Read enough modern booze books and you end up stumbling upon the same little factoid over and over again: legendary entertainer Bing Crosby was the man responsible for introducing 100 percent agave tequila to America when he began to import Herradura, sometime in the mid-1950s.

This statement, usually just a single line, typically referring to Crosby as a “crooner,” is repeated in countless spots: in acclaimed books from top spirits journalists, in serious works of tequila scholarship like Chantal Martineau’s “How the Gringos Stole Tequila,” in innumerable garden variety cocktail books, in a piece of content on this venerable site, and even in a novel, Greg Kihn’s “Big Rock Beat,” in which a movie producer and his director take shots of “Hera Dora tequila” (sic) in an on-set trailer in 1967.

“That’s smooth shit, Sol,” says the director.

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“Imported by Phil Harris and Bing Crosby,” replies the producer.

But was any of this even true?

None of these books offer any citations or origin stories except a Mobius Strip of references back to each other. And, tequila is not mentioned in Crosby’s lengthy New York Times obituary, nor in his Wikipedia page as of this writing.

Hollywood and Tequila

Forget George Clooney, sorry to tell ya’ Sammy, gimme a break, Elon, but the celebrity love affair with tequila dates all the way back to Prohibition.

Though tequila is not mentioned in pretty much all of the dozens of biographies on the man, there are two references to it in Crosby’s 1953 “as told to” biography “Call Me Lucky.” He talks of beginning to garner fame as a singer in the late-1920s and, like many Hollywood elites were wont to do during Prohibition, heading across the border for vices on his days off. Crosby would typically plant himself at Agua Caliente, an opulent gaming resort that sprung up in Tijuana in 1928, and party hard until he had to return to the States.

“What with driving about one hundred and fifty miles each way and playing roulette, golf, and the races and belting a little tequila around, come Tuesday, when I stood or swayed in front of a microphone, my pipes were shot,” Crosby recounts.

A few years later, Crosby starred in “Going Hollywood” (1933), playing a crooner “with faults” who struggles in his relationship with an infatuated school teacher played by Marion Davies.

Even though Herradura was hardly the first tequila on the U.S. market, Crosby was trying to push it as the first “sipping” tequila to reach the States.

“I’d gone to Tijuana to get away from it all,” Crosby writes of the movie’s plot. “There I’d gone on a tequila diet.” In one famous scene, a drunk, weepy Crosby sings a haunting song called “Temptation” to a glass of tequila. “Through trick photography, a dame’s face appeared in the glass of tequila,” he recalls. “Then, at the end of the song, I flung the glass at the wall and staggered out into the night.” (Not exactly true, but close enough.)

Clearly, Crosby and many of his border-crossing cronies saw more in tequila than just a down-on-your-luck sedative. Unlike most Americans of this era who had surely never even seen a bottle of tequila in person — Jose Cuervo would first get imported to America in 1937 — Hollywood types like Crosby actually drank it and enjoyed it.

It is reported that Crosby was first introduced to Herradura tequila in the 1950s at Hotel Riviera del Pacífico. Another Prohibition-era-built club, this one was located on Ensenada beach, and is one of many purported birthplaces of the Margarita. By then, Crosby was perhaps the biggest celebrity in America, a superstar of stage, radio, and screen.

Why Crosby fell for Herradura was never reported on during his lifetime. Maybe its horseshoe logo — a literal translation of the brand name — captured the imagination of Crosby, a noted enthusiast of racehorses. More likely, it was the best tequila he had ever tasted. Back then it was made using traditional hornos and tahona at an 1870-built stone hacienda with cobblestone floors.

“The ovens where the piñas are cooked are not metal but adobe strengthened with agave fiber — so that the flavor will not be affected by anything foreign,” wrote Texas Monthly in September 1975. “It is generally regarded as the best tequila made anywhere.”

The Thinking and the Drinking

Like many celebrity booze mavens of this era, it’s also possible Crosby had no real passion for tequila and just saw a great business opportunity. He was one of the first celebrities to use his fame for entrepreneurial purposes, investing in real estate, oil wells, cattle ranches, thoroughbreds, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the music and television industry itself. He was no stranger to the beverage world either, an early shareholder and West Coast distributor of Minute Maid, the first fresh orange juice concentrate on the market.

After decades of drinking tequila on his forays to Mexico, it’s said that Crosby saw the viral sensation that had become the Tequila Sunrise — well known as the the Rolling Stones’ favorite cocktail on their 1972 American tour — and thought he could get a little piece of the action by recommending Minute Maid be the mixer used in it.

There’s more evidence, however, that Crosby was no mere opportunist, and actually had developed a strong passion for and knowledge of good tequila over the years. He even took the time to write a letter to the editors of Rolling Stone magazine after they published a feature about tequila, praising parts of the story, while politely disputing a few points of technical accuracy in regard to what is labeled añejo tequila.

Nevertheless, despite the constantly repeated modern refrain that Crosby introduced Herradura in the 1950s — in most publications stated as 1955 — I find absolutely no evidence of that.

