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Cuervo master: Tequila can ‘compete’ with Cognac

Jose Cuervo’s Master of Tequila Don Francisco Hajnal Alfaro knows a thing or two about Mexico’s national spirit. Here, he discusses tasting methods, brand loyalty and his search for the next Don of Tequila.

Don Francisco Hajnal Alfaro is Jose Cuervo’s Master of Tequila

Having started his Tequila career in 1975 at Bodegas Santo Tomas, Don Francisco moved to Jose Cuervo in 1982, becoming the distillery’s Tequila director just three years later.

Since then, he has focused on educating the world on the Tequila category, from which are the best ways to taste the spirit, to how it is farmed and aged.

Don Francisco is now embarking on a worldwide search for the next Don of Tequila in Jose Cuervo’s new bartending competition, for which entries are now open.

The prize for the winning bartender is a trip to Tequila, Mexico, where they will harvest their own crop of agave, blend the spirit, and keep the batch labeled with their name.

Click through to the following page to view our exclusive full interview with Don Francisco.

Jose Cuervo’s Don Francisco Hajnal Alfaro: “passion is the most important thing in Tequila”

How did you get into the Tequila industry?

I initially started working in the wine industry, then in 1982, I switched from wine and began working with Jose Cuervo – I was really surprised at how Tequila is made. As a drink, Tequila is the pride of Mexico so I immediately fell in love with the entire sector.

How did you train for your first job at Jose Cuervo?

I learned a lot of what I know from my time doing wine tasting, which is very similar to Tequila tasting, except for the difference in the strength of alcohol – wine is relatively low in comparison to Tequila. With Tequila, we’re taught to study the aromas because of the high quantity of alcohol in the product.

Does that take a long time to learn?

It takes about two months to study, practice and to teach others how to train. This was part of my role at Jose Cuervo. True expertise though only comes from years of experience.

Was your first job in new product development?

Yes it was – in fact I was a product developer on Jose Cuervo Traditional which first launched in 1985.

Who inspired you to take a career in Tequila?

It was my interest in the Mexican Tequila industry, which I loved to learn about. When I went to Jose Cuervo I was able to learn more about the process here in the La Rojena plant. All the workers were involved in every step of the way – they taught me about the process, the aromas and where the aromas come from during each part of the distillation process. Their help and advice was invaluable.

If it wasn’t for Jose Cuervo would you still be wine tasting?

If I wasn’t working as a taster at Jose Cuervo, I would still find a way to be working at Jose Cuervo somehow! Maybe as a sponsor or part of the other activities that Jose Cuervo has to offer.

What else have you achieved at Jose Cuervo?

I founded the Mexican Academy of Tequila Tasters and we release the results of our blind taste tests every year, in order to discover the best quality Tequilas. We have prizes for them – it’s like the Oscars of Tequila. We gave out our most recent award on 21st August 2014.

Our role is to educate those working in or with the Tequila industry so that they in turn can pass the messages on to the consumer – we want to make sure they’re educated and are informed with the right knowledge when consuming Tequila.

Who do you find inspirational in the industry? Another maestro or someone else from Jose Cuervo? Another brand or even someone outside of Tequila?

I honestly find the people who work for Jose Cuervo inspirational. The entire team are extremely knowledgeable and really friendly to work with, which is representative of the industry as a whole. Our people are receptive to the whole process of Tequila and because we grow our own agave and use techniques that are completely unique to us, there is a real sense of pride amongst the Jose Cuervo team.

Who oversees this during the early stages?

The masters are responsible for every part of the process and they are very wise. Their expertise guarantees the Tequila is always the best Tequila in the world.

What, in your opinion, is the best drink?

There are many good products around like Cognac, vodka, brandy that are well made and have been going for many years. They have an advantage over Tequila as they were around years before but we’ve learnt from them and can now compete. Tequila is good because it’s made from one plant yet can still make over 130 varieties. Many people call me the “Guru of Tequila” and say that I can tell where any Tequila is from.

So what’s your favourite Tequila drink or serve?

When I’m with friends, just relaxing, it has to be Jose Cuervo Tradicional Resposado or it could be Jose Cuervo Gold. If I’ve been working hard and really want to reward myself, then I pick Reserva de la Familia.

Do you have a favourite bar or place to drink Tequila?

Here in Tequila! There are simply so many places to sit and enjoy the many types of Tequila on offer that it’s hard to choose, so I don’t! I also like to travel to Guadalajara from time to time.

What do you think about the Dons of Tequila competition?

It’s a great way to teach people about the principal makers of this industry, because they have the knowledge, the experience in the industry and can really teach and spread the word about Jose Cuervo.

What do you think are the qualities needed to enter? Would you say it’s being passionate about Tequila?

Without a doubt – passion is the most important thing because if you do not have the passion then you cannot do well in the competition. Without passion, this just becomes a job. I would say work hard, don’t ever give up and have a passion for Tequila above all others.

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