Celebrity Tequila Brands and the Spirit’s Versatility Make a Compelling Combination

Tequila rocks at Hollywood events. Some prefer it neat. Nightlife entrepreneur Rande Gerber recommends his (with George Clooney) Casamigos brand on the rocks. Icy tequila can be refreshing and cinematic: the frozen margarita got its due in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s” brazen finale. Although there is a surplus of Piper-Heidsieck champagne for toasting, guests at the Oscars Governor’s Ball depend on sponsor Don Julio tequila to enhance the celebratory night.

Tequila’s rise as the spirit of choice in Hollywood has its origins in Los Angeles’ proximity to Mexico and embrace of Mexican cuisines and culture. Produced under strict government regulation in just five Mexican regions — predominantly Jalisco — the most sought-after tequilas are distilled from 100% Weber blue agave plants, which take five to 12 years to mature depending on where they are cultivated. Once ripened, the agave hearts are cooked and crushed; the extracted liquids ferment and then are distilled and aged for a minimum of 14 to 21 days, and up to several years. Today, there are approximately 1,300 brands of tequila in Mexico.

“It’s natural that tequila would root itself in Hollywood,” says Jon Taffer, bar and beverage entrepreneur, host and executive producer of Paramount Network’s “Bar Rescue.” The entertainment industry began its alignment with tequila distilleries in the mid-1990s when Sammy Hagar (of Van Halen fame) launched Cabo Wabo tequila (initially the house brand at his Cabo San Lucas, Mexico nightclub). More celebrities have backed the spirit, including Sean “Diddy” Combs (DeLeon), Justin Timberlake (Sauza901) and Gerber and Clooney’s Casamigos (served recently at the Art of Elysium and Sean Penn’s CORE Gala fundraisers).

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“We are seeing people drinking Casamigos that never drank tequila or mezcal (another agave-based spirit) before,” Gerber says, adding that the duo (along with their partner Mike Meldman) is authentically involved in every aspect of the brand and business.

Juan Martinez, beverage director at Santa Monica’s Socalo, the latest project from chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, placed 30 tequilas on the new restaurant’s menu. He lists both small-batch, artisan-made tequilas (Nosotros and Siete Leguas) and major brands familiar to customers (Patron). “Each distillery has different processes resulting in different flavor profiles,” he explains of the versatile liquor. Also impacting flavor is the agave’s origin: lowland tequilas tend to be dryer while highland-grown agave results in a somewhat sweeter spirit.

Bartenders and mixologists have done much to promote tequila’s various expressions. Basically, the time aged in oak barrels differentiates blanco, reposado, anejo and extra anejo tequilas; aged tequilas are recognizable for their golden hue. Luis Navarro, national brand ambassador for Jalisco-made El Tesoro (in production via traditional methods since 1937), says that today’s consumer is searching for brands “that have craftsmanship.” El Tesoro’s laborious processes may be old-fashioned (cooked agave is crushed using a two-ton lava stone) but result in “small-batch tequilas that are more complex,” says Navarro.

The demand for premium tequila continues to expand. Qui Platinum extra anejo tequila (available at the Chateau Marmont) is aged three years, filtered and distilled again for an extra-smooth finish.

Versatility is tequila’s hallmark: at Los Angeles’ Roger Room co-owner Jared Meisler mixes Cazadores blanco with aloe, St. Germain elderflowers liqueur, lime juice and a mezcal finish for the sprightly “El Gordo.”

Despite all the possible variations, the margarita remains the No. 1 cocktail in the U.S. At Petty Cash in Los Angeles, beverage director Shawn Lickliter explains how conscientiously crafted margaritas can be: two different orange liqueurs (Combier and Giffard) are blended along with blue agave syrup (infused with lemon and lime peels), then mixed with fresh lime and lemon juice and Pueblo Viejo blanco tequila resulting in a tart but memorably balanced margarita worthy of any occasion.

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