Behind the Brand
Bertha González Nieves
CEO and Co-Founder of Tequila Casa Dragones
With centuries of history and artistry behind it, tequila has truly become a part of Mexican culture. As the Co-Founder and CEO of Casa Dragones and a Maestra Tequilera in her own right, Bertha González Nieves has focused on elevating this heritage and craftsmanship to offer sipping tequilas unlike any other. With an intentional focus on each expression, crafted in small batches with meticulous attention to detail, each bottle of Casa Dragones is truly unique. But this passion and work started decades before a single drop was poured. We sat down with Bertha to learn more about her journey.
WHAT STARTED YOUR WORK WITH TEQUILA?
I grew up in Mexico City, and my family has been in Mexico for five generations. My father was from the northern region of Mexico, Piedras Negras in Monterrey, and my mother was from Veracruz. I grew up loving tequila; it’s part of the social fabric of our country. We celebrate every occasion, every birthday, every important moment in life with it. So, it was always a part of my life and my culture.
Then, in my early 20s, I was selected by the Japanese government to represent Mexico in a program in Japan as a young ambassador. As part of my training, I traveled around Mexico to make sure I was able to eloquently speak and represent many of the cultural and economic aspects of Mexico, including tequila. I was invited to visit various agave fields and distilleries, and it was at this moment that I decided to go into the tequila industry. Since then, I have dedicated my career to tequila and have been committed ever since to showcasing Mexican craftsmanship and to being part of the tequila producers shaping the industry for the future through innovation and modern production.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST MEMORY OF TEQUILA?
One of the things that inspired me the most was that my grandparents hosted an open house on Sundays for lunches. As a ritual, they started the family lunch with one glass of tequila. I was always there pulling on my grandmother asking, “Can I try it? Can I try it?” Until one day, years later, she said, “Ok, sit down; you're going to try this tequila.” This interest was later solidified when I went into the program in Japan.
Not only did I fall in love with the process and the agave landscape, but also what it represents for Mexico. When you travel around the world, if you ask people to say five things about Mexico, “tequila” is on that list more often than not. So, having the opportunity to participate in such a beautiful, historical, and traditional category that's part of the social fabric of Mexico is powerful. Also, we wanted to create a product from which many people can get to know our country and showcase that we can compete with other luxury spirit categories.
WHERE DID THE IDEA FOR CASA DRAGONES GET ITS START?
It was at the time when I started obsessing about becoming an entrepreneur in the tequila category that I had the fortune to meet the founder of MTV, Robert Pittman, at a party in Brooklyn. As we were speaking, he asked what I do, and I told him my background. He told me that he’d always wanted to start a tequila company, and I told him I’d always wanted to become an entrepreneur. Long story short, I didn't know if it was bar talk or not, but the next day his secretary connected with me to set up a meeting. So, I went to the meeting, and that's how the journey started.
Obviously, there's a lot more that has happened between that conversation and when we partnered. But we started and founded Casa Dragones with the idea that Mexican products and agave distillates, particularly tequila, should have a fair share of the luxury segment of the spirits industry. Tequila has over 250 years of heritage and best practices. We believe that Mexico also has sophistication and a gift of craftsmanship that can compete with any country in the world. So from there, we set on a journey to create a true sipping tequila; a tequila so different and uniquely smooth and complex that it could compete with other luxury sipping spirits, like cognacs, scotch and whiskeys. And that’s how Casa Dragones Joven was born.
WHAT HAS DRIVEN THIS WORK TO BUILD CASA DRAGONES?
What continues to be our mission is to expand the tequila repertoire through innovation, modern production, Mexican craftsmanship, and extraordinary quality and taste. That is how we set out on a quest to bring Casa Dragones Joven to market. We decided that in order to truly build a name for ourselves in the category, we needed to do one thing and do it the best way possible. This was contrary to what many other companies do by launching with three or four tequilas right off the bat. Of course, we respect what other producers do because this industry is made up of those who participate. So, we're very respectful of our colleagues, and together we collectively give meaning to the tequila category.