A June 1975 edition of Lloyd’s Mexican Economic Report reports that Crosby and Harris — Crosby’s longtime fishing, golfing, and drinking buddy and an Oscar winner — had acquired the exclusive U.S. distribution rights for Herradura. The report notes that Herradura would ship its tequila directly from its plant in Amatitlan, Jalisco, to the Crosby-Harris Import Company in San Francisco. It was to be sold in California and a few neighboring states in the Southwest.

By March of 1976, both the Los Angeles Times and Time magazine reported on a $10,000 private press event, thrown by Crosby and Harris, in celebration of the launch of their import business. Held at the tony Bel-Air Hotel, the high-class event — no “weenies on toothpicks,” joked Crosby — was also attended by boldface names of the day like Mexican film actor Ricardo Montalban.

Crosby, 75 by then, thought his deal with Harris was a natural partnership, telling the Los Angeles Times: “Phil has been known to take a drink from time to time. I’ll do the thinking he’ll do the drinking. If he does half as much for Herradura as he’s done for Jack Daniels over the years, we’re in.” While Harris joked that this will give him a better excuse to hang around bars, “checking sales.”

More Tequila Than in Tequila

This was no sure thing, however. In many ways, Crosby and Harris were entering as crowded a marketplace as a celebrity tequila maven would face today. In fact, by 1975, the U.S. was already importing some 2.1 million cases of tequila per year and 250 different brands, though it is true that most, if not all, was mixto like Jose Cuervo. (Mixto, a blend of agave and other sugars, is first legally defined in 1964, then requiring at least 70 percent agave; by 1970 only 51.5 percent agave was required, still the mixto standard today.)

Starting in 1972, tequila became the fastest-growing spirit in America, buoyed by the booming Mexican restaurant and fast food businesses that were starting to populate the country. By then, production had ramped up so much in the tequila industry, up to 4.2 million liters per year, that Herradura executive Guillermo Romo de la Pena was fretting, telling the The New York Times that year, “That is more tequila than the entire Tequila region could possibly produce.”

(This does beg the question: If Crosby was already importing it by then, why wouldn’t this fact be mentioned in such a lengthy article?)

“Up until the early ’80s, a lot of people didn’t bother to put 100 percent agave on their brands.”

To be fair, even though Herradura was hardly the first tequila on the U.S. market, Crosby was trying to push it as the first “sipping” tequila to reach the States — the top-of-the-line Herradura Gold retailed at $13 a fifth (around $70 in today’s money), some $4 over the price of every other tequila out there. Crosby advised drinking it neat alongside a Sangrita, a non-alcoholic chaser of hot sauce, salt, grenadine, and orange juice. Crosby now recommended using Sunkist, having by then sold his 20,000 shares in Minute Maid for a small fortune.

Even in 1976, well ahead of his time, Crosby was trying to differentiate his brand from everything else out there. He claimed Herradura used agave that had matured for 10 to 13 years. He noted that Herradura was the only tequila bottled at still strength (92 proof) and claimed the first and only añejo on the American marketplace. Most importantly, he touted Herradura as being “the only tequila certified by the Mexican government as being made with 100 percent blue agave.”

Was this, in fact, true?

“Well, we don’t really know because here’s the reason: Up until the early ’80s, a lot of people didn’t bother to put 100 percent agave on their brands,” says Robert Denton, who truly brought 100 percent agave tequila to prominence in America when he began importing Chinaco and El Tesoro in the 1980s.

Still, Crosby knew what he had was special, thought he had a unique way to market it, and was certain other Americans would soon see that as well.

Romantic Nonsense

I suspect the reason none of Crosby’s biographies, or certainly autobiographies, and little press from the era mention the, ahem, crooner as importing Herradura is because, well, he would be dead within 18 months after getting into the tequila business. Crosby unexpectedly had a heart attack after a round of golf in Spain in 1977; he reportedly was heading to the 19th hole for, not a tequila, but a Coke.

You thus don’t start seeing any mention of Crosby’s role in the U.S. tequila business until the last decade or so, well after Brown-Forman acquired the Herradura brand for $876 million in 2006. I can’t find Crosby mentioned in a single article about this acquisition.

So why did it take until the 2010s or so for Crosby to get his due, years after his fame had faded and most of his fans had surely died?

Was Herradura trying to bolster its own legacy after his death? It kinda seems unlikely to me. Herradura may not have been the first tequila in America, perhaps not even the first 100 percent agave tequila, but in many drinkers’ eyes it was indisputably the best out there for decades. There was a reason Julio Bermejo initially used it in his Tommy’s Margarita, one of the greatest modern cocktails there is.

Maybe it was just because, by the 2010s, the American love affair with tequila had finally reached a level of interest and curiosity that Crosby had already personally attained back in the 1970s. By now, it was a category that many were predicting would soon replace vodka as the best-selling spirit in the country. Maybe America was finally ready to hear a great anecdote about tequila and the first celebrity who truly loved it — even if the story wasn’t 100 percent accurate.

As Crosby wrote in that letter to Rolling Stone so many decades ago:

“It is good to read something which is accurate and not just romantic nonsense, as is so often the case with stories about tequila.”