Photo Credit: Paul Risner

When discussing this country’s history from its early colonial period and some of the distilled beverages that were available from that time, a spirit category like tequila would be considered very young, by this country’s historical timeline. Especially, when talking about spirits like rum, brandy and whisky that were commonly consumed by the early day settlers and many generations, thereafter.

A Little Tequila History

Tequila, in its earliest of form, has been made in Mexico since the latter part of the 16th century, after the Spanish Conquistadores established themselves in the New World and introduced distillation to the earlier Mexican civilizations. The origin of the name may have been lost in time, but many believe it derived from a Nahuatl term or phrase that alternately meant “the place where they cut.” Tequila is also the name of a town in the state of Jalisco that was officially established in 1666.

Although there is some dispute, most sources point to Don Pedro Sánchez de Tagle, the Marquis of Altamira, as the first person to mass produce tequila, beginning about 1600. However, it was not until 1795 that Don José Maria Guadalupe de Cuervo was the first to receive a license to make it from King Ferdinand IV of Spain. Don Cenobio Sauza was the first to export to tequila to the US in 1873 when he shipped 3 barrels of it to El Paso, Texas. This was soon followed by a shipment from Don Cuervo, as well. Tequila became much more popular in the US during World War II, when importing whiskey from Europe became very difficult.

Per the Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT), only the spirit producers in the five approved states of tequila production (Jalisco, Tamaulipas, Nayarit, Michoacán and Guanajuato) that only distill the juice of the Agave Tequilana Weber plant (blue agave), may officially label it "tequila." And, only if said spirit contains at least 51% agave sugars from the blue weber agave plant (supplemented by other sugars), can it legally bear the name tequila on its label. This style of tequila is considered by most to be of lesser quality compared to those that are, nowadays, produced from 100% Blue Weber Agave sugars and labeled as such. Whether you choose to believe it or not, many credit Jimmy Buffet and his song "Margaritaville" with ensuring tequila's place in the pantheon of America's most beloved spirits! I mean, have you been to one of his concerts?!

Not only has tequila come of age in terms of all-time popularity, but agave spirits, in general, have been experiencing a Renaissance where other agave spirits such as mezcal, sotol, bacanora, raicilla, etc. are steadily gaining awareness and notoriety. So, it’s without wonder why we have seen over the years more and more celebrity-endorsed or -owned tequila brands. Enter Código 1530 tequila!

Código 1530 Tequila

Although the brand “Código 1530” was founded only a few short years ago, this lowland distillery had been producing superlative tequila for several generations. Código 1530 is produced at the Villa Tecoane/Tequilera Las Juntas, S.A. de C.V. (NOM 1500) located in Amatitán, Jalisco. The story behind the brand’s origins go back a few years to when co-founder Federico “Fede” Vaughan would routinely share this ‘nameless’ tequila with his close friends over a game of golf. Fede had introduced it to Ron Snyder, the former CEO of the popular Crocs Footwear Company. But rather than just occasionally enjoying the fine agave spirit, the two decided to form a company. Shortly after, another mutual friend, Superstar Country Musician George Strait, was invited to come and try this tequila. As you would have it, the three found a new common love, and as the popular saying goes: “And, the rest was history!”

So, what’s the significance behind the name, you may be asking? According to the founders, the name of the brand has special meaning that honors both the way the tequila is produced as well as the place it comes from. According to Fede, the brand is not as highly produced as much as the bigger brands, but is produced the right way, which should be the only way! This is the code the brand lives by, hence the name Código. The second half of the brand name comes from the fact that their tequila is produced five minutes outside of Tequila in a town called Amatitán. The city was founded in 1530 by the Spaniards and has a slogan of “Donde Todo Empezó,” which means “Where It All Began.” This is an allusion to the fact that tequila was first produced in this part of Mexico.

One very intriguing fact about Código 1530 is that it proudly bears the Jerusalem Cross as the symbol of its heritage story. Furthermore, this iconic cross sits atop the Jalisco Coat of Arms and dates back to 1530 when after colonial struggle, Amatitán was officially recognized as a city of New Galencia and Jalisco was given a coat of arms by the Spanish monarchy, which was anchored by the Jerusalem Cross. Código 1530’s name honors “Los Códigos,” the old-world codes and customs that shaped and still live on in Amatitán and the Los Bajos region to this day. These values are at the core of the proud families who served this tequila in their homes and the artisan distilling family who has been the custodian of this private tequila for generations.

The Process

When it comes to making distilled beverages, there are some parts of the production process that are more integral in shaping the final product. My colleague and good friend, James “J.R.” Starkus, is an incredibly well-respected and valuable resource of all things agave. As he so eloquently puts it, “When it comes to making tequila, every step of the process from the harvesting to the aging (if utilized), is crucial and can greatly impact the outcome of the final product.” With this said, the way every brand produces its tequila you can say is completely done deliberately to achieve that specific flavor profile consistently. So, can it be argued that some parts of the process may produce a better quality or better tasting product? Yes, most likely. Can the price point we pay for these tequilas be influenced by a brand’s method of production? Better believe it! However, it’s different strokes for different folks. And, a brand will always be able to justify why it does what is does and charge what is charges!

