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17 Essential Bottles of Tequila [Timeline]

With countless agave species to choose from, Blue Weber has been the one and only genus to be used in tequila distillation. In spite of that, the tequila space has evolved tremendously over the years. From blancos to the introduction of barrel-aged expressions and Curado infusion techniques — and producers are still finding new ways to push the envelope and experiment with different elements of terroir to set their products apart from the competition.

Now, agave spirits make up the second-best-selling spirit category in the country behind vodka. It’s also still growing, flooded with both celeb-endorsed brands (some good, some not so much), nightclub-ready expressions with flashy bottle designs, brands focusing on rustic distillation techniques, and family-run operations passed down from generation to generation. But within the agave fray, a few expressions and distilleries have cemented themselves in the tequila canon, whether they were harbingers of the movement or just a damn good distillate.

From Cuervo to Cabo Wabo, from the Don Julio dynasty to the Camarenas, here’s a timeline of some of the most notable tequila milestones and bottle releases over the years.

1775: The Hacienda Corralejo Becomes the First Commercial Tequila Producer in Mexico

Although tequila production in Mexico predates the 1700s, Guanajuato’s Hacienda Corralejo became the first estate to produce tequila as a commercial venture in 1775. Given its legacy and the fact that it was founded before laws were put in place to regulate tequila production, it is one of the few operations permitted to make tequila outside of Jalisco.

Bottle: Corralejo Silver

1852: Jose Cuervo Is the First Tequila Imported to the U.S.

In 1852, at the height of the Gold Rush, the first barrels of tequila crossed over the border into the U.S. The brand was Jose Cuervo, and the stock was shipped from the western Mexican town of San Blas up to California. Jose Cuervo went on to snag a few more firsts in tequila history, including being the first brand to register a U.S. trademark in 1933 and the first to launch a major ad campaign in 1955.

Bottle: Jose Cuervo Especial Silver

1937: La Alteña Distillery Is Founded by Don Felipe Camarena

The legendary Camarena family’s history with tequila dates back to 1819 when they became the first people to plant Blue Weber agave plants in Arandas, Mexico. In the late 1800s, Pedro Camarena Ramírez founded the first tequila distillery in the area, but it tragically burned down during the Mexican Revolution.

Buty the late 1930s, the Camarenas had regained their footing. The end of the decade saw the founding of El Gallito distillery — the current production facility for Cazadores — by Pedro Camarena III as well as La Alteña distillery and its flagship brand Tapatio by Don Felipe Camarena. His grandson, Carlos, is currently the master distiller at La Alteña, which now also serves as the site of production for El Tesoro and Tequila Ocho.

Bottle: Tapatio Blanco 110

1942: Don Julio González Starts His Distilling Journey

These days, the name Don Julio is virtually synonymous with tequila. The household brand’s journey began in 1942, when 17-year-old Don Julio González had just started making tequila to share with his family and friends in the Jalisco Highlands. His passion grew, and years later González’s sons created a tequila for his 60th birthday in his honor. In 1987, the Don Julio brand was officially launched to market.

Bottle: Don Julio Blanco

1974: A Reposado Hits the American Market

It’s alleged that in the 1950s, Bing Crosby fell in love with Herradura tequila while staying at the Hotel Riviera del Pacífico in Mexico. In 1974 — the same year Tequila became an AOC — the brand debuted its 100-percent agave, 11-month-aged reposado. The expression introduced the world to aged tequila and the U.S. to pure tequila, as the nation had mostly just imported mixtos (which only requires 51.5 agave in the build). A year later, Phil Harris and Bing Crosby acquired the U.S. distribution rights for the brand and started selling it in California and a few neighboring states. Crosby’s move to promote a reposado (instead of the clear spirits taking off at the time) was arguably the first instance of celebrity endorsement of premium tequila — or tequila at all for that matter.

Bottle: Herradura Reposado

1983: Premium Tequila Makes a Name for Itself Stateside

Although Herradura was an early purveyor of premium tequila, pure, high-quality agave spirits really caught attention stateside in the ‘80s. After being blown away by a tequila he tried at a private gentlemen’s club in Mexico, photographer, journalist, and advertising specialist Robert Denton and his partner Marilyn Smith began importing Chinaco tequila from the González family’s (not of Don Julio lineage) Tequilera la Gonzaleña in 1983. According to spirits writer Aaron Goldfarb, the Chinaco 4 Year Añejo was the first tequila with an age statement, and Smith would serve it to guests in a brandy snifter.

