What you don’t know about Jose Cuervo could fill a shot glass, assuming said shot glass were about the size of a Big Gulp (don’t actually try to shoot anything that comes out of a Big Gulp). True, most of us made our first (and possibly last) acquaintance with Cuervo sometime between earning the right to vote and stumbling into the right to drink. But it probably shouldn’t surprise that there’s a whole lot more history behind the biggest tequila brand in the world.

Some of it’s a little iffy—we didn’t include Cuervo’s claim to inventing the Margarita. And some of it’s pretty bawdy (but we left out most non-beverage details of the Rolling Stones’ infamous “Cocaine and Tequila Sunrise” tour). But a lot of it—and, with about 250 years there’s bound to be a lot of it—is surprisingly rooted in history, from the first official tequila production license to the huge debt of gratitude tequila-loving Americans owe the early rail workers.

Whether you drink añejo neat or knock back shot after shot (in which case, see “Shelly West” below), learn a little bit more about Cuervo. And try not to forget it.

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It’s the biggest tequila brand in the world.

Wherever your feelings land on the tequila/Cuervo question, you gotta pay some respect here. Cuervo’s market share has been falling in recent years, but it’s still the world’s biggest tequila producer. (And, FYI, the U.S. is the world’s largest consumer, knocking back over 50% of the market.)

Cuervo got a royal start.

King Ferdinand. You should thank him every time you do a shot of Cuervo.
King Ferdinand. You should thank him every time you do a shot of Cuervo.

Cuervo might seem like a 20th-century college mainstay, but it actually got its start with a royal grant of land. In 1758, King Ferdinand VI gave Jose Antonio de Cuervo y Valdes a “writ of land ownership” to grow agave for tequila production.

It actually took two kings to get Cuervo going. (Not bad.)

By 1795, King Carlos IV finally granted Jose Maria Guadalupe Cuervo y Montana the first (as in first-ever) license “to produce and distribute tequila.”

Cuervo was started by the Cuervos. But it’s owned by the Beckmanns.

Cuervo’s history is certainly long and, like many illustrious spirits brands, it starts with a family name. But today, the Cuervo brand is actually owned by the billionaire Beckmann family based out of Mexico City.

We’ve been drinking Cuervo since the 19th century. (Not continuously.)

We can thank the rise of the railroad for bringing Cuervo to the States. The tequila made its first stop in California in 1852, just in time to help gold rushers drown their sorrows when the shiny rocks they’d gathered didn’t turn out to be gold.

Cuervo was the first to go glass.

Seems like late timing, but when Jose Cuervo started putting its tequila in glass bottles in the late 19th century, it was actually the first tequila company to do so. Demand was so high that the only way to keep the good stuff flowing was by parceling it out.

Yeah, some Cuervo is mixto. Not great.

Blue Weber Agave growing beneath the Tequila Volcano
Blue Weber agave growing beneath the Tequila Volcano

“Mixto” is the term given to a tequila in which only 51% of the alcohol comes from agave (specifically Blue Weber) and the rest from sugarcane juice. The lower-end Cuervo is mixto, and says “Made with Agave” on the label. Pepper-hot, but not the best quality tequila, but if you can spend $10 or so extra, you’ll get into 100% agave territory.

Plenty of Cuervo is 100% Agave. And it gets even more special!

The Tradicional Reposado is 100% agave, a little sweeter with less piquant pepper, usually available for about $30. And then there are bottles like the $100 Reserva de la Familia, aged in French oak barrels for the three-year añejo max.

There is a blacking-out-drunk song about Cuervo.

To be fair, country singer Shelly West could have gotten drunk on any ol’ tequila. But as the lyrics go, “Jose Cuervo, you are a friend of mine. I like to drink you with a little salt and lime.” And then she goes on to ask “Did I …” about a number of possibilities from her tequila-fueled night (e.g., “Did I kiss all the cowboys? Did I shoot out the lights?”). Apparently Cuervo makes you a bad ass. And yes, actually a pretty good sing-along song.

Speaking of music, Cuervo was part of the “Cocaine and Tequila Sunrise Tour.”

Rolling Stones 1972 Tour
The Stones, looking not too drunk, courtesy of RollingStone.com

Before they tasted Jose Cuervo, The Rolling Stones were actually a pretty straight-edged crew. They mostly loved doing puzzles together. Just kidding. Debauchery was probably second nature by then (just look at those haircuts), though the band did supposedly taste its first Tequila Sunrise before starting its 1972 American tour, at a bar called The Trident in San Francisco. Whether it was made with Cuervo is unclear, but it is pretty certain that Cuervo was the drink of choice on board the Lapping Tongue (the tour plane’s nickname, for obvious reasons).

Cuervo loves beach volleyball.

Sure, Cuervo might have had a song written about it, and it probably got Charlie Watts into the mile-high club. But Cuervo was actually the first major sponsor of a beach volleyball tournament, in 1978. (You can check out footage of the 2012 Jose Cuervo Huntington Beach Pro Beach Volleyball Championships here; good/bad news is none of the players appear to be drunk.)

Cuervo’s about to go all stock market-y on our asses.

As recently as May of this year it was reported that Cuervo might take its market power to, well, the “market,” with an initial public offering, possibly in the U.S. If that’s the case, Cuervo would become “the third-largest U.S. IPO of the year.”

Cuervo does Irish whiskey, too.

OK, not quite. You won’t open a bottle of Cuervo and pour out single pot still whiskey (not least because that stuff legally has to be made in Ireland). But the Cuervo company did buy Irish whiskey, acquiring Bushmills in 2014 (actually trading Don Julio for Bushmills). And just like you probably shouldn’t mix tequila and whiskey, Cuervo won’t be mucking with the historic Bushmills recipe anytime soon.

Cuervo wants you to come visit…

Despite the proximity of the active Jalisco drug cartel, the Beckmann family wants to turn the town of Tequila into a destination for tequila lovers, not unlike a Napa Valley-type of place, complete with luxury hotels and dining destinations. The main attraction, of course, would be the Cuervo. And safety. Hopefully, safety.