May 2010

Bringing Home the Silver with Jose Cuervo

By: Natalie Bovis

Editor's note: In the print edition of this story, we regrettably neglected to credit our excellent photographer, Maria Schriber, who is equally adept at capturing spirits brands and the people who work with them. Lovely job as usual, Maria!  

"We do more tequila than anyone else in the country," says Herb Lizalde, owner of Old Town Mexican Cafe in San Diego.

The van bounces along a dirt path off a small road in the countryside of Jalisco, and our little group is gaily recounting the previous night's adventures in Guadalajara, fueled by tequila cocktails and some crazy blue Mexican energy drink. Rows of giant aloe-looking plants stretch out to meet the horizon on the other side of each window. I've written about and worked on tequila- and mezcal-based concoctions for years, yet this is the first time I've seen actual Mexican blue agave face to face. I'm more than a little thrilled.

We stop in a clearing between rolling hills dotted with the succulent plants, which are more closely related to the lily than to the cactus. Like school kids on a field trip, we pile out and take turns flinging our arms around sombrero-wearing jimadores (agave harvesters) and mug for our respective cameras. A burro, tethered by a rope to a wooden pole kicks up the dust, silently musing at yet another vanload of gringos keen to learn about his land's native spirit.

We've come to partake in the spectacular celebrations surrounding the release of this year's Reserva de la Familia, Jose Cuervo's high-end, small-batch tequila, and also to be among the first Americanos to enjoy Jose Cuervo Tradicional Silver, which is about to launch in the United States. But first we are getting a lesson on how tequila is made.

Proud Tradition

Notepads and cameras in hand, we gather around an agave as tall as the jimador, who proceeds to slice off its long arms with a machete. Once the bulbous piña, or heart of the agave plant (so named because of its resemblance to a pineapple), is freed of its appendages and dug out of the earth, the jimador slices it open and gives us a taste of the fibrous meat inside-not unlike taking a bite of a crisp apple or unripe pear. Traditionally, the piñas were carried by donkey to the distillery, several miles away.

We are lucky enough to continue in the air-conditioned van to the magnificent production house, led by ten generations of family members since Jose Cuervo himself founded the company in 1795. We are shown the entire process of tequila-making, from the roasting and pressing of the piñas to fermentation and distillation. All of which, of course, is observed with chili-and-salt-rimmed Tequila & Tamarind cocktails in hand.
Silver Lining.
Summer fun: a trio of Tradicional Silver cocktails from Playa Grill and Margarita Bar (left to right): The Eldorita, The Rubyrita, The Vanillarita.
Jose Cuervo's line of silver tequilas is at the core of the brand's shimmering image with consumers and bar professionals alike. While Jose Cuervo Especial Silver appeals to a demographic that is looking to celebrate a night out with a quick shot or a flavorful Margarita, Jose Cuervo Platino (released in 2008) is a smooth yet powerful ultra-premium silver that has received the highest rating for silver tequila in the world. Jose Cuervo Tradicional Silver is a middle ground for the discerning reveler—equally at home as a shot or in a cocktail.  

Made the traditional way, as it has been for the last 200 years, Tradicional Silver is double-distilled in small batches derived from 100% blue agave grown on the company's sprawling estate. Marked by a fresh earthiness-snap peas and green apple, with a hint of baked raisins-it lends itself to a refreshing sip over ice, or mixed in a traditional Paloma (tequila and grapefruit juice, or tequila and lemon-lime soda with a squeeze of lime).

Cuervo Tradicional Reposado—already available in the U.S.—is aged in white oak barrels. Hints of baked sweet potato with lingering black pepper make it a natural for a traditional Margarita. Both Silver and Reposado are bottled in the original tall, slim Jose Cuervo bottle with a cork closure, and individually numbered.

Savvy Marketing
American consumers will be introduced to the new Tradicional Silver via on-premise sampling events and an active radio campaign. Tradicional Reposado has been heavily involved with promoting Mexican-American pride by sponsoring the Mexican national soccer team, and the new Silver will focus on backing the U.S. Men's Soccer team in the upcoming World Cup.

