As tequila continues to lift itself out of the dimly lit corner American drinkers spilled it in, discerning drinkers among us will notice an increased emphasis on smaller, family-owned, “craft” tequila brands. And that’s great — but those brands might not exist if it weren’t for a big, conglomeration-owned tequila brand, Casa Sauza.
Named after its founder, Don Cenobio Sauza, Sauza Tequila was established in 1873 and introduced tequila to the American market. In doing so, it paved the way for artisan brands with rock-solid indigenous ties. In short, Sauza helped make tequila “tequila” — an agave spirit distinct from mezcal, and one that blossomed into its own massive category.
Not to mention, along with an impressive selection of tequilas — including its Signature Blue Silver, Signature Blue Reposado, Silver, Gold, Conmemorativo Añejo, and Cucumber Chili Tequilas — Sauza’s lineup includes a tequila-spiked concession to the hard seltzer tidal wave, and a backstory with “Romeo and Juliet”-level drama.
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Read on for 10 more things you should know about Sauza Tequila.
Sauza was the first tequila to launch in the U.S., though its target market was Mexico.
Don Cenobio wanted his liquor in America, yes. But launching it here was part of a larger, pre-influencer marketing scheme: He knew getting tequila into American shot glasses and snifters would sway upper-middle- class Mexicans into changing their minds about the drink, at the time still associated with rough-hewn mezcals. In a classic calculation of “make X jealous by flirting with Y,” Don Cenobio launched the product in America in 1873, helping to attract a homegrown, upper-middle-class Mexican audience south of the border.
Casa Sauza’s founder is the reason tequila and mezcal taste different.
Without the Sauza family — specifically, Don Cenobio Sauza — tequila might still be a murky, ill-defined subsection of the agave spirits world. Back in the day, agave spirits, including tequila, were made by cooking down agave hearts in special wood-fired ovens. It was a hugely labor- and fuel-intensive process. But with some technical innovations and aggressive branding, Sauza flipped the script.
When he founded La Perseverancia distillery in 1873 — where Casa Sauza tequila continues to be made — Don Cenobio figured out how to heat those ovens with steam, which was more cost-efficient and had the secondary effect of creating a distinct delineation between smoky, wood-fired mezcal and fresher, greener-tasting tequila.
For Sauza, tequila and family are one and the same.
If your parents asked you to take over the family business, you’d probably go to the beach with some Cannabis Rosé to think it over. But if you were a member of the Sauza family, you’d say, “Yup, cool, let’s do this,” pretty much immediately. And so it went for “the three Dons.” Founder Don Cenobio Sauza handed off the business to his son, Don Eladio Sauza, in 1903. Don Eladio later passed down the company to his son, Don Francisco Sauza.
Later, some family drama ensued, ousting Don Francisco from the business and family. He later regained control of the company, only to sell it in 1976. The company is now owned by Beam Suntory.
You can thank “The Three Dons” for tequila, period.
We owe these guys a bit, don’t we? When Casa Sauza was founded, tequila as we know and love it wasn’t as clear-cut a product. For example, it was once called “Mexican Whisky Brandy.” It wasn’t legally protected at the time, and even the requisite main ingredient, Blue Weber Agave, wasn’t a must.
But tequila was defining itself, slowly. In a move to push his product in the American market, Don Cenobio brought Casa Sauza to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, where it won the “Columbian Brandy Exposition Awards.” The win made Casa Sauza famous enough that the spirit was referred to as “tequila” from that point forward.
Years later, in 1974, Don Francisco successfully petitioned the Mexican government to acknowledge the town of Tequila as the only legitimate source of tequila — further cementing the Sauza family’s vital role in the creation of the spirit.
Don Cenobio is also why tequila is made with Blue Agave.
One more contribution from Sauza’s founder: While “tequila,” the distillate of Blue Weber Agave cooked in above-ground steam ovens, didn’t have formal legal protections until 1974, Don Cenobio was ahead of the pack in terms of branding (see “World’s Fair” above) and ingredients. By singling out the spiky blue succulent as the best source of flavor for his tequila, he set a trend that eventually became law.
Sauza prides itself on a soft touch.
It calls the method “gentle extraction,” which sounds a bit like the debut single of a dentist-turned-saxophonist. In reality, this method, also known as the “diffuser” method, involves shredded agave (agave bagasse) put on a long belt and repeatedly rinsed, which gently extracts all the starchy juice from the fibrous pulp. This is opposed to, say, crushing the juices out, as in the old-school tahona or modernized mill process.
Sauza lives right next door to its worst enemy.
OK, maybe “worst enemy” is a stretch, and “main market competitor” is a more accurate term, but like Casa Sauza, we went for juicy. Sauza’s La Perseverancia distillery is a mere six-minute walk from Jose Cuervo. And to say Cuervo and Sauza haven’t mixed well is understatement. There’s even a rumor that Don Cenobio’s son, Don Eladio, shot and killed a Cuervo on the streets of Tequila in the 1900s. But wait, there’s more…
Sauza and Cuervo had some Shakespearean drama.
Don Francisco Sauza was briefly disowned for marrying a distant Cuervo relative in what’s basically the “Romeo and Juliet” story of Mexican tequila. He managed to inch his way back into the family business before abruptly selling it in 1976.
The Sauza family’s legacy lives on… in more tequila brands.
When he wasn’t being briefly disowned, Don Francisco (a.k.a. the “Romeo” to Jose Cuervo’s “Juliet”) was doing good work within the business, including launching Hornitos under the Casa Sauza umbrella in 1950.
He also started the more upscale Tres Generaciones label in 1973 to celebrate three generations of Sauza family success in the tequila industry. Later, Guillermo Sauza, grandson to Don Francisco, relaunched the Fortaleza brand, in 2005. A bartender favorite, Fortaleza is the last Sauza family-owned distillery.
Sauza makes a canned hard sparkler (like White Claw, but with tequila).
Demonstrating a little extra savvy, Sauza got in on the hard seltzer trend in 2018, when it launched its version of the fizzy fad: Sauza Agua Fuerte. It was a good move, considering it turns out hard seltzer isn’t a trend after all, but a new way of life. The brand didn’t launch a seltzer, exactly, but a sparkling water mixed with Sauza tequila and fruit essences — basically a tequila-and-soda in a lovely can. It comes in Lime, Grapefruit, Mango, and Pineapple flavors. You’ll recognize the cans by the smiling skeleton mascot, who looks like he’s remembering that you owe him $20.