But for us as small-batch producers, we wanted to start with a strong point of view. It was all about the power of focus. We discovered this forgotten style in the tequila category: Joven, which is a rare blend of silver tequila with extra-aged tequila. In our case, we age Casa Dragones Joven in new American oak casks, resulting in floral and citrus notes of the silver tequila balanced with the sweetness and the spice of the extra-aged tequila. This beautiful marriage, where neither one of the styles governs the experience, invites you to sip and savor.
We wanted to craft a tequila that could compete with other sipping spirits — a true sipping tequila that could actually pair well with food. We know that tequila has been the loyal companion of Mexican cuisine. But we believe that tequila has the profile, complexity, and taste to pair with other cuisines, like French, Japanese, and Italian. Tequila deserves a place in pairing dinners where champagne or wine are participating. So Joven was the tequila from which we could accomplish that.
WHAT INSPIRED THE NAME CASA DRAGONES?
The name Casa Dragones was inspired by the legendary Dragones cavalry from San Miguel de Allende, who masterminded the movement of Mexican Independence. We were very inspired by their rebellious and independent spirit. We want to be known in the tequila category as a rebellious, independent, and modern producer who is pushing the conversation of tequila production into the future. We're also committed to expanding the tequila repertoire and continuing to enamor the tequila lover or the spirits aficionado.
We were the first to add “Sipping Tequila” to our label because we want to make sure everyone understands our approach. We wanted to give people the opportunity to sip tequila, as they would any other high-end sipping spirit. For us, accomplishing that for our business, our house, and the category is important. We're committed to our appellation of origin.
WHERE DID THE DESIGN FOR THE DECANTER BOTTLE COME FROM?
Once we had our sipping tequila and our name, we were so excited about our spirit that we wanted to find packaging that could express the meticulous attention to detail that we have in our production process. So, I traveled throughout Mexico to libraries, flea markets, and museums, looking for inspiration. I found an exhibit on the history of glass production in Mexico at the Museo de Arte Popular. We found old apothecary bottles engraved with pepita. That's where the idea came to life to create an old-style decanter made modern.
Today, we produce Casa Dragones Joven bottles in a semi-automatic process, which means that the artisan is individually crafting each bottle, one at a time. It honors and showcases this gift of craftsmanship that we have in Mexico. Every decanter top is crafted especially to fit each bottle perfectly, to showcase the elegance in which Mexican spirits used to be packaged.
Every single Joven bottle is made in Mexico using lead-free crystal and is individually hand-engraved with a traditional Mexican technique called pepita. The engraving on the bottom of the decanter is an homage to the agave plant as seen from above. We have artisans engrave one bottle at a time to showcase the focus that we have as a small-batch producer in our packaging.
We know that people are bringing Casa Dragones into their homes, onto their tables and into their celebrations. So for us, we take those occasions very seriously. We put all of our passion and all of our attention to detail into creating the highest quality sipping tequilas. We think that in the end, our customer values that. It’s less about what people think is the right thing to do; it's more about the best product that you can bring to the shelves and into people’s lives.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST MAKE CASA DRAGONES AVAILABLE TO THE PUBLIC?
We brought our first batch of Joven to market in July 2009. We drove the first 60 bottles of our first batch from Tequila to San Miguel de Allende to do our “First Batch” party. The whole idea for us was to deliver the best possible product. Because we're entrepreneurs, and because we had already dedicated our careers to the tequila industry, we thought, “let's give it our best shot.” We thought that if by any chance our company doesn't succeed, no one could ever say we didn’t try to create the best possible product. That was always our dream.
We started selling Casa Dragones Joven during the crisis of 2009 and entered the category in the luxury segment. We only focused on Joven for the first five years because we believe in the power of focus. We learned a lot; there were years when we didn't know if we would survive. But we were able to go out and talk to retailers, on-premise accounts, and with consumers—to sell Casa Dragones on its credentials and taste and to start building the name of our house for the future.