Meanwhile, the live, interactive CuervoGames tour kicked off in April, and will travel to 20 cities around the United States, in 2010. Structured like a mini summer Olympics, the CuervoGames are comprised of five challenges: Waterfall Climb, Agave Air Walk, Tahona Tumble, Barrel Roll and, of course, a Cocktail Mix-Off.

In each city, adults of legal drinking age can register via Facebook ( and gather votes from Facebook friends. The three teams with the most votes will be eligible for the regional finals, and up to 20 walk-on teams are also eligible in each location. In select markets, participants will be able to go up against a "Cuervo Contender," a well-known celebrity or sports figure participating in the campaign. The winning team from each city will head to Las Vegas for the national finals.
Tradicional Silver, the latest expression of silver tequila from Jose Cuervo, in a Margarita from Casa de Vega in San Diego.
It may not be a ride on a donkey or a photo opp with a machete-wielding jimador, but the CuervoGames are a dynamic way for tequila lovers to get actively involved with the brand, be among the early Tradicional Silver adopters, and mark their own spot in tequila history.

Silver Revival at Mexico DF

Nico Olguin, General Manager at Mexico DF in San Francisco, remembers Cuervo Tradicional Silver as the blanco preferred by the movie stars of his childhood. And like many spirits that are now experiencing a revival, it has been born again.
Spirited revival: Nico Olguin at Mexico DF.
Over the course of the past three years, Olguin had not been shy about urging Cuervo to re-release the product. His persistence was finally rewarded. "Cuervo has everything it takes to makes the best products," Olguin says, "and we're thrilled that Tradicional Silver is back. Naturally, it's our choice for the well at Mexico DF."

The restaurant, which offers upscale street food like the signature Suadero taco and places an emphasis on natural meats and locally-sourced produce, caters to a vibrant crowd of 21- to 35-year-olds from the neighboring Financial District and also draws a convention and tourist clientele. Olquin stocks more than 40 ultra premium tequilas in his bar and sets a high standard for his house Margarita, made using Cuervo Tradicional Silver and freshly-batched sweet and sour and served up for $8 and $10.
—Deborah Parker Wong

An Homage to Authenticity at El Norte

It's a bustling Thursday afternoon at the El Norte Liquor Store in Escondido, 30 miles north of San Diego, and owner Zee Hanna is busily helping customers, answering phone calls and overseeing a large incoming shipment. When THE TASTING PANEL arrives, Hanna is swamped, but there's no need to point us in the right direction because we couldn't miss the generously stocked and decorated display housing the Cuervo brand; it's clear that in this retail house, Curevo is king.

"We've sold 30 cases of the Cuervo Tradicional Silver in the past six months," Hanna says. "It's selling a lot better than other new products." Hanna rattles off several factors in the silver success: Price, quality, authenticity and the Cuervo name. "The price is really good and the quality is really good," remarks Hanna.

In a neighborhood with a large Hispanic community, Hanna also finds that the Tradicional Silver's crisp, classic taste has also helped drive sales. "Of course, everyone knows Cuervo," he explains, "but the Hispanic community chooses the Tradicional rather than the Cuervo Gold because they love how authentic it is."
Rachel Burkons
Authentic smile: Zee Hanna, owner of El Norte Liquor Store.

South of the Border Spirit at Hacienda de Vega

Cocktail success: Brandon Hazelrig from Hacienda de Vega mixes the bar's Margarita del Señor.
Walking into Hacienda de Vega feels like walking into a time machine transporting you back into a historic Mexican past, complete with sparkling fountains, lush rolling lawns, adobe walls and the wafting savory smells of authentic culinary fare. Built in the 1930s as the model home for an adobe housing community, for the past seven years, this sprawling property has been channeling the concept of a family restaurant in Mexico City, and putting it to action just north of San Diego's booming downtown.

But Hacienda de Vega's not just a family-friendly place to grab a quick bite; tucked in the back of the estate is the restaurant's River Lounge, a chic, modern take on an outdoor bar that manages to be equal parts sophisticated and comfortable—and just begs to be enjoyed with a Margarita. "There were no high-end, high-quality venues in North County," explains owner Alonso Vega, a native of Mexico City and who's mother, Patricia, turns out the restaurant's signature dishes from old family recipes.

