Germán González–Tequila From The Heart

german gonzalez

[In early November of 2014, San Antonio resident and neighbor, Germán González, joined us at our home office.  That evening, he brought his full array of Tequila Uno (T1)–Ultra Fino, Selecto, Excepcional, Tequila Estelar, along with the much acclaimed ultra-aged Tears of Llorona. 

In a more relaxed atmosphere and without his signature Panama hat and guayabera, Germán guided us through a tasting of each of his offerings while sharing his wit, wisdom, and knowledge.]

The Present

 “To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts–such is the duty of the artist.”–Robert Schumann

What strikes you first about Germán González is his intense modesty when he discusses his vast accomplishments.  Secondly, it’s realizing the level of genius he possesses as a Master Distiller.  Thirdly, you are awed by the depth of his artistry.

Distilling what was arguable some of the finest tequila available in the

Chinaco logo.
Chinaco logo.

spirits market in the past with his historic family brand, Chinaco, today Germán humbly pours us proper amounts from his own equally lauded labels, T1 (Tequila Uno) and Tears of Llorona, and teaches us his trademark “toast from the heart.”

Taking his branded Riedel Ouverture tequila glass held at the stem, Germán places it over his heart and says, “salúd, from the heart.”  He then reaches out to each of us and, instead of touching at the rim of the fragile vessels, he turns his glass almost sideways and boldly tags the bowls sounding a lyrical crystal clang.

Afterwards, he lovingly looks at the platinum liquid inside his stemmed glass and says, “This tequila is amazing,” as if surprised that it turned out so well.

Coming from a family that played an integral part in both Mexico’s and Tequila’s sweeping history [you can read more about his family history here], Germán González is at once inspired by his past and firmly focused on his future.

The Past

A gentleman farmer by trade and a romantic at heart, Germán literally learned his profession from the ground up under the watchful eye of his father, Guillermo, a lawyer and politician.

At eighteen, Germán permanently moved to the family ranchos in Tamaulipas by himself instead of attending university.  For several years, he spent intensive weekends learning about the land from Don Guillermo, growing agaves, chiles, corn, soybeans and raising cattle.  He felt privileged and grateful to have his father as his instructor and mentor.

Don Guillermo also purposely kept him away from the La Gonzaleña distillery until he felt Germán was ready for the responsibility.

Tough Times

After several years of piloting Chinaco to unprecedented heights, creative differences with his older brothers caused Germán to seek a new distillery from where he could challenge himself to distill even greater tequila.

Luckily, his lifelong friend and owner of La Tequileña (NOM 1146) Enrique Fonseca, himself a celebrated tequilero, most recently with his Fuenteseca brand, literally gave him the keys to his distillery and allowed Germán to pursue his dream of producing the ultimate expressions of tequila that have ever been realized.

At the same time, Germán uprooted his family and moved to San Antonio, Texas in 2007 to learn about the liquor distribution system and also to study the fickle American palate.  He officially launched Tequila Uno in 2009.

Lessons Learned

Germán memorized two very important principles from his father where tequila was concerned–

That the quality of the agave will always assure favorable results and consistency.  That’s why he insists on using estate grown agave from a single plot of land or grove (huerta), and…

Used scotch whisky barrels are the secret to capturing just the right balance when resting tequila.

He deliberately employs the used barrels to take only the rough edges off of the Selecto when resting for his Excepcional.  Germán believes that this practice results in a more traditional reposado.

“It’s how reposados should taste–not like añejos,” Germán declares.

Then, he boldly adds, “I don’t care about the color, I care about the flavor.”

The Meaning of Mature

Germán believes the maturity of blue agave has nothing to do with the plant’s brix (sugar content) or age.  He judges the maturity of agave by its look and feel.

He prefers using  agave from Atotonilco, in the highlands of Jalisco, since he determined that they produce a close flavor profile to agave from Tamaulipas, and thus, compliment each other.

He had blended highlands agave with those from Tamaulipas when in charge of Chinaco during its second resurgence.  At that time, La Gonzaleña didn’t have enough agave in reserve as it had in its heyday.

Inside the Mind of An Artist

Tequila Uno
Tequila Uno

“The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work.  It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” –Michelangelo

Behaving more like a painter or chef–hands on, using all of his senses–Germán González has in mind exactly what he wants Tequila Uno and Tears of Llorona to taste like and what effect he wants to attain with each expression.

He knows that flavor profile exists within the plant and the resulting juice, just like Michaelangelo knew that inside each slab of marble was a statue waiting to be released.

Germán distills Tequila Uno to set the flavors free!

  Chemistry vs. Alchemy

“Tones sound, and roar and storm about me until I have set them down in notes.”–Ludwig van Beethoven

Unless prompted, Germán never talks about the numbers, the chemistry or science of distillation like famed Master Distillers Carlos Camarena (Tapatío), Marko Karakasevic (Charbay), or Melkon Khosrovian (Ixa Tequila by Greenbar) have been known to do.  In fact, those were Germán’s worst subjects in high school.

Much like a mezcalero (mezcal distiller) does when producing mezcal, he uses his senses to tell him what alcohol by volume (ABV) his tequila should have to achieve the desired flavor and aroma.  The numbers then become minor details in the entire scope of things.  He allows the formation and density of the lingering bubbles (perlas) in his glass to be his signposts that he has succeeded.

 Balance Is Everything

Germán asserts that alcohol in tequila is not just about getting drunk.  He describes it as a necessary element in any tequila’s flavor profile.  In fact, he contends that mezcals, by and large, should be distilled at 45% ABV or higher to achieve its balance and to acquire its unique flavor profiles.