After five years of producing our Joven, we started getting that innovation itch, or you might say, “the fire in the belly,” to decide the next step for our house. Many of our clients and friends were telling us that they loved Casa Dragones Joven but that we were very strict. They couldn’t make a margarita, serve it on the rocks, or put it in the freezer. So we needed to do something with the same quality that our customer expected, but for a broader audience, and with more versatility of the category.
We thought the right next step was to create a Blanco tequila that showcased the purity of our agave and our water through an ultra-modern process. With Joven, we had built real relationships with some of the world’s best chefs who wanted to pair our tequila with many kinds of cuisine. We had the opportunity to work with chefs like Enrique Olvera, Thomas Keller, Eric Ripert, Daniela Soto-Innes, and so many more. We wanted to build the same kind of relationships we had done with chefs with the incredible talent of our industry: bartenders. So we launched Casa Dragones Blanco, 100% pure Blue Agave silver tequila, which is perfect on its own as a sipping tequila, but also delicious on the rocks or in craft cocktails. We will always make tequilas for sipping; we will always deliver tequila that can stand on its own.
ARE THERE ANY OTHER COMPELLING DETAILS BEHIND THE DESIGN MOST MIGHT MISS?
If you look close, you will see that we have a “16” on every label, which is a nod to September 16th, the date of Mexican independence. It's also the address of our house in San Miguel de Allende: Recreo 16.
Also, our Blanco is our Blue label. Joven has a white label, and our newest expression, Casa Dragones Añejo Barrel Blend, has a black label. But every box is blue and blue is really our color. The color blue comes from the flag of the Dragones cavalry that inspired Casa Dragones. We wanted to use a color that represented Mexican heritage and the elegance you see all over Mexico when you travel.
Also, each crystal bottle of Casa Dragones Joven is engraved by hand with pepita, an old Mexican form of engraving that is done on a wheel. So it’s very time consuming and exact. It’s a special design that we are very proud of.
Mexico has a strong position in cinema, architecture, design, and the culinary world; Mexico is gifted in many different arts. We wanted to showcase that same elegance and strong point of view of the Mexico I grew up in. I want people to see, both from Mexico and outside of Mexico, the Mexico that I have in my heart; the Mexico that my generation of filmmakers and chefs and designers and architects have in our expressions about Mexico. We wanted to bring this to life in our tequila.
HOW DO YOU DISTINGUISH YOURSELF IN THIS SPACE?
Well, I think for us, it all starts with the product. It all starts with quality; it all starts with taste. The hero of our company is our product. We aspire to be part of a consumer’s repertoire. We understand that today, consumers are more explorers. Before, in our grandparents’ generation, people had one whiskey, one cognac, and one tequila. That defined who they were, at home and at their bars. They were very loyal to those brands, and they stood for them. I'm not saying that doesn't happen anymore. But I think that if you see someone's home bar today, they have more of a collection.
Our ambition is to have such a distinct and clear profile of taste, craftsmanship, and story that we gain a position in that repertoire. You gain people's attention through taste and quality. I think that's the route onto people's palates and into people's hearts. We believe that if we can deliver extraordinary quality and taste, we truly have an opportunity to gain a position in the marketplace and a position in people's spirit repertoire.
Also, we're a company that was born in 2008, so we have the gift of social media. We were born with a camera and a video camera. Every step of the way, we just captured our story, the real story of what we do as producers. If you go to our Facebook, Instagram or Twitter page, you can go all of the way back and see our first batch parties there. We cover our story of entrepreneurship; we cover our authentic story of being passionate Mexican producers. I think that all of that together makes us a unique and distinct player in the category.
HOW DID THE FIRST TWO EXPRESSIONS LEAD TO AN AÑEJO BARREL BLEND?
After five years of producing our Blanco, we were ten years into our venture, and we were excited about expanding our repertoire. It was then that we introduced Casa Dragones Añejo Barrel Blend. We were excited about breaking into uncharted territory. That's kind of like our gasoline, our biggest motivator. We wanted to innovate as entrepreneurs and as founders; we wanted to surprise the tequila lover once again and go on a journey of taste and exploration.
