After 75 years, Tapatio Blanco tequila is finally being imported to the United States. For local tequila aficionados, you might say the news is sort of a big deal. Consider the Facebook reaction of Bill Esparza, aka Street Gourmet L.A., who has decades' worth of Tapatio suitcase-stashing on his resume (and is known for smuggling food- and beverage-loving tourists into Mexico):
Tapatio tequila has been one of my top 10 tequilas for many years. ... If I had one last drink to taste in this life, it might be a tall pour of Tapatio Blanco. I don't know who is now bringing it into the U.S. and putting brand-new labels on the bottle with more 'brilliant' colors, but if you so much as change one note, one step, or one aspect of this tequila's production I will know it!!! And, I will take a flamethrower to your entire campaign. ... Thank you -- now, carry on.
Not to worry, Bill, as the typical corporate import monopoly is not responsible for granting Tapatio stateside shelf space. St. Helena's family-run distillery Charbay is the importer, a title it earned after developing a family distilling cooperative of sorts with Tapatio distiller Carlos Camarena (also the distiller behind El Tesoro).
According to Charbay co-owner Susan Karakasevic, it wasn't initially a mutual love-love relationship between Camarena and the Karakasevics (Susan's husband Miles is the distillery's founder; their son Marko is also a distiller). "Miles and Marko have known Carlos for over five years," says Susan, adding that Charbay had its own tequila in the development stages. "They sort of butted heads as small [competitive] distillers at first, and Carlos was reluctant. But then the friendship grew, and finally Carlos said to them, 'If you think you know so much about tequila, why don't you come down here and distill your own?'"
And so they did exactly that. But why would a California distilling family with dozens of spirits under its belt need tips on making tequila? "It's so much more difficult than many other spirits," says Susan. "You have to bake the ingredients first, then press them before even fermenting and distilling."
The learning experience, says Susan, was mutual. "Carlos told [one writer] who interviewed him later that he learned a lot from Miles and Marko. And this great friendship they have evolved from it."
The Charbay tequila was eventually released with a label that was designed to convey the collaboration between the family distilleries. According to their website, Charbay is the first American distillery to personally hand-distill 100% Blue Agave Tequila Blanco in Mexico from start to finish, including harvesting. And yes, its tequila has been getting some pretty fantastic reviews (it's still on our tasting list).
As for why Tapatio is now, after 75 years, being imported for the first time, Susan says the timing was "finally just right for Carlos due to several factors. And enough people were going down [to Jalisco] and saying, 'Please import it, Carlos, I really need Tapatio at my restaurant.'"
"Tapatio really is almost like a cult," Susan chuckles. We have a feeling certain folks would agree.
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Tapatio Blanco, $34 SRP, will be available at well-stocked spirits shops like Beverage Warehouse in the coming weeks (Beverage Warehouse also carries Charbay's Tequila Blanco).
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