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Talking Tequila and Art with the CEO of Jose Cuervo

A rare and exclusive interview with Juan Domingo Beckmann on the eve of a special release...

In the 26 years Juan Domingo Beckmann has worked at Jose Cuervo, he’s seen tequila transform from the stuff of frozen margaritas to a sophisticated sipping spirit. Today, as chief executive officer of Casa Cuervo SA and the 11th generation of the family to own and operate the brand, he maintains its more-than-250-year legacy while also introducing limited editions and the company’s first mezcal. I spoke with Beckmann at the Cuervo estate, where he was celebrating the launch of the latest edition of Reserva de la Familia extra añejo.

 

Robb Report:  You’re the 11th generation of the Cuervo family to make tequila. Was it a given that you were going into the family business?

Juan Domingo Beckmann: I think they wanted me to be in the family business, but they didn’t push me to be there. At one time I started a chain of Mexican restaurants in Europe. I didn’t like it, so I sold my part and went into the family business. I realized after the restaurant experience that this is what I like. I love this business. When I was a kid, I used to work here in the summer, but that doesn’t count!

RR: You’ve seen the tequila industry change immensely.  How do you think it happened? 

JDB: Tequila has become an international premium spirit—as it should be—and this is just the beginning. The U.S., Mexico, and a little bit of the U.K. are starting to appreciate the super-premium tequilas—the diversity between white, reposado, añejo, and extra añejo; the different woods; the different regions. In the U.S. there’s a lot of sophistication now, especially in the big cities. This is just the beginning. In 20 or 30 years, tequila is going to be a very powerful category in spirits.

RR: When you drink tequila, which expression is your go-to?

JDB: My go-to is Reserva de la Familia extra añejo, because this is the pinnacle of my family’s collection. It’s very special to me because this is the tequila that, for generations, my family shared only with our extended family and special friends in our cellar in La Rojeña. In 1995 we decided to bottle it and share it with the world, and work with Mexican artists to adorn the box each year with their artwork. The marriage of two different barrel-finished extra añejo tequilas—American and French oak barrels—gives this spirit richness, depth, and a smoothness unlike any other.

RR: What makes a really magical extra añejo?

JDB: The wood cannot be too powerful. You have to keep the agave there, and not have the wood hiding the agave. It has to be nicely balanced. With Reserva de la Familia, you can still taste the agave.

RR: Do you have a favorite tequila cocktail?

JDB: I am a purist with tequila, and enjoy a glass of Reserva de la Familia over one large rock of ice with an orange peel, like a twist on an Old Fashioned. It enhances the flavors of the tequila without taking anything away. I’m also partial to a Jose Cuervo Tradicional Paloma cocktail for refreshment during the daytime.

RR: You just introduced Creyente, a mezcal.  What makes mezcal interesting?

JDB: Mezcal is growing, especially in Mexico City, but it’s still tiny. It’s a more difficult liquid because it’s like single malts that are more complex. We’re planting six or seven different types of agave to develop the mezcal further.

RR: Tell us about your collaboration with the Rolling Stones that released last week?

JDB: We first came to work with the Rolling Stones during their 1972 North American tour, which was known as the Tequila Sunrise Tour. The band discovered tequila during this time and fell in love with the Tequila Sunrise cocktail. We’re celebrating that with a very limited edition of our extra añejo. It comes in a guitar case. With collectors, I think it’s gonna fly. There will only be 150 bottles released around the world.

RR: What are your passions apart from tequila?

JDB: I collect contemporary art. In some ways, that’s how we started the Reserva de la Familia package. I wanted to help Mexican artists be shown around the world, and that’s why we created the box, where each year a different Mexican artist designs the outer box.

RR: How do you choose the artists?

JDB: Some artists I admire are Jerónimo López Ramírez, a talented tattoo artist who designed our 2011 edition; Mercedes Gertz was our first female artist whose design was on our 5th Anniversary box; Joel Rendón designed the box for our very first edition in 1995 and this is special to my family because this was the first time we shared this extra añejo tequila with the world. In our garden at the Hacienda Lázaro Gallardo next to La Rojeña in the town of Tequila, I’m proud to display our beautiful oversized sculptures by famed Mexican artist, Leonora Carrington.  However, I don’t collect just Mexican art. I also have pieces by notable artists from around the world, such as Yoshitomo Nara, Tom Sachs, Ed Ruscha and Keith Haring in my collection.

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