In the canon of bad first dates, everyone has a few enduring classics—stories that just never get old. One of mine concerns a guy who showed up in jeans (fine), topsiders (sort-of-fine), and a t-shirt that stated, “One Tequila, Two Tequila, Three Tequila…Floor!” The shirt also pictured a woozy, passed-out cartoon parrot. Or perhaps it was an alligator. Point being, this was before the advent of ironic t-shirts, and I didn’t date the guy again.
These days, tequila—high-quality tequila, that is—is a spirit to be savored, not consumed to cartoonish oblivion. This shift in popular perception has been subtle. It’s one thing to wax poetic over an ’82 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild or single malt scotch, but tequila appreciation is a relatively new phenomenon amongst the urban cocktail cognoscenti. Milagro (“miracle” in Spanish) is one of a select group of brands that is helping elevate tequila’s reputation from Cabo party-starter to sophisticated sipping beverage.
Milagro is the brainchild of Mexico City natives Daniel (Danny) Schneeweiss and Moises (Moy) Guindi, passionate proponents of the 100-percent Agave-based spirit. In the late ‘90s, the pair watched the momentum of premium vodkas in the market and thought—why not tequila?
“When we decided to become ‘tequila entrepreneurs’, we were first and foremost consumers of tequila,” Danny says. “We knew what we were drinking and what we wanted…and what we wanted wasn’t available.” They decided to create their own high-quality brand: something authentic, something modern, something people could enjoy without a lime wedge and a grimace.
First they sought out a seasoned distiller, one who had experience working with big players (Cuervo, Herradura) and the desire to take an artisanal, small-batch approach. For Danny and Moy, the consistency and quality of the tequila was paramount.
Next came the all-important bottle concept.
“Everything we saw out there was exactly the same,” Danny says. “It communicated ‘Old Mexico’. Every bottle was short and squat: the old town, the wagons, the horses. That is not the Mexico we grew up in. Yes, we grew up in a Mexico with tradition and history. But we also grew up in a contemporary country, with new architecture, design and modern art. With our packaging, we wanted to show the people a new face of Mexico. If tequila is going to be our ambassador to the world, we wanted it to be real.”
Danny chose a tall, sleek aesthetic with a gradient pattern and a hand-drawn, hand-painted logo. Mexican glass artists create the bottles locally. Milagro Select Barrel Reserve bottles feature an interior sculpture—a phantasmagorial representation of the spindly agave plant. “There’s a love that goes into it,” he says. “Every single bottle is an actual sculpture—actual work is done by a glass artisan, so it’s a unique piece.”
All Milagro tequilas are handcrafted in small batches from estate-grown, hand-picked and hand-selected agave; are slow-roasted in traditional clay ovens at the Industrializadora de Agave San Isidro, SA de CV in Jalisco, Mexico; and then triple-distilled. Milagro Select Barrel Reserve batches are also mellowed in French oak barrels to create an oaky flavor with hints of vanilla.
“When people drink 100-percent agave tequila, it’s all about smoothness, all about crisp, clean, fresh taste and the fruitiness of the agave plant,” Danny explains. “As much as I love margaritas—and I do—if you make a margarita, why not use the best tequila you can?”
Excellent point, and one that nicely fulfills today’s post-millennial demand for authenticity over gimmicks, soulful quality over mass quantity. It also aligns with the idea of spending your leisure dollars, as sparse as they may be, on something that matters—and giving thought to what you consume, and where it comes from. Not in a self-righteous locovore way, but in a good-natured, thoughtful, epicurean way.
It is also, apparently, worthy of accolades in the notoriously competitive wine and spirits industry. Milagro Select Barrel Reserve Reposado was awarded the Double Gold Medal at the 2009 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. It was also awarded Best in Show at the 2007 International Wine & Spirits Competition.
“This puts tequila on top of the best vodkas, rums and gins,” Danny emphasizes. “Not only are you the best tequila, you are the best spirit in the show, awarded by the most influential authority. Not only did Milagro win, but Mexico won.”
Milagro has also captured the attention of today’s finicky young tastemakers who are all a-blog about it. Representative Internet samples: “Best tequila I have ever had. Bar none.” “So, my friends and I now yell ‘Milagro!’ before an evening out.” “RE-DAMN-DICULOUSLY good.”
My personal amateur tasting notes? Milagro Silver has a remarkably clean taste with a velvety finish that goes down easy—perhaps even a bit too easy. Ascending further up the line, the Milagro Select Barrel Reserve Reposado, aged for six months, has a woody, mild agave flavor and a subtle smokiness. The Milagro Select Barrel Reserve Añejo is aged three years for a sublimely smooth, rich and complex taste, the definition of a slow-sipping spirit.
And while there’s probably no such thing as a true “miracle” drink, premium tequila certainly infuses the entire cocktailing experience with a sense of discovery and dignified appreciation—a spiritual antidote to your neighborhood chain restaurant’s 2-for-1 frozen margarita special—and the men who wear their t-shirts. And there’s something miraculous about that.