In case you haven’t heard, supermodel Kendall Jenner is now in the tequila business. The 25-year-old member of the Kardashians clan announced earlier this month that, after three years of “blind taste tests, trips to our distillery, entering into world tasting competitions anonymously,” she was ready to launch her tequila brand: 818.
The news was met with… mixed opinions (to put it nicely). Comments varied from “It took her 4 years to create a ‘good tequila’ and she proceeded to drink it with ice” to “Great, another white person getting richer off our culture.” The latter is, of course, the root of the issue here: is this a case of cultural appropriation?
The reality is that the issue goes further. Handcrafted in Jalisco, 818 is a tequila brand focused on small-batch production and comes in three types: añejo, reposado, and blanco. Jenner is by no means the first American to create a tequila company. Most recently, George Clooney released Casamigos and sold it for billions of dollars in 2017. The business of celebrity-backed liquor companies has been growing over the past few years with everyone from Kate Hudson to Ryan Reynolds jumping on the opportunity.
But Kendall’s venture hit a nerve with people, especially Mexican critics who highlight the importance of credit, compensation, and awareness in creating a brand off of another country’s culture. While Jenner is in the early stages of launching 818, the supermodel has yet to credit the distillery and workers creating her tequila is Jalisco. Other critics have also highlighted that, over the years, Jenner’s lack of activism toward Latinx issues, especially immigration, discrimination, and equal pay, makes her latest venture uniquely distasteful.
“Tequila production is traditionally a family business in Mexico,” said one commenter. “I think it’s disgusting that another white rich celeb is appropriating Mexican culture.”
Tequila history extends to the time before Hernán Cortés attacked and murdered the Aztec in Mexico, who used to make a drink from the heart of the blue agave plant. Later, in the town of (you guessed it!) Tequila, Mexico, the first large-scale distiller of tequila was born– sometime in the 1600s– after the creation of mezcal. (Editor’s note: All tequilas are mezcal but not all mezcals are tequila). Modern tequila is actually traced back to the 1700s and 1800s with the emergence of the Cuervo and Sauza families, who began distilling tequila at large scales.
Today, tequila and mezcal are quintessential Mexican products. Actually, it’s kind of illegal for other countries to produce it. In 1974, the Mexican government made “tequila” official intellectual property of Mexico, prohibiting other countries from producing or selling anything labeled as tequila.
As Kendall Jenner makes her way into a traditionally Mexican business, the main course of action people online are suggesting is to promote and support Mexican-owned brands, especially those led by women. Around the world, there is a vivacious movement of tequila and mezcal brands owned and crafted by Mexican women that are taking a predominantly male industry into the 21st century, securing a more diverse, equitable field. From decades-long distillers to newly-launched ventures, here are seven tequila and mezcal brands you can support.
La Gritona is a tequila brand created by legendary distiller Melly Barajas. It’s “light on sweetness and retains the aroma and true essence of the plant from which it was distilled.” Created in Valle de Guadalupe, Jalisco, Mexico, the production is staffed by local women and outputs an average of 12,500 liters per batch. The brand is available across the United States.
This tequila distiller is also created and owned by Melly Barajas, carrying brands like El Conde Azul, Tequila Espectacular, and Leyenda de México. The company is 100% composed of Mexican women, according to their website, and has over 20 years of history.
Founded in 2008, Casa Dragones is a tequila brand, spearheaded by Bertha González, who is often named as “the first lady of tequila.” González used her decade-long experience at José Cuervo International to lead Casa Dragones, taking the company in a different direction: handcrafted, small batches. “We are in the business of taste, not volume,” says González.
Birthed from a family recipe, Yola Mezcal is crafted and bottled in Oaxaca by a team of women, focused on the principles of sustainability from production to consumption. Its all-female operation also prioritizes offering childcare and direct pay for all workers.
Próspero Tequila is designed by Stella Anguiano, a master distiller with more than 30 years of experience. For Anguiano, Próspero is “a celebration of women, a spirit made with all women in mind.” Anguiano partnered with British singer Rita Ora in this business venture, which won the top prize as Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 spirits of 2019.
Rooted in the tradition of Day of the Day, Satryna Tequila is a spirits company founded by Nitzan Marrun. The 60-years-old family recipe was first launched in the United Kingdom, in an all-female partnership between Marrun, tequila master Mireida Cortes and brand ambassador Elizabet Tovar.
Doña Vega Mezcal was founded by Sonya Vega-Augray, a PR executive and entrepreneur. The company makes their mezcal in the mountains of Oaxaca, producing two types of mezcal: Espadín, which has “light smoke with undertones of fruit and a white pepper finish,” and Tobalá, which has flavors like “vanila, coco, nougat, and toasted oak. ”