Bottle: Chinaco Tequila Añejo

1988: El Tesoro de Don Felipe Becomes a Grailed Collection of Aged Tequilas

Early on in their tequila journey, Denton and Smith were told to check out the Camarena family’s La Alteña Distillery by their friend Nicholas Faith, a British journalist and spirits writer. After a successful meeting with master distiller Carlos, Denton and Smith teamed up with the Camarenas to launch El Tesoro de Don Felipe in 1988, honoring the since-deceased founder of La Alteña in its name. Although añejos weren’t yet hugely popular, Denton insisted on pursuing aged tequilas with the new venture. The story goes that Carlos and Smith would taste through barrels for hours on end, trying to craft perfect blends. Denton and Smith got out of the business in 1999, but now, bottles from their prime era (known by vintage spirits collectors as El Tesoro White Label or simply ETWL) are highly coveted on the vintage market. Even though extra añejo didn’t officially become a legal category until 2006, many argue that the style was coined in 1994 with the release of El Tesoro Paradiso, which is aged for five years in ex-Cognac casks. El Tesoro is still produced at La Alteña, but the brand has since been acquired by Beam-Suntory.

Bottle: El Tesoro Paradiso

1989: Patrón Hits the Scene and Becomes a Nightclub Staple

The bourbon glut of the ‘80s and ‘90s can be largely attributed to Americans flocking to clear spirits at the time— most notably tequila. Consequently, a bunch of premium brands started hitting the market, and bottles boasting 100 percent agave started to be of value to stateside consumers.

Chicano and El Tesoro definitely helped the states develop a taste for premium tequila, but the spirit was adopted as a luxury nightlife staple when Patrón hit the scene in 1989. The brand launched when Francisco Alcaraz, a chemical engineer who played an integral role helping the Mexican government establish tequila as an AOC, was hired as master distiller by friends and Patrón co-founders John Paul Dejoria and Martin Crowley. With Alcaraz, the team developed a house style and Patróns iconic, square bottle design. With numbered glass bottles and deft advertising techniques, the brand was able to establish itself as a luxury spirit.

Bottle: Patrón Silver

1996: Sammy Hagar Starts the First Celebrity Tequila Brand

The staggering number of celebrity-owned tequila brands today has made the concept somewhat of a meme — an all-too-predictable move for any celebrity with a considerable amount of public influence. But long before Casamigos and 818, rockstar Sammy Hagar became a pioneer of sorts with the launch of Cabo Wabo tequila, the first official celebrity tequila.

Hagar’s journey began in the mid-’80s when he started frequenting the town of Cabo. There, he allegedly developed a taste for 100-percent agave tequila one day while furniture shopping. In 1990, he opened his first Cabo Wabo bar and concert venue location, and six years later — a mere two years after the CRT (Consejo Regulador del Tequila) was established — he founded Cabo Wabo tequila. The brand was acquired by Gruppo Campari for $100 million in 2008.

Bottle: Cabo Wabo Blanco

2002: Don Julio 1942 Becomes the First Unicorn Tequila

To mark the 60th anniversary of its founder’s beginnings in tequila-making, Don Julio rolled out Don Julio 1942 in 2002. The two-and-a-half-year añejo and its near foot-and-a-half-tall bottle (an homage to the agave plant’s tall leaves) captured the hearts and palates of American celebrities — and eventually the general public — along with the brand’s deft marketing strategies. Plus, the liquid in the bottle isn’t too bad, either.

Unlike other highly sought-after spirits like Pappy Van Winkle, 1942 is now somewhat easy to obtain. While retailers have claimed they can barely keep up with demand, as of 2021, the brand was pumping out over 200,000 cases of the stuff. At $150 per bottle, it’s no small feat that Don Julio 1942 has become one of the best-selling tequilas in the U.S.

Bottle: Don Julio 1942

2005: The First Tequila Brand to Achieves Bourbon-Level Collector Status Is Founded

Fortaleza’s history dates back to 1873 when Don Cenobio founded La Perseverancia distillery in Jalisco. According to the brand, he was the first to implement the use of steam to cook agave, as opposed to the tradition of burning wood in an earthen pit. After a few site changes, La Fortaleza distillery was established in the ‘60s. It shut down in 1968, but rebuilding began in 1999, and fifth-generation family descendant Guillermo Erickson Sauza started making tequila the same way it was made there over 100 years ago, with much of the same equipment.

The Fortaleza brand launched in 2005, and by the mid-2010s, it had become a darling of the American bartender community. The brand’s still-strength offering, which debuted in 2017, is particularly coveted. The expression is released in limited quantities, and typically commands a price triple or quadruple that of its MSRP.