Each of Código 1530’s expressions from the Blanco to the Orígen (Extra Añejo) uses a time-honored process that has been perfected by each passing generation that stays true stylistically with the production methods of the Los Bajos region, tequileras and jimadores. The agave, which is sourced solely from the Lowland region, is harvested at no less than seven years to assure the brix level is high enough. The Lowland agave, grown in volcanic soil, typically provides a more mineral-forward and earthy profile versus highland agave, which has a more fruit-forward profile. The agave is slowly cooked in stainless steel ovens for approximately 18 hours at a lower temperature before being processed in roller mills, so almost no solid material is in contact with the agave juice during the fermentation process. This helps ensure that no unwanted flavor characteristics develop as well as outside bacteria from flies and other bugs. Also, the yeast used comes from the local bakery and over time has adapted to the distillery environment, where now, a live strain is kept. From here, the traditional double-distillation process takes place in stainless pot stills that were designed and built by the distilling family. There are five distinct expressions that come from the post-distillation process.

Blanco: On average, a 15-day process before it’s diluted down and bottled. Although it spends no time in wood, it does spend some time resting in stainless tanks. It serves as the DNA and backbone of the entire lineup. Simply put, if you have a subpar distillate, it will be almost impossible to achieve a good aged-product. Obviously, not the case, here!

Rosa: Rested for 1 month in uncharred Napa Cabernet French White Oak barrels. The rosa has been in contact long enough inside the Cabernet barrels to enrich the natural agave juice, without overpowering its delicate floral notes.

Reposado: Aged for six months in Napa Cabernet French White Oak barrels, the reposado embraces the agave-driven flavors of Los Bajos tequila, with subtle hints of many of the signature flavors found in some American whiskeys.

Añejo: Aged for 18 months in Napa Cabernet French White Oak barrels, this time spent in oak gives this particular expression a refined, elegant and spice forward profile.

Origen (Extra Añejo): Aged for an astonishing 6 years in Napa Cabernet French White Oak barrels, making it one of the oldest and most refined Extra Añejo tequilas on the market. This expression shows deep baking spices and delicate ripe fruit notes. 

Q&A with George Strait

To really paint a better landscape with Código, I had an opportunity to ask George Strait some fun and curious questions regarding the brand and the man himself:

George, when and how did you get involved with Código 1530 tequila?

I’ve been involved with Código pretty much from the start. Before it ever had a name, Fede would bring it out to the golf course for me and others to try. It was apparent the very first time I had some that it was a very
special tequila. 

Was tequila a newly found passion of yours or have you always been deeply fond of it? Are there are any other guilty pleasures of yours that you’re willing to share with us?

I wasn’t a big tequila drinker until I started spending more time in Cabo. Even then it wasn’t until I tried (unnamed at the time) Código 1530 that I truly became a tequila drinker. I mean before, it was salt and lime to get the taste out of your mouth as fast as you could. I don’t do that anymore. 

You are a music icon and considered “The King of Country Music” by many people, so how are you able to successfully manage a busy music career, a family and a young and growing tequila brand?

Being in the tequila business has been a lot of fun. We’ve had some great events, met some really cool people and have managed to bring Código to the world. I’ve learned a lot about tequila and the work that it takes to take an unknown brand to the marketplace. There are so many tequila brands out there, so the main challenge is getting people to try yours. I feel like once people try Código they will see for themselves that it’s the best one on the shelf. Bar none. I’m busy, but I guess I like it that way. 

What would you say has been your biggest challenge as a partner-owner of a spirits brand? And, on the flip side, what has been your biggest joy?

Like I said, the biggest challenge is getting people to try it. It’s rewarding just to see the look on their faces after they do. One of the biggest rewards though, has been the fact that we’ve come so far in just over 3 years. We’re now in all 50 states and also in a few other countries. It’s just amazing to me to think about how far we’ve come. 

In your opinion, where do you see, not just tequila as a category, but all agave spirits in 10 years?

Tequila, in general, has come a long way over the past few years. It’s become way more popular due to there being more palatable brands out there. Mainly Código! The process we use is all natural. No additives in Código. Our aging process and premium Cabernet barrels that we use are the only things that change the color. The agave plant is an amazing plant. It matures in around 7 years and we’ve started making a great biodegradable straw from agave byproducts that is awesome. We hope to spread these around to the world as well. Everyone’s getting really picky about straws. This is a great solution. 

If you were to choose only one thing, what would you say makes Código 1530 different from any other tequila produced today?

I think it’s our aging process and the barrels we use. We have truly amazing distillers watching over every aspect of the process. Also, our agaves have to be perfect or we don’t use them.

Could you please tell the readers how you best enjoy drinking Código?

My favorite is the añejo. I drink it on the rocks. 

Lastly, do you have any favorite pairings that you personally love to team up Código with?

I like to pair my Código with golf, fishing, steak, seafood, sushi, fried chicken, hamburger, etc, etc, etc. 

Til’ next year, ladies and gentlemen… Happy Holidays!