Pillow's top picks of authentic Mexican tequilas – far from the prying hands of the Hollywood elite
Words: Alessandro Ferrara
The announcement of Kendall Jenner’s 818 Tequila has sparked conversations about the recent slew of celebrities jumping on the Mexican spirit bandwagon, and consequently overshadowing local family-owned brands that boast generation-spanning legacies. With a market expected to reach 6.36 billion US$ by the end of 2025 according to an HTF MI report, it’s easy to understand why so many stars, including Chris Noth, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Justin Timberlake, have purchased significant stakes in tequila brands – not to mention George Clooney and Rande Gerber’s Casamigos, which was sold to Diageo for a record-breaking 1 billion US$ back in 2017.
So, whilst Hollywood attempts to steal yet another spotlight, we have sourced the finest Mexican-owned tequila brands to support – and enjoy – instead.
Gran Centenario Tequila
Established in 1857 by the very first Tequila Master Distiller in history, Lázaro Gallardo, Gran Centenario Tequila got its name in the 1890s to commemorate the start of a new century. Fast forward to over 160 years later, and this tequila is still the product of a family-owned business carrying on the same proprietary process called Selección Suave™, consisting of blending the richest and smoothest tequilas to yield a product of exceptional quality and taste. The bottle also carries the same design from 1920, when Lázaro’s son adorned it with “The Angel of Independence” in honour of Mexico’s conquered autonomy from Spain.
The Camarena family started making tequila in 1937 and are now in their third generation as tequila producers. In 2008, Carlos Camarena reached out to bar and restaurant owner Tomas Estes (recognised twice by the Mexican National Tequila Chamber with the title of Ambassador to Europe for Tequila), and the Tequila Ocho brand was born. Made using the family’s slow, artisanal method and produced exclusively from agave from their own fields, Tequila Ocho is the first ever single-field tequila. ‘Ocho’ means ‘eight’ in English, in reference to the 8 weeks and 8 days for which Ocho Reposado Tequila is aged.
Tequila Clase Azul
World-class tequila bottled in a handmade piece of art that has helped to revitalise the local economy of Santa Maria Canchesda, a small mountainous town in Mexico. This is Tequila Clase Azul, founded in 2000 by Arturo Lomeli and created using only 100% organic Tequilana Weber Blue agaves. It is then encased in unique ceramic decanters, handcrafted by 180 employees, 80% of whom are local women who grew up in poverty; on top of their salary, they are provided with two meals a day, transportation, daycare and school tuition. In 2019, investors and buyers made a 1 billion US$ offer to acquire the company, which was turned down.
Made from agave that is exclusively cultivated on the outskirts of the town of Tequila, ensuring a more full-bodied liqueur thanks to its high fibre and low water content, Tequila Arette is the creation of Eduardo and Jaime Orendain. Taking over their grandfather Don Eduardo Orendain’s business (former mayor of the spirit’s town) as fifth-generation producers in 1976, they launched Tequila Arette a decade later. It is now considered a classic by connoisseurs, boasting a rich, flavourful feel with a beautiful balance of smoothness and sweetness.
Don’t let its 16-year age fool you – in fact, Tequila Fortaleza has almost a century and a half of history behind it. In brief, Don Cenobio founded La Perseverancia distillery in Tequila in 1873, becoming the first exporter of the Mexican spirit to the US. In 1946, his grandson Francisco Javier took over the family business and opened his own distillery named La Fortaleza. With only a modest brick oven and a tahona pit, the new distillery was too small for the amount of tequila that could be produced, forcing him to sell the business in 1976. In the late 90’s, Don Javier’s grandson Guillermo got La Fortaleza distillery up and running again, making tequila in the same way it was made over 100 years ago – with a small brick oven to cook the agave, a tahona to squeeze the juices out of it, wood tanks for fermentation and two original copper pots for distillation. And this is how, in 2005, Tequila Fortaleza was brought back into the world.