Bottle: Tequila Fortaleza Blanco (Still Strength)

2009: Casa Dragones Is Founded by the First Maestra Tequilera

Many women have worked in the tequila business for centuries, but Casa Dragones co-founder and CEO Bertha González Nieves was the first to be named a Maestra Tequilera by the Academia Mexicana de Catadores de Tequila (Mexican Academy of Tequila Tasters).

After spending over 10 years as an executive for Grupo Jose Cuervo, Nieves teamed up with MTV co-founder Bob Pittman to launch Casa Dragones in 2009. The brand advertises its products as “sipping tequilas” and utilizes agave grown in rich volcanic soil. In May 2010, the L.A. Times Magazine dubbed Nieves the “First Lady of Tequila.”

Bottle: Casa Dragones Joven

2008: The First Cristalino Is Released

For those unaware, cristalino, which translates to “crystalline” in Spanish, refers to oak-aged tequila (either reposado, añejo, extra añejo, or a blend) that’s been filtered with charcoal to give it a crystal-clear color and a texture comparable to blanco. In 2008, the Maestro Dobel brand released the first-ever cristalino tequila, Diamante, a blend of reposado, añejo, and extra añejo tequilas crafted by Juan-Domingo “Dobel” Beckmann with the help of Tequila Maestros Marco Anguiano and Luis Yerenas. Given that cristalino is a relatively new category and not officially recognized by the CRT, many bottlings go under a number of aliases. Four years after Diamante’s initial release, Don Julio 70 hit the market, becoming the first cristalino made exclusively with añejo tequila.

Bottle: Maestro Dobel Diamante

2012: El Pandillo Distillery Is Constructed

2012 marked another historic year for the Camarenas, as it was the year Felipe Camarena built El Pandillo distillery in Jalisco’s Jesús María. There, Felipe still oversees production of tequila brands Volans, Terralta, and, most notably, G4.

Felipe and his sons, Luis Felipe and Alan, represent the fourth generation of Camarenas to carry the torch in the family’s line of tequila producers, hence the G4 title. Every tequila produced at El Pandillo is made with pure rain, spring, and deep well water sourced on site, and crafted to the high standards upheld by Felipe.

More recently, El Pandillo has become the production site for Primo 1861, the brainchild of Felipe and his nephew Pedro Camarena VI. The brand launched in 2022, and pays homage to the birth year of Pedro Camarena Ramírez and the original Camarena distillery in Arandas.

Bottle: G4 Tequila Blanco

2013: The Estes and Camarena Families Introduce Curado to the World

Many brands, like Fortaleza, have made tried-and-true traditional techniques their cornerstones. After all, with only one agave species to choose from and strict rules set in place by the CRT, experimentation in the category is limited. However, there are some distilleries that have successfully coined new techniques and processes that push the boundaries of what tequila can be. Enter Curado, an extension of the Tequila Ocho brand launched in 2013 by Carlos Camarena and the late Thomas Estes. Curado tequilas are produced via a process (inspired by pulque and fruit infusions) in which blanco tequila is infused with different species of roasted agave by submerging the plant in the distillate.

The first release used only Blue Weber agave from start to finish, but subsequent bottlings implemented other agave species in the final step. Estes and Camarena even got special permission from the CRT to do so and still label the product as certified blanco. The Curado process has since been adopted by other producers, like San Francisco-based brand Kokoro Spirits.

Bottle: Curado Tequila Blanco (Blue Agave)

2015: Enrique Fonseca Releases the World’s Longest-Aged Tequila

Extra añejo went into overdrive in 2015 when Tequila Fuenteseca released its Reserva Extra Añejo 21 Year expression. Although many distillers shy away from aging tequila for double-digit stretches of time, master distiller Enrique Fonseca crafted this spirit with the goal of making the world’s longest-aged tequila — and he succeeded. The tequila was produced in copper double-column stills and aged in a combination of Canadian rye whisky barrels and California white wine barrels for 21 years.

Bottle: Fuenteseca Reserva Extra Añejo 21 Year

2019: Don Julio’s Grandson Starts His Own Venture

While extra añejos with jaw-dropping age statements are highly sought after, there are some distilleries that make crafting blancos their expertise. One example is Lalo Tequila, a brand founded by Jim McDermott, David Rodriguez, and Don Julio’s grandson Eduardo “Lalo” González. After distilling and distributing tequila locally in Guadalajara, the brand officially launched in 2019 with headquarters based in Austin. Five years later, and the brand still swears by only making blanco expressions that stay true to the spirit of Blue Weber agave.

Bottle: LALO Tequila Blanco

*Image retrieved from Fidel Fernando via

The article 17 Essential Bottles of Tequila [Timeline] appeared first on VinePair.

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