"The River Lounge is the perfect place to get a great drink without having to go all the way downtown," says Vega. One of the restaurant's top-selling drinks is the Margarita del Señor, made with Cuervo Tradicional Silver, which Vega believes is key to this cocktail's success. "Cuervo is a very old brand that's got great brand recognition, and the Tradicional is reflective of that," Vega attests. "It's a tangy tequila, and dry. It goes very well with fruit flavors of the lime in the sweet and sour, and it's balanced and mixable."
R. B.

Summer Kickoff at Emerald Spirits

"Tequila has come a long way from what it used to be," says Chris McInerney, owner of Emerald Spirits in San Diego, a bright and airy liquor store that carries a noticeably impressive spirits selection-and there's certainly plenty of tequila to go around. "The 100% agave market has escalated everyone's palate, and brands are stepping up." McInerney points to his crisp, perfectly-packed Cuervo display. "Cuervo has fit that bill perfectly. They're always changing, always adapting to the market-that's why they're the leader."

The Cuervo tradition of excellence may be propelling Tradicional Silver to the top, but McInerney knows that it takes more than a brand name to make a bestselling product. "It's new and it's fresh, and the marketing push has been great and really helped draw in a younger crowd," he explains. McInerney has been selling about three cases per month, but knows that with summer right around the corner, Tradicional Silver is about to skyrocket.

"It's got so much appeal and I expect to see a lot of growth coming into summer months, kicking off with Cinco de Mayo."
R. B. 

Always be prepared: Chris McInerney, owner of San Diego's Emerald Spirits knows that sales of Tradicional Silver will skyrocket during the summer month.

The Tradition of Tradición at Old Town Mexican Cafe

Margarita central: Bartender moves cocktail after cocktail at Old Town Mexican Cafe in San Diego.
Old Town Mexican Cafe is open and already bursting with energy at 9 a.m., which isn't too surprising, considering this favorite has been pleasing palates in this fun San Diego neighborhood for the past 33 years. The man responsible for the success of this hotspot is Herb Lizalde, the affable owner, who is busy securing permits for the restaurant's annual Cinco de Mayo bash when THE TASTING PANEL arrives. Although Cinco de Mayo is big deal at Old Town, every day feels a bit like a fiesta at this happening eatery, where customers can watch tortillas made by hand, and waitresses glide around in long traditional Mexican skirts.

But with two bars serving up Margarita after Margarita, there's no doubt that the high-turnover beverage program is what this place is all about. "We do more tequila than anyone else in the country," explains Lizalde, and it's not just hot air. With shots and Margaritas like The Chevy (Cuervo Tradicional Silver, sweet and sour, a dash of orange juice and a Grand Marnier float-who needs a Cadillac, anyway?) flying off the backbar, Lizalde has also had a key vantage point to pay attention to tequila trends.
"Silver tequilas are getting so much better," Lizalde muses; "I'm loving that they're not harsh like they used to be, and you can have a nice little sip, and acclimate your palate."

Cuervo has always been a popular seller at Old Town, and Lizalde has welcomed the Tradicional Silver with open arms. "It's a great tequila," he says without hesitation. "Tradicional is the one that you can use every day, and it's perfect in the Chevy; just a great cocktail for the average working stiff."
R. B.

A Twist on Tradición at Playa Grill

As Adam Boyar stands behind the bar at Playa Grill and Margarita Bar in San Diego's Mission Valley neighborhood, it's easy to see that this is a man who loves his job. With a playful glint in his eye, the Bar Manager at this newly-opened urban eatery skillfully wraps an orange rind around a caramelized vanilla bean, the perfect accoutrement for one of his three signature Cuervo Tradicional Silver cocktails, the Navillarita.

Boyar, who embodies the spirit and fun of mixology in all of his innovative cocktails, is loyal to the Cuervo brands because they share his dedication to providing a quality cocktail to the consumer. "Cuervo has the name that everybody recognizes, and now their higher-end stuff is becoming noticed and respected. Tradicional Silver can stand up to the best; it's phenomenal."
R. B.


1½ oz. Cuervo Tradicional Silver infused with vanilla bean
1 oz. Navan vanilla liqueur
3 oz. house-made sweet and sour

Rim with sugar. Garnish with a caramelized vanilla bean wrapped with an orange twist.

Work as play: Adam Boyar, Bar Manager of Playa Grill and Margarita Bar, obviously loves his job.


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