If you shudder at the thought of a tequila shot, you're not drinking the right tequila. Lowrider magazine sat down with Santiago Gonzalez, the president of 3 Amigos Tequila, to find out what makes a good, smooth tequila. Santiago, who was introduced to the sport of lowriding when his company sponsored the Lowrider Hall of Fame, is an expert. He comes from three generations of farming agave-the main ingredient in tequila-but if you ask him, the best tequila needs much more than agave; it requires family values and a strong work ethic.
"True tequila was not meant to make you cringe," Santiago says. True tequila is meant to be enjoyed, to be savored. This concept has been lost in much of the mainstream public because Mexican ethic has been taken from tequila by outside investors. Many of the premium tequila producers were bought by larger companies and the result is a sub-standard product. "The quality of tequila has really gone down," he says. "We wanted to go back to the basics, and back to quality."
Three Amigos Tequila reintroduced the public to what tequila should be. They wanted to share with Americans what they have known for decades. Francisco and Ramona Gonzalez, aka Papa Poncho and Mama Mona, began farming agave in the countryside of Jalisco, Mexico. The days of laboring on the farm were long, but crops were not all the Gonzalezs were trying to raise-a family was their main concern. Each of their 14 children learned to understand responsibility, hard work, and the pride of working their own land. "I have so many memories," Santiago says, now 51. "We were raised on the farm in a beautiful country. We hardly ever went out to town."
Santiago remembers harvesting his first crop at age 9. He and his two oxen sowed and plowed and grew tall stalks of corn. "Looking back, it seems almost unbelievable that such a small child could work so hard and be so successful," he says. But that was the way of the Gonzalez family. "You started working when you started walking."
The Gonzalezs didn't have much in the way of material things. Their life was simple and labor intensive, but was rich in ways no checkbook could account for. Santiago and his siblings were blessed with having both a mother and father around to raise them. There was no day care, no baby sitters, his parents were at home, ever-present and always teaching lessons of strength and independence. "When you have a good family, material things are not important," he says. "You can never be poor when you have a good family."
At the young age of 9, Santiago felt the satisfaction of a job well done. The dignity he felt from his success was addicting and he never stopped wanting to achieve more. "When you start to work that early you look forward to working and to having things."
While the work on the Jalisco farm was rewarding, the Gonzalez brothers ventured for more. Instilled with a fierce work ethic, they planted new roots in the United States in 1968. They grew potatoes, alfalfa, and, of course, agave. "We farmed both sides of the border," he says.
Agave, a large, succulent plant, is the necessary ingredient in tequila. The Gonzalez family had historically farmed the crop and sold it to larger tequila companies, but as larger companies began to buy out the premium tequila producers, brothers Santiago, Atanacio, and Eleno were no longer content with that. Larger companies buy agave in bulk from more than 100 different farms. They use the agave at less than premium conditions, many add sugar to make up for the fruit's natural sweetness. The Gonzalez brothers began to feel uncomfortable that their high-quality plants were being used to make a sub-standard product.