When you're passionate about tequila, celebrating the spirit and studying it go hand in hand. That's why Olmeca Altos founders Henry Besant and Dré Masso created the Tahona Society with master distiller Jesus Hernandez in 2010. Knowing more about the ancient art and culture of tequila gives bartenders a deeper love and respect for the spirit they can pass on to guests.
The Tahona Society holds educational seminars around the world that culminate in regional cocktail competitions. Finalists compete for the international Tahona Society championship in Mexico each year. Members of the Tahona Society also collaborate on cocktail development, trade stories about agave production and encourage sustainability practices. It's a global network of passionate bartenders spanning more than 25 nations.
"Obviously bartenders are at the top of the food chain when it comes to knowledge" says Daniel Warrilow, the Texas brand ambassador for Altos Tequila. "We focus on them because they are the first line of defense against common tequila misconceptions like 'all tequila gives me a hangover.' Therefore, consumers are now better equipped to taste and try new tequilas as well to understand the differences."
Once bartenders see the amount of time it takes to grow agave and the labor required to harvest the plant, a new appreciation for tequila emerges.
Understanding tequila is the first step in creating a good drinking experience for guests, and the Tahona Society seeks to enrich that understanding.
"Tequila is this beautiful spirit that is unlike anything else because it's flavor is deeply influenced by terroir," says Amanda Gunderson, the West Coast brand ambassador for Altos Tequila. "Imagine, this incredible succulent plant is sitting at an elevation of about 7,000 feet soaking up and getting fat off of the sunshine for eight years. That's what goes into your glass. When you're sipping on tequila, you're practically drinking the sunshine."
Warrilow says that there's a popular misconception that all tequila is produced the same way. It's a myth that the Tahona Society is helping to erase.
"Once all bartenders know the difference between oven cooked agave, autoclave cooked agaves and diffuser produced tequila we will have better information to give to consumers and people will be drinking better tequilas," says Warrilow.
The name Tahona pays homage to the 500-year-old tequila production process Olmeca uses. It starts with baking agave the traditional way in an oven for three days. Then a large Tahona volcanic stone is used to roll, crush and macerate the cooked agave. This creates a paste that is fermented and distilled with the fibers, to extract the most agave flavor possible.
"For the longest time, tequila was something you only consumed in the form of a shot. Everybody associated it with a worm in the bottle and a horrible headache the next day," Gunderson says. "It's taken a lot of hard work and a strong focus on education to change the perception to be what it should be — that beautifully made tequila is meant to be sipped, savored and celebrated in cocktails."
The global focus of the Tahona Society ensures that countries that aren't geographically close to tequila production in Mexico have access to a wealth of information and inspiration.
"America has always had an advantage in the Tequila industry. Because of our geographic proximity to Mexico and because of some of the larger luxury brands, America has always been the main stage as it were," says Warrilow. "The Tahona Society has helped spread the good word of agave to all the other corners of the globe."