We had the opportunity to travel pre-pandemic, interviewing different cooperages around the world. We found this multi-generational cooperage in Bordeaux that makes custom-made casks for some of the top producers in Bordeaux like Chateau Petrus, Chateau Margaux, and many others. They were one of the few cooperages that had the patience to work with us. They were as excited and as passionate as we were on the exploration front. We fell in love with this particular wood that grows in five different forests in France called Quercus Sessile Oak, which is much less perfumed than the traditional French Limousin Oak. We also discovered American Oak from Missouri and Pennsylvania. We crafted two custom-made casks from these two different types of woods in which to age our tequila, and then at the end of the aging process, we blend both styles together to create a uniquely smooth, rich-tasting Añejo.
The idea behind the finish and type of wood we selected is that we wanted the tequila to push through the wood rather than the wood overwhelm the tequila. We wanted to conserve more floral, citrus, and herbaceous notes in the Añejo tequila. We let our tequila push through and be caressed by the wood. As a result, our Añejo is a very elegant, drier, less sweet, and very complex aged tequila. It's all about the exploration of wood and its relationship with our tequila.
These forests in France are around 200 years old, and we were very inspired by the bark of the forest. That's why we ended up with this very beautiful dark-colored bottle for this release. For us, it's now been 12 years since we started our adventure. It's taken us all of this time to create just three expressions, and hopefully, our tequila mission and our agenda are long. Our dream is to continue to innovate and continue to expand the tequila repertoire as we move forward.
HOW DO YOU ENJOY DRINKING CASA DRAGONES?
All three sipping tequilas are meant to be enjoyed for different occasions. Casa Dragones Joven is meant to be sipped neat and enjoyed with food, which is how I drink it. With our Blanco, I drink it with a two-inch ice cube and a twist of grapefruit; this is the way I love to enjoy it at home because I'm not a mixologist.
However, for those that love cocktails, we've also been collecting recipes that you can find on our website or on our social media channels. When you visit those sites, you'll see that we have had the opportunity to collaborate with bartenders from all over Mexico, the US, the UK, and hopefully soon from many more places worldwide. Casa Dragones Añejo Barrel Blend is a very complex, distinctive agave-forward Añejo that I love to enjoy neat or with a small ice cube. It’s a perfect reward at the end of any day.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE MEAL PAIRINGS OR JUST PAIRINGS IN GENERAL?
With Casa Dragones Joven, I love to see how others enjoy pairing it., especially chefs. When I give a tasting to a chef or sommelier, I tell them the story of our product and our craftsmanship, and then I like to let them explore and come back with a unique pairing. Their interpretation of Casa Dragones Joven tasting notes brings to life that complexity that we're striving for. That experience of taste is my favorite one.
If I had to choose, I do have a pairing that is close to my heart, which is the pairing of oysters and Casa Dragones Joven because my father loved oysters. But also because the minerality of Casa Dragones Joven really balances with the briny flavor of oysters, without being too sweet. Our fields are at the heart of a Mexican trans-volcanic belt in Tequila, Jalisco. So, we have very rich volcanic soil. The terroir is very rich in minerals like silica, potassium, phosphorus, which help the agave develop and results in the beautiful mineral profile of our tequila.
You'll find this beautiful minerality and the brininess of the oysters is a very specific combination. We've gone on a journey of cataloging the different pairing notes that come from pairing our tequila with different oysters from around Mexico and the US. So one day, we'll do a book of that.
ANY CLOSING THOUGHTS?
We are explorers, and we want people to explore our tequilas. If you are new to Casa Dragones, just know that we are passionate entrepreneurs who are committed every day to expanding the tequila repertoire by showcasing the craftsmanship of Mexico. It's a beautiful category. We want to make sure that we can continue to entertain and enamor the tequila lover. We hope you try our tequilas and that you enjoy them as much as we enjoy producing them.