Most drinkers could be excused if they didn’t know about tequila producer El Tequileño, the recently named Agave Producer of the Year and the maker of the Best Tequila of the Year by the International Spirits Challenge (ISC). Known as “Mexico’s Best Kept Secret,” the venerable brand has spent the last 64 years turning out liquid that has built a cult following inside its homeland and has made it a must-have for any enthusiasts.
Part of what makes El Tequileño so unique is its roots. Founded by Don Jorge Salles Cuervo, a great-nephew of Jose Cuervo himself, the distillery has focused on perfecting its tequilas in the sunbaked highlands of Jalisco, Mexico. He was a pioneer in the use of autoclaves to cook agave to its optimal temperature and in introducing sustainability into the tequila industry. Working with the finest Blue Agave from Los Altos de Jalisco and mineral-rich volcanic spring water from El Voltan de Tequila, they have consistently turned out additive-free tequilas loaded with flavors.
These days, the family-owned El Tequileño produces its tequilas under the watchful eye of Master Distiller Jorge Antonio “Tony” Salles, the grandson of Don Jorge. Working out of the same distillery complex that his grandfather built in 1959, the third-generation distiller (his father, Juan Antonio Salles, was the second distiller) adheres to the traditions laid before him while pushing the boundaries of tequila.
“Our brand was named to honor the people of Tequila, and it quickly became a favorite among locals, even becoming the signature choice at La Capilla, a former World’s 50 Best bar, where El Tequileño is the house tequila and the only one used to make its iconic Batanga cocktail,” says Salles. “Since its creation over 64 years ago, we have gained a reputation for creating exquisite tequilas through our dedication to craft and quality.”
In recent years, El Tequileño has released several one-of-a-kind bottlings and expanded its lineup with new styles, including Cristalino and Reposado Rare (its own creation). One boundary breaker is it is The Sassenach Select. Made in conjunction with actor Sam Heughan The Sassenach Whiskey; it seeks to blend the worlds of whiskey and tequila. Aged for two years in American oak before finishing on French oak, its bold flavors garnered attention and accolades.
At the ISC, its Reposado Gran Reserva took home the top honors. At the same time, it’s Blanco and Platinum earned Double Gold medals. Those awards join ones from the numerous other events across its portfolio, including a gold in the USA Spirits Ratings 2023 for Reposado Rare, Wine Enthusiasts Top Spirits of 2022 for Añejo Gran Reserva, a master in the 2022 Global Spirits Masters Competition for Reposado, and Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
As to how they earned the nickname of “Mexico’s Best Kept Secret,” the answer is simple. They only expanded beyond their home country in the last decade. El Tequileńo was the bottle people tossed into their luggage to bring back home.
“Although we’ve been around since 1959, El Tequileño only began export in the last four years. In Jalisco, Mexico, the main tequila-producing region, El Tequileño has always been one of the most popular & respected tequila brands,” says Salles. “But since it was new to the US & other countries, we like to refer to it as “Mexico’s Best Kept Secret” due to the history and heritage that comes with the brand.”
Now distributed by Southern Glazer, one of the largest liquor distributors in the United States, El Tequileño is just starting to make its presence known in one of the most extensive tequila markets in the world. If it keeps racking up awards, the chances are in the not-too-distant future, it will become a bottle many more drinkers know about and ask for.