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Alex Coronado grew up in Mexico while tequila was still in its incubation stage, waiting for its moment to transcend from a spirit you shoot, to one worth savoring. While tequila is still very much enjoyed as a beverage to keep the party going, producers have refined their methods over the last few decades to challenge the way consumers think about the category—creating ultra-premium tequilas that showcase the potential of the raw material: agave. And one of the most instrumental players involved in pushing the category forward through innovations, and a pioneer of the trendy cristalino-style tequila, is Alex Coronado—the head of production and master distiller for Maestro Dobel tequila, and the historic Cuervo brands.
Growing up, Coronado’s family scarcely drank; and if they did it likely wouldn’t have been tequila. Although the Cuervo family began commercially distilling tequila in 1758, the Mexican government only declared the term “tequila” as its intellectual property in 1974, which finally helped legitimize a category that struggled in its home country. “Tequila was for shots,” Coronado says. “I started drinking in my late teens and back then tequila wasn't very popular. It was more popular to have a Scotch, but that has changed in the last thirty years as the category has evolved.”
Coronado is a self-proclaimed nerd who enjoyed math and sciences in his early school years. When it was time for him to further his education, he went out on a whim—embracing his eagerness to learn—and decided to pursue chemical engineering. Later on in his academic career, he had the opportunity to study in California where he practiced, and refined, his English—a skill that made him a valuable talent when he finally joined the Cuervo team as a post-grad upon his return to Mexico. “My first job out of college was as a processing engineer at the distillery where I was working on a taskforce with some consultants who were helping run operations,” says Coronado. “I learned the end to end operations, which gave me a great foundation for my future roles.”
After landing a job in the budding tequila industry 27 years ago for one of the biggest players in the game, he worked his way up through the ranks, garnering many mentors along the way—one of them being the owner and 11th-generation tequila maker, Juan Dobel.
Making Strides in the Tequila Industry
In 2000, Coronado became the technical director for Cuervo which meant leading innovation initiatives for the company. It was in his new role that he straddled the line between production and marketing, and this is when he really began working closely with the Dobel family. At the time, founder Juan Dobel recognized that a new generation of tequila drinkers in Mexico were drawn to silver, unaged tequilas—considering them more sophisticated and approachable than more traditional reposados or añejos. Dobel, with Coronado, looked to the future, pondering how to bring something new and exciting to consumers. In 2009, they found their answer: releasing Maestro Dobel Diamante, the first ever Cristalino tequila.
“The creation of cristalino—Diamante and Dobel 50—is a reflection of the greater vision of our founder Juan Dobel to continually innovate in tequila, moving the category forward in new and evolutionary ways,” Coronado says.
Cristalino is a style of tequila that has been aged in oak (i.e reposado, añejo, or extra añejo depending on the years aged) and is then filtered—typically through charcoal—to remove the color and tannins that the tequila picks-up while aging in the barrel. The process can be likened to how white aged rums are produced.
The output is a tequila with a luscious mouthfeel and notes of almond, coconut, honey, with floral overtones. While the Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT) hasn’t established this style as an official category yet, many other producers have followed suit and created expressions of their own cristalino tequilas with the style finally emerging in the mainstream.
“We created a category [with Maestro Dobel] that is now the fastest growing in Mexico,” Coronado says. “It has the potential to be a significant part of the North American market as well. If you look at the bourbon and whiskey categories in the U.S., where they started and where they are now, the growth they have experienced over the last 30 years has been exponential, and is a direct result of ongoing product innovation. We plan to do the same with our tequila.”
But innovation isn’t only limited to exciting new product releases, it also includes the sustainability of the category as it continues to grow—ensuring a healthy agave population, and mitigating deforestation, and waste wherever possible.
In December, Coronado worked with the Cuervo side of the company to unveil The Agave Project, the brand’s commitment to supporting the land and people of Tequila, and Mexico. The first initiative of the campaign was tackling the issue of plastic straws. They partnered with scientists at Bio Solutions Mexico and the production team at Mexico‐based Penka to create a biodegradable drinking straw made from upcycled agave fibres—the straws decompose up to 200 times faster than regular plastic which is a drastic improvement on traditional plastic straws which can take up to 200 years to decompose.
As the tequila category continues to boom, and sustainability remains at the forefront of conversations in the spirits industry, Coronado and his team continue to navigate these times with mindfulness and excellence, and their latest product innovation is a testament to that.
Continuing Innovation in the Cristalino Category
In celebration of the founder’s story and 50th birthday, Coronado led the development of one of the brand’s most ambitious endeavors yet: the signature Maestro Dobel 50 Cristalino. “It’s an ultra luxury tequila,” Coronado says. “It’s sophisticated, yet not intimidating.” Coronado says the slow cooking of the agave sourced from the single family-owned estate, and the slow fermentation process employed—the spirit rests Extra Añejo tequilas, which were hand selected by Dobel from his family reserves in both Eastern European and American oak barrels, before combing them for a unique blend—led to desirable flavor components in the base tequila. It's a mix between art and science to come out with these types of products, according to Coronado.
In his role of master distiller, Coronado diligently makes informed decisions based on this balance of art and science. The Dobel 50 Cristalino is made with agave harvested during the peak dry months of the year to ensure a high concentration of carbohydrates in the piña (or heart of the agave) before it is slow cooked, fermented and twice distilled in copper pot stills. The result is a full-bodied character consistent with the elegant Dobel style that Coronado has helped shape over the years.
The tequila is then aged for a minimum of three years in both Eastern European and American oak barrels before being blended and filtered using the brand’s proprietary refinement process that maintains the aromas and flavor profiles from maturation. The crystal clear tequila epitomizes the cristalino style with notes of fig, quince, coconut, pineapple, and pumpkin spice (read: cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and vanilla). “The different toasts and char levels from the barrels add complexity to the spirit,” Coronado says, “it invites you to have another sip, then glass, as it’s both complex and simple at the same time.”
It’s been almost 30 years since Coronado first embarked on his journey in the tequila industry, and, in that time, he has helped transform the way people think about, and drink, tequila—himself included. Understanding how far he’s come, Coronado continues looking forward to whatever is next. “As the pioneers behind the cristalino category, we will continue product innovation as we always have, understanding the growth potential and growing appetite amongst global consumers,” says Coronado. One thing is for certain: it’ll be more than just a tequila you shoot.