Inside a bar that sparkled like a delicate jewel box, New York mixologist Rael Petit whisked together a charcoal-colored cocktail that practically glowed against the backdrop of the 4,000 obsidian tiles that cover the walls.
I was in Casa Dragones’ reservations-only tasting room, a six-seat space in an unassuming corner of a hybrid retail/dining spot in this city northwest of Mexico City, at a celebration of the fall opening of the independent, small-batch tequila distiller’s newest venture.
If the thought of tequila makes you scrunch up your face at the thought of sugary mixes and limes, time to unscrunch. This spirit experience rivals the finest single-malt Scotch or the smoothest whiskey.
Casa Dragones’ commitment to innovation and craftsmanship — from the details etched into each bottle to the intricate mosaics of the tasting room — is what co-founder and Chief Executive Bertha González Nieves hopes consumers will remember.
“We want to elevate the experience of tequila wherever we go,” González Nieves said.
Bringing Mexico’s terroir into the tasting room is one way Casa Dragones does just that. Mexican designer Gloria Cortina sourced obsidian from the rich agave fields of Tequila, Jalisco, then carefully sized 4,000 tiles for the tasting room’s walls.
“Aztecs used obsidian for good energy and for health benefits. It is a rock that is a big part of Mexican culture,” González Nieves said.
A celebration of craftsmanship as the brand ethos is also evident in the production of Casa Dragones. Each crystal bottle is signed, numbered and hand-engraved by Mexican artisans who use a traditional technique called pepita.
For us, it’s one bottle at a time, and we never want that to change,” González Nieves said.
Only a few thousand bottles of Casa Dragones are created each year.
“We are in the business of taste, not volume,” González Nieves said.
Her reverence for tequila has strong roots. She spent a decade at Jose Cuervo in various jobs, including marketing, and she was certified as a maestra tequilera — a tequila master, by the Academia Mexicana de Catadores de Tequila, a title usually held by men and recognized by the Tequila Regulatory Council.
González Nieves co-founded Casa Dragones with Bob Pittman, MTV creator and chief executive of iHeartMedia Inc.
Their mission: “To deliver a product so smooth, it could only be called a sipping tequila,” she said.
How does the tequila become so smooth? Casa Dragones is made from individually selected blue agave plants on an estate about 4,000 feet above sea level in the west-central state of Jalisco.
The spirits are distilled multiple times with pure spring water that originates from the Tequila Volcano, which sits at about 9,500 feet.
The soil in the region is rich in silica and potassium, ideal for growing agave plants.
In 2009, Casa Dragones debuted Casa Dragones Joven (about $275), a small-batch, limited production, 100% blue agave sipping tequila. Joven is a rare blend of silver tequila with extra aged tequila that has rested in new American oak barrels for five years.
Five years later, it expanded its collection with Casa Dragones Blanco (about $75), a 100% pure blue agave silver tequila that served as the brand’s first product meant to be enjoyed in cocktails or on the rocks.
Since its inception, Casa Dragones has been well received. Oprah Winfrey consistently included it among her favorite things. She called Blanco “dangerously smooth” and included it in her 2014 holiday gift guide.
“Tequila has all the history and credentials of other spirits,” González Nieves said. Casa Dragones appears to be taking its place in the world.