The truism “the more you learn, the less you know” is especially apt with tequila. But lucky for you, focusing on just one brand — Herradura — will teach you plenty about tequila and the tequila-making process, plus a little bit about Mexican geography, certain positive remnants of Spanish colonialism, the boozier benefits of female leadership, and proper lucky horseshoe positioning. Here are a dozen things you need to know about Herradura tequila (plus a couple extra for upcoming cocktail parties).
It’s made near the base of “Tequila Volcano”
Unless it’s carved out of ice and sitting at the center of the bar at your BFF’s bachelorette party, Tequila Volcano refers to an actual volcano in Jalisco (where the town of Tequila, and majority of the world’s tequila production, is located). The agave for Herradura tequila grows around the base of the volcano, or the “lowlands,” and we can thank that volcano for the rich, agave-friendly soil, and then maybe pour one out at its base just in case, since the last eruption was 200,000 years ago and we want to keep things nice and quiet in Jalisco.
It’s produced on (sort of?) holy grounds.
Holy grounds by real-estate association, anyway: Herradura distillery was established in 1870 by Félix López (see below), but a distillery had been operating there for longer. In the early 1800s, recently ordained Roman Catholic priest Jose Feliciano de la Trinidad Romo Escobedo bought the hacienda, where mezcal was already in production, and decided to continue distilling spirits (because why not?). In fact, the place was briefly named the “Hacienda del Padre,” or “Priest House.” Not quite the name we’d give a party spot but there it is.
It’s the only remaining working hacienda.
Hacienda San Jose del Refugio is the “last tequila-producing hacienda on the planet.” So, next question, what is a hacienda? The roots of a hacienda aren’t super wholesome; first showing up in the early 16th century, haciendas were estates doled out to Spanish noblemen for farming or ranching, similar to a plantation. Mexico mostly abolished its hacienda system in the early 20th century with the introduction of the communal “ejido” system (communal land-holding). But the Hacienda San Jose del Refugio persists for a reason: Everything for its tequila is made and produced in-house, and the self-sufficient hacienda system kind of works for them.
Its ownership roster reads like a soap opera cast.
The hacienda where Herradura is made was first owned by a priest, then the three Zalazar sisters (his goddaughters) who ran it for about eight years until they were forced to trade it to a worker in lieu of unpaid wages. Then that worker, Félix López, went on to turn the distillery back into a successful property, which was eventually taken over by his son, then his cousin, then a game-changing powerful female leader (see below), then a massively powerful U.S. corporation (that also owns Southern Comfort and Jack Daniel’s). All of which makes Herradura sound like the important factory trading hands in a soap opera.
Its strongest — and longest — leader was female.
Gabriela de la Peña took the helm of Herradura in the late 1950s, not only running but modernizing and enriching the brand over the course of 40 years in charge, most importantly introducing not one but two major new tequila categories.
Herradura invented the “reposado” and “extra añejo” tequila categories.
Another reason to pour one out: Gabriela de la Peña introduced reposado, which effectively bridged the gap between blanco and añejo. She also (maybe more radically) introduced “extra añejo,” a category that dared to even approach the gap between tequila and “brown” spirits like bourbon, rum, and Scotch. Reposado Herradura came out in 1974. Reposado is aged between 60 and 364 days, and in the case of Herradura that aging happens in white oak. And while the brown spirits-proximate “extra añejo” category wasn’t introduced by Mexico’s Tequila Regulatory Council until 2006, Herradura had actually introduced its Extra Añejo Selección Suprema all the way back in 1995.
Herradura also had the world’s first female master tequila distiller.
Maria Teresa Lara Lopez began working at Herradura in 1987 in the lab (she had a bachelor’s in chemistry — and did quite possibly the coolest thing with it). In 2009 she was named master distiller, finally retiring in 2017; like de la Peña, giving decades to the betterment of tequila, including her Directo de Alambique tequila, which goes right from the distilling tank to the bottle without touching oak, at 55 percent ABV no less — an intentionally pronounced expression of agave and tequila’s terroir.
It’s Herradura and el Jimador, ahem.
Officially speaking, the hacienda and distillery that produce Herradura have been in operation for 150 years. Herradura Tequila was first registered in Mexico in 1928 and is now the eighth best-selling tequila in the world. El Jimador was born in 1994, like a much younger (surprise!) sibling. (A “jimador,” FYI, is the name of someone who harvests the massive agave plants — see below.) Brown-Forman (the company that owns Herradura and El Jimador) is currently working on bridging the divide between authentic tequila production and millennial urbanites, somewhat removed from the lowlands of Jalisco. A recent marketing campaign included some savvy PR rebranding and repackaging of El Jimador in bottles with “pronounced shoulders” and a “stronger silhouette,” which also sounds suspiciously like promises our Pilates teacher made us.
They use 100 percent Blue Weber agave. Not all tequilas do.
Tequila can and should be made with 100 percent Blue Weber agave. That means tequila producers wait roughly eight to 10 (even 12) years for this massive, gorgeous, only slightly threatening-looking succulent to mature before really strong, patient people hack it into submission, extracting the piña, which looks like a monstrous pineapple. Not all tequilas go full agave, however; “mixto” tequilas are made with some agave, with the rest of the alcohol provided by a cheaper, often harsher, neutral spirit (a.k.a. hangover juice).
That’s a big deal. Literally. Blue Weber agave (the kind of agave Herradura and really any good tequila is made from) — can grow to be eight feet tall and 10 feet wide. The piña itself easily matures to over 100 pounds. It seems like the kind of plant you’d be glad to sic a robot on, but Herradura’s agave is harvested by jimadores to this day in a super-arduous process that looks something like this. (And we will never complain about weeding again.)
They used the tahona process for a century.
The tahona process is the earliest way tequila was produced in bulk. But considering it involves steadfast (and hopefully well-loved) mules dragging a massive circular stone in endless Sisyphean circles around a pit to crush cooked agave, it’s not really economically viable for most distilleries. It is, however, such an important innovation in the history of commercial tequila production that Herradura preserves its original tahona stone and even throws the occasional #tbt out there for the world to pay its respects. All good news if and when machines break down and we still need booze (especially during the apocalypse).
“Herradura” means horseshoe.
The distillery had been around for over a century longer (see below), but “Herradura Tequila” was first registered with the Mexican government in 1928. Herradura means “horseshoe” in Spanish — Aurelio Lopez, the son of Félix López, supposedly found a glinting horseshoe out among the agave one day — hence the label and horseshoe-themed swag.
The horseshoe only gets “lucky” if you drink
At their “luckiest,” horseshoes are supposed to face upward. Not that we’re super superstitious, but Herradura’s bottles have the horseshoe shape facing down. However, there’s an easy way to literally turn your luck around: When you pour tequila out, the Herradura horseshoe faces upward.
Bing Crosby was a fan.
Crosby liked his Christmases white and his alcoholic beverages agave-based. Seriously, Bing liked Herradura so much that he and fellow actor Phil Harris made inroads to bring it to the States for the first time in 1955. If you want to really honor the favor, try some Herradura in your eggnog this year (the extra añejo actually works nicely).