at living in [the luxury] space, and we believe that Mexico has a history, the heritage, the professionalism to do that,” said González Nieves.
For more information, visit casadragones.com.