Why The Celebrity Tequila Industry Is Screwed Up
People love a good, strong drink every now and then, and whether it be mixed into a mojito or just multiple shots of regret for tomorrow-you, tequila has an extensive fan base. Well known for originating in Mexico, most people don't know how a surge of celebrities from A-list to TMZ-list coming out with their own tequila brands has put Mexican-owned tequila out of focus.
For recognizable celebs to have their name associated with their own tequila makes other non-celebrity-related brands seem "dim" in comparison. In addition, a lot of celebrity brands cop non-celebrity tequila brands, but because the general audience knows about the rando celeb, they may dismiss the original or even twist the story around accidentally.
Although many celebrities may emphasize the background and history from which tequila comes to avoid cultural appropriation (as well as some of these celebrities being Mexican themselves, I see you Carlos Santana), the practice of making Tequila as a whole comes from Mexican tradition and culture. This means removing Mexican people from certain parts of the process or even the whole process (from ownership to labor) creates several problems. The tequila industry also has a great significance in Mexico's economy, even being declared intellectual property by Mexico.
The word "tequila" comes from multiple roots, varying from its location of origin, the history of the Nahuatl language (from the Aztec community), and its cultural significance in the Aztec Empire. One of the locations theorized to have inspired the name "tequila" is, in fact, the Tequila Volcano that used to be rich in obsidian and that was originally forged and created into many tools, some of which were used to cut the agave plant.
Another origin lies in the Nahuatl language of the Aztec people. Many words such as Tecuin or Tejuino refer to a type of fermented drink similar to tequila. The term also comes from the history of tribute to the emperors, being consumed only during important festivities or religious ceremonies (this ceremonial fermented drink from the sap of an agave plant was originally called pulpe, but many believe it to be one of the earliest known appearances of modern Tequila).
Tequila is also, believe it or not, a real town. Located about an hour away by car from Guadalajara, Mexico, Tequila (the town) is home to the previously mentioned volcano and the origins of alcoholic drinks made with the agave plant. After the brutal colonization of Mexico by Spain, Mexicans began working on improving the fermented plant's recipe, eventually hitting a drink we now know as mezcal-- a Nahuatl word meaning "cooked agave." While mezcal was made in other parts of Mexico too, the town of Tequila's mezcal was becoming extremely popular due to the nature of the volcanic location the agave plants were growing near.
Historically, one of the very first companies to begin mass production of tequila is Jose Cuervo. In 1758, the King of Spain granted Jose Antonio de Cuervo lands to begin blue agave cultivation, and not long after, Carlos IV of Spain granted a concession for the commercial production of tequila. By the 1800s, the "mezcal of Tequila" gained a little more popularity, eventually being known as tequila (and even established as a different product from mezcal). The Jose Cuervo Distillery was established in 1812, and by 1880, Cuervo introduced the first bottles of tequila. The real tequila comes from the town Tequila and is made only from a specific type of agave, the Weber blue agave.
Most versions of what people (and celebrities) call tequilas in the market are just mezcals, but it seems more and more common for both the celebrities with tequila brands and their audiences to callously not care about the difference. It's also important to note that all tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila.
Nowadays, the tequila industry has grown in unimaginable ways, with everyone wanting to join in on the $$$. So much so that new tequila brands seem to be popping up every single day, and some companies are even producing "tequila-like" spirits outside of Mexico altogether. If you go inside a liquor store and check the "tequila" section, you most definitely will be overwhelmed at first. You can find anything from the popular brands like Jose Cuervo, Don Julio, Patron, to the celebrity brands like Villa One, Casamigos, and even 100% Mexican-owned brands like Clase Azul, Prospero, and La Gritona. While there are many brands that are Mexican-owned, and a lot of other very globally popular brands work with distilleries, workers, and agave farm owners in Mexico, these lesser-known brands can sometimes be written off and put on the back shelf or just completely ignored.
Kendall Jenner's 818 dismisses the tradition of Tequila, plasters on a Los Angeles area code number as the name, uses historically racist light filters in their advertisements, and even has Jenner culturally appropriating outfits and styles to "sell" a story to blissfully unaware consumers.
As of last year's statistics, Mexico is producing approximately 374 million liters of tequila, compared to 104.3 million liters back in 1995. Additionally, the tequila industry generates approximately 70,000 jobs directly a year, therefore directly impacting Mexico's economy.
To begin an endeavor without crediting its extremely valuable place in Mexico's history, culture, and traditions while putting all other brands of tequila to the back is not fair for those who've worked so hard to make a living and grow their country's heritage.
So, out of respect for the culture, for Tequila (both the town and the drink), and to truly enjoy tequila without having to put even more money in celebrities' pockets (and actually drink something that tastes good), please consider buying 100%-Mexican owned tequila. And if you're not sure if the tequila you want is 100%-Mexican-owned, you can always look it up, but don't forget to support local Mexican businesses.
Antonella Ponce is a Latinamerican entrepreneur, producer, singer, actor, and performer from Argentina and Ecuador. You can follow her story on her Website or check out their music on Spotify.
Top Image: 818 Tequila