Make us your home page

German Gonzalez brings his unique tequila for a tasting at Red Mesa Cantina


He wears a white brimmed hat with a black band, his gracious good manners either hereditary or the result of many years promoting his family's Chinaco tequila and then his own super-premium brand, T1. With his likeness on swizzle sticks jutting from cocktails containing his "Selecto" married with cantaloupe and carrot purees, German Gonzalez surveys the crowd at Red Mesa Cantina. A few dozen enthusiasts crowd the first-floor bar area for an evening of "alta cocina and tequila fina."

In recent years, tequila has ditched its Cuervo Gold salt-shot-lime-shudder reputation, emerging as a liquor category with all of the finesse and nuance of cognacs or scotches. There are reasons for that.

Gonzalez, for instance, uses scotch barrels to age his products. But he gives a great deal of credit to his dad.

"My father's was the first premium tequila in the U.S. It was sipping tequila, something you could drink neat," he said.

His family's roots run deep: His great-great-grandfather was the president of Mexico in 1880, president of the national bank of Mexico and the man responsible for bringing electricity and an expanded railroad system to Mexico City. Nonetheless, in 2007 Gonzalez broke away from the family business, moving to San Antonio, Texas, to learn more about the American market and distribution. It didn't go over well.

Even the name of his brand flies in the face of tradition. Herradura, Siete Leguas, Milagro ... and T1?

"It's a brand people can pronounce even in China," Gonzalez says as hogfish ceviche is cleared to make way for Red Mesa chef Chris Fernandez's squash blossom and epazote quesadilla.

There are 200 types of agave in Mexico, tequila legally made from only the blue agave. Historically, though, the spirit wasn't made from 100 percent agave, Gonzalez says, and thus the result was harsh, something best covered up with lime, salt and such.

These days, the United States is the No. 1 market for tequila. When Gonzalez started making T1, 100 percent blue agave tequila accounted for only 2 percent of sales, he says. Now that number is 65 percent.

The crowd samples the T1 reposado, aged six months in oak barrels. It is paired with Fernandez's luscious chiles en nogada — roasted pork picadillo inside a poblano, the whole thing napped with a walnut sauce and dotted with pomegranate seeds. Guests swirl their champagne flutes, the heady smell just reminiscent of scotch. Maybe not the strong peaty smokiness of Islay, Scotland, but more the mellow sweetness of Speyside.

It's more pronounced with the T1 anejo, which is aged for 24 months in scotch barrels, the deep golden liquor juxtaposed at Red Mesa Cantina with a nuanced and sultry mole negro with duck confit.

But when the crowd gets to what is widely called the "Pappy Van Winkle of tequilas," it's something else entirely. Gonzalez's T1 Tears of Llorona is a blend of three anejos, one aged in scotch barrels, another in cognac and a third in sherry casks.

"The scotch barrel is for dryness, the cognac barrels for sweetness and the sherry to get a little fruitiness," the master distiller says as pumpkin flans are marched out of the kitchen.

The first Llorona he made only 1,500 bottles of; the second year he made 2,000. It retails for $250. Stunning.

"Agave is like grapes, terroir is important. And the most important thing about agave is maturity," Gonzalez says as the evening winds down.

But what about the name? Who is Llorona?

"It's a Mexican legend. Parents tell their children, 'If you don't behave, Llorona will come and get you.' It's the bogeyman," Gonzalez explains.

Tipping the last of their Llorona glasses back, it's clear the crowd at Red Mesa Cantina is not afraid of the bogeyman.

Contact Laura Reiley at or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.

German Gonzalez brings his unique tequila for a tasting at Red Mesa Cantina 06/27/16 [Last modified: Monday, June 27, 2016 1:26pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. On the Camino de Santiago, Day 17: Think 11 miles of nothing but straight trail and open, flat fields sounds easy? Think again.


    Day 17: Villarmentero de Campos to Lédigos: 33.5 km, 10.25 hours. Total for Days 1-17 = 394 km (245 miles)

  2. Tom Sawyer with a revolver? Twain house has live 'Clue' game


    HARTFORD, Conn. — Was it Tom Sawyer in Samuel Clemens' billiard room with a revolver?

    In this July 14 photo, actor Dan Russell, left, portraying the character Arkansas from Mark Twain's book Roughing it, responds to a question from 10-year-old Emma Connell, center, of Arizona during a "Clue" tour at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Conn. The tour allows visitors to interact with Twain characters while playing a live-action version of the board game. [AP Photo/Pat Eaton-Robb]
  3. Until this song, Alan Parsons Project stood on much higher ground


    Listening to yesterday's Keats song made me pine for more Alan Parsons Project music and today we dig deeper into their catalogue with Standing On Higher Ground.

  4. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for July 23


    Marie Antoinette: Freefall 411: A contemporary look at the historic pariah looks at Marie Antoinette through the lens of society's obsession with celebrity. Through August 13. A brief talk prior to the performance provides insight to the production. 1 p.m., show starts at 2 p.m., Freefall Theatre, 6099 Central …

    Lucas Wells as King Louis XVI, left, and Megan Rippey as Marie Antoinette in Freefall Theatre's "Marie Antoinette."
  5. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for July 22


    Snooty the Manatee's 69th Birthday Bash: Snooty, documented by Guinness World Records as the oldest known manatee in captivity, turns 69 and celebrates with children's games, art activities, cookies, drinks , interaction with Snooty the mascot and reduced price museum admission. 10 a.m., South Florida Museum, 201 …

    Snooty the manatee poses for a photo Thursday morning while three young manatees are unloaded from Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa Thursday morning at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton.
PAUL VIDELA/ 12/20/07