If you’ve had a drink in America, you’ve probably imbibed tequila at one point or another. Of the hundreds of millions of liters of the spirit produced yearly in Mexico, around 75 percent will end up in the United States. We love tequila here. And with that love should come a little bit of knowledge about what we’re drinking, how it’s made, and why it can be a transcendent alcohol experience (when done right).
Jesus Hernandez is just the master distiller to guide us on our tequila journey through the blue agave fields in the highlands of Jalisco, Mexico. Master Hernandez has been making tequila for over 20 years. He started out in the US at the Seagram’s plant, before hearing the siren call of his homeland. Hernandez took a chance and moved back to Mexico in the late 1990s to apply his hard-earned knowledge in the booze trade to making a great tequila from his home state. 20 years later, his baby, Altos Tequila, is one of the best tequilas on the market and is poised to become your favorite tequila too.
The tequila Jesus Hernandez makes in Arandas, Mexico is more than any one component. It’s a nuanced understanding of the dirt, the air, the plant, the process, and atmosphere, the wood, the yeasts, and the aroma and complexity that should be in every great glass of tequila. With Hernandez’s guidance, we too can learn what to look for in a great tequila. So let’s dive in.
You were living the Los Angeles area for 29 years before coming back to Mexico. How did that time in the US lead you into the world of tequila?
I’m originally from Jalisco from the Los Altos region. My family moved to California when I was 11. I started working in the industry in the manufacturing of spirits in California for Seagrams. When Seagrams decided to build a tequila distillery in the mid-90s, I became part of the engineering team to look for the site. Eventually, we started the construction and the company asked me to stay on and operate it.
So you have a lot of history with making tequila. Seagrams gave you a good education, so to speak?
I kind of feel that way, yes. I was there from the beginning, watched the distillery go up, being built. Being part of the engineering team was a very exciting, tremendous experience. And starting it out from scratch, putting together a team to operate it, making it happen was all a very big challenge.