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.

Never afraid of hard work, the brothers started their own tequila company, 3 Amigos Tequila. It is family owned from farm to bottle. It's grown, harvested, and distilled by the Gonzalez family. Their company produces a mere 7,000 liters of tequila per day, compared to 150,000 liters that larger companies average. The Gonzalezs produce far less volume but the quality of their product is unsurpassed because 3 Amigos distills their tequila twice.

There are three types of tequila: blanco, reposado, and anejo. Blanco is double-distilled tequila that is put straight into a bottle. Reposado is blanco tequila that is aged for a minimum of one year in white oak barrels. Anejo is aged for two full years in white oak barrels. "We are without a doubt the best tequila out there," Santiago says. "It's easy to say when it's true."

Unlike the larger companies, 3 Amigos doesn't focus only on the bottom line. Of course, success is important-and money is a part of success-but it's only one part. Pride in product and family unity are equally, if not more, important to the Gonzalez family's success.

Santiago warns of other labels that boast 100 percent agave. The claim could be entirely true, however, 100 percent does not guarantee a good quality. For example, when a large company buys a product, they buy it all-the good, bad, and the rotten. High-quality tequila can only be achieved by using ripe agave. At 3 Amigos only ripe agave is used. Fruits that are not ripe enough are left to reach their potential. Fruits that are overripe are discarded. This is the only way to ensure a smooth taste without the harsh aftertaste that so many people associate with tequila.

Santiago says 3 Amigos cares about the product that they put on the shelves and they care about the farmers who harvest the agave, the vendors who buy the tequila, and the person who ultimately enjoys it. He wants his customers to be able to sit back and truly enjoy the blanco tequila. He wants them to savor the sweet aftertaste of the liquor like he does-an aftertaste that only comes from using ripe agave. Santiago would like his customers to be able to take pleasure in sipping the anejo tequila, like his brothers do. He wants consumers to notice the "woody taste," only accomplished by aging the tequila in white oak barrels for two full years.

"You have to care," Santiago says. "You have to care about what you're going to sell. I think about all the people who are going to consume the products I grow and it matters." What also matters is making a first-rate product that everybody can afford. Santiago says that 3 Amigos makes the best tequila for half the price. He comes from humble roots and doesn't believe that only the wealthy deserve the luxury of enjoying premium products. "We are just working people," he says. "Our product has to be accessible to everyone at a fair price."

Though it started selling in the United States less than two years ago, the family owned company is enjoying success-3 Amigos Tequila was the official tequila of the Fiesta Bowl. The tequila can also be found in many restaurants and bars, as well as large chain stores, like Albertsons and BevMo. It could be argued that 3 Amigos has achieved mainstream success without succumbing to mainstream shortcuts.

Santiago recognizes the company's underdog status, but he's not worried. He says he wouldn't trade places with the larger companies if given the choice because he's confident 3 Amigos Tequila will triumph because the core of the company is true. They don't compromise on the quality of their product or the quality of life.

Santiago has been blessed by not having to choose between family and a career. He's able to incorporate the two. And although he no longer comes from such humble means, his children still know the meaning of hard work. At the age of 7, Santiago gave his oldest son Rafael two cows. His job was to raise them, feed them, care for them, and ensure their health and safety. Over the past 14 years, Rafael, accompanied by his younger brothers Francisco and Jose Carlos, have done just that. The boys now have more than 80 heads of cattle and have sold hundreds of others. Rafael has now started to lend his graphic design skills to the family tequila business and is involved with much of the marketing. Francisco, 17, has also started to spend more time in the office and less on the farm, leaving 11-year-old Jose Carlos to oversee the cattle business.

The legacy of the Gonzalez family continues. The fourth generation is being groomed to continue in the ways of their relatives and take pride in hard work. Compromise is not acceptable and indolent work ethics are intolerable. As Santiago and his brothers work to grow the tequila company here in the United States, he is confident the future of 3 Amigos is in capable hands. "If you have a strong family, everything else follows," he says. "When you grow up with the love of good parents, it's amazing the strength you get from that. Success will follow regardless."

Oldies Car Club
Funeral For A Friend
Louie Gonzalez was a great and generous man. We all loved him very much and he will be missed. He was born on Feb. 6, 1956, in Texas. He was raised by his parents Sophia and Antonio. When he was a small child he moved to California. Louie was the type of man who was loyal to all those who surrounded him. He had a big heart, which those who knew him saw with their own eyes.

Louie loved cars. His first car was a '66 Charger hot-rod. When he met his wife Jolynn, whom he loved and adored, he knew about her love for lowriders, so they got a '54 Chevy Bel Air. We can honestly say that only he saw the vision of what that car would look like. That car became his baby, so much so that a lot of people knew him by the description of his car. All anyone had to say was, "Do you know Louie, the one who drives the red '54 Chevy?"

Everyone who knew Louie, knew that all you had to do was call him up and ask him for a favor and he was the first one there and the last one to leave. He cherished all his friends and Oldies Car Club members who were there for him and Jolynn. He loved all his children: Vanessa, Rosanne, Brandon, Louis, and Daniel.

There are no words to describe Louie to the fullest, but if you knew him you would understand that we could write pages and pages about him and it still wouldn't be enough. So we are going to end this story by saying that Louie is not gone forever, he is living eternal life now and we all know he is our angel watching over us. God bless Louie, that guy with the red '54 Chevy, his wife, family, friends, and his Oldies club members.

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