The key is finding the balance between the ABV and other elements of the highlands agave to bring about the nuances Germán demands for T1. That’s why Selecto is at one measure of ABV and Ultra Fino is at another. It has allowed him to produce two types of tequila for different

The full line of T1.
The full line of T1.

consumers–

The novice just beginning to explore tequila (Ultra Fino), and the collector or connoisseur (Selecto, Excepcional, Estelar) with more discerning tastes.  We encountered this technique at our tasting of Roca Patrón.  González has perfected this method into his own signature art form.

The Future

Germán González shares his global desires for T1.

Composer, artist, distiller–Germán González has elevated tequila into what it has always aspired to be–

A spirit worthy of the attention and appreciation of the masses throughout the world.

Whatever Germán’s next composition, be assured that it, too, will be a work of art, from his heart to yours.

 

Tequila Tapatío And The Source of Life

Welcome Back, Old Friend

On two separate occasions, Carlos Camarena, the third generation master distiller of El Tesoro de Don Felipe and the equally famous and classic Tequila Tapatío, stepped outside of Las Perlas mezcal and tequila bar in the heart of downtown Los Angeles to enjoy a cigarette.

Taking in the scenery of a chilly and overcast Sunday afternoon in early June, he witnessed the pursuit of a purse snatcher by LAPD, and then an attempted carjacking by another perpetrator while the police were arresting the purse snatcher!

Carlos smiled and shook his head.  Surrounded by movie cameras and flood lights outside the front entrance to Las Perlas, his only thought was…

Another average day in LA.

La Perla Tapatía

Once inside the rustic and darkly lit Las Perlas, one of the more complete tequila and mezcal bars in Los Angeles, one realized that the movie cameras weren’t there to record street crimes or another TV reality show.  They were there to film an historic event–

The triumphant entrance of  the iconic Tequila Tapatío into California and the rest of the United States.

The press wall.
The press wall.

Jeff Couch and Vaughn Halyard, the co-partners of Congenial Spirits, a nimble distributor focused on boutique, handcrafted spirits, and the chosen distributor for Tapatío, had the foresight to sense the importance of documenting its US premier, even adding a professional photographer and a press wall for that red carpet feeling.

The invitees, comprised of LA spirits industry professionals and mixologists, settled in and Raul Yrastorza, the general manager and curator of Las Perlas, began the introductions for this question and answer segment with the guests of honor.

The Charbay Connection

Producing wines, ports, liqueurs, aperitifs, vodkas, rums, and whiskies at the famed Charbay Winery & Distillery in St. Helena, CA, Marko Karakasevic is also the importer of Tapatío under his Marko K Spirits of California banner.

Marko, a bear of a man who looks more like a right tackle for the Oakland Raiders instead of a barely 40 year old 13th generation master distiller, jokingly explains:

“In a family of distillers, no fruit, no root, is safe.”

Here, Marko recounts his first meeting with Carlos Camarena that lead to his family being invited to distill its own brand of Charbay Tequila at La Alteña distillery.

Heads, Hearts & Tails

So what do master distillers talk about in the wee hours of the morning over endless tequila?  Distillation, of course!

Carlos Camarena and Marko Karakasevic tell the story of their awkward first encounter that turned into what can only be an enduring relationship based on mutual respect and admiration.

The Upside Down World of Agave Spirits

Carlos chuckled that Miles Karakasevic, Marko’s father, the retired 12th generation master distiller of Charbay, and he did not get along that evening.

Whenever Carlos tried to explain the physics and biochemistry of tequila distillation versus the distillation of other spirits, it was in complete contrast to Miles’ years of education.

Bullshit was uttered more than once.

“It’s not right!” exclaimed Marko.

Carlos discusses the upside down world of agave spirits distillation in depth…

Why Did It Take So Long To Get Here?

On my first visit to La Alteña in 2006, I asked Carlos what would happen if there was a sudden demand in El Tesoro de Don Felipe.  Would he be able to fill orders, or be forced to cut corners?

He declared that at any given time, he had approximately one million liters of tequila in storage to handle any spike in demand.  There would never be any need to cut corners and suffer a loss in quality.  No doubt, his policy also carried over to the Tapatío brand.

Here, Carlos demystifies his reasons for taking almost 76 years to bring Tapatío into the US market, and gives a bit of family history, as well.

During the course of the question and answer session, Congenial Spirits’ Vaughn and Jeff made sure that each of the Tapatío expressions were being served to the crowd in specially branded Tapatío shot glasses, starting with the 80 proof blanco and ending with the stellar Tapatío 110 proof.

Sipping it immediately brought back fond memories of my first trip to La Alteña and tasting this tequila directly from the still.

It hadn’t changed a bit.

Cocktail Hour

Drinks menu
Drinks menu

Once the Q & A ended, it was time to unleash the infinite possibilities that Tapatío 110 could provide.  Amanda Gunderson, Tapatío’s brand ambassador and designer of the evening’s drinks menu, wowed the crowd with her signature cocktails.

Names like Lolita Swizzle and La Alteña guaranteed that everyone in attendance would get a feel of what it would be like to visit Tapatío’s legendary distillery.  To say that these cocktails were lethally delicious would be an understatement.

La Alteña signature cocktail.
La Alteña signature cocktail.

Be aware that Tapatío 110 proof will not only shine in your cocktail and take you back to the Highlands of Jalisco, but it will sing to you for the rest of the evening.  Definitely, sip wisely.

The Source Of Life

Since many in attendance weren’t as well versed in the science of distillation as Carlos and Marko were, I asked Camarena how he would define distillation to a lay person.

Here’s what he had to say…

When Tequila Tapatío can be considered the source of life on this planet, there can be no such thing as just an average day in LA–or anywhere else, for that matter.

***

View more photos of this momentous event on our Facebook page here.

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