Chemical engineer turned master distiller of Stoli Group’s new Cenote Tequila, Arturo Fuentes has mastered the art of making cognac and Champagne in France, rum in Mexico, and, for the past 18 years, tequila in Jalisco. Best known for Stolichnaya vodka, Stoli Group looked to Fuentes to craft the brand’s premium blanco, reposado, and añejo tequilas.
The Manual sat down with Fuentes to talk distilling, flavor inspiration, his thoughts on the cristalino trend, and soccer rivalries.
The Manual: When did you first try tequila?
Arturo Fuentes: Only about 25 or 30 years ago. [Fuentes is 70.] Before that, tequilas were all so strong and not great in quality. Now, tequila is made to appreciate and keeps evolving.
“Tequila is my life; I love it with a passion even after all these years.”
TM: Did you always want to be a master distiller?
AF: I was born in a small town close to the Gulf of Mexico. It is a tropical area with a lot of vegetation, rivers, and waterfalls, but there were not a lot of universities. So I decided, at 14 years old, to move to Mexico City to get an education. I achieved my dream and earned a chemical engineering degree. I never imagined it would take me around the world making alcohol spirits.
TM: Is tequila your one true love?
AF: Tequila is my life; I love it with a passion even after all these years. I have been a master distiller of premium tequila since 2000. Prior to that, I was working on other spirits such as cognac and Champagne in France and rum in Mexico. I learned so much working in those categories and used that knowledge when creating Cenote.
TM: Blanco, reposado, añejo — which do you drink and how do you drink it?
AF: I prefer reposado, but I do enjoy Cenote Blanco. The blanco, after it rests in American oak barrels, is unlike any other blanco and I’m very proud of that. It is delicious in a mixed cocktail, but I personally think it is best enjoyed straight for sipping.
TM: What are your thoughts on the trend of cristalino tequila?
AF: It is very popular in Mexico as more people are drinking blancos. With cristalino, you get the flavor notes of añejo but with the color of a blanco.
TM: So, what does the job of master distiller entail (asking for a friend)?
“Patience is a virtue, which many large producers do not have time for. You have to respect the time it takes to grow the agave to maturity.”
AF: We play a key role in overseeing the entire process to ensure no mistakes are made that could cause contamination to the spirit. It is our job to make sure we’re placing the best liquid into the barrels to rest. We pay close attention to the details that others might not have the time for; for instance, our water is sourced from a volcano, but then we filter it through silver ions to make sure only the purest water is used for Cenote. Patience is a virtue, which many large producers do not have time for. You have to respect the time it takes to grow the agave to maturity. This could be six to seven years of waiting!
TM: How can you tell a bad tequila from a good one?
AF: For a master distiller, we can tell just by nosing it or looking at the liquid. For someone new to tequila, they should smell the liquid and look for notes of vanilla, chocolates, or bright spices. This is a good tequila. You also may get a blend of wood that you can taste throughout the entire palate. A bad tequila sometimes tastes like wet paper and is often caused by contamination in the process — possibly a little mold in the barrel. One mistake and the tequila gets altered.
TM: Where did your flavor inspiration for Cenote come from?
AF: Cenotes are pools of underground water formed by collapsed limestone; they are very special places for the Mexican people and thought to be spiritual. Our tequila was named after the cenotes as a tribute to their mystic beliefs, thought by the Mayans to be inhabited by gods and were called “the windows to the other world.” When developing the packaging, we chose blue glass the color of the water in the cenotes and also the Weber blue agaves used to make the tequila.
TM: How do your process and ingredients differ from other tequila distillers?
AF: Our water is sourced from an artesian well located at our distillery (Fabrica de Tequila Finos), which sits at the base of the Jalisco volcano. The water goes through reverse osmosis and carbon filters with silver ions to eliminate any chance of impurities. To produce the highest quality, our agave grows to full maturity for a minimum of six to seven years before being harvested from the lowland region of Jalisco. Together with our master blender, we have more than 70 years of experience and that goes a long way.
TM: Apart from distilling, what other hobbies do you have?
AF: I enjoy staying active even at 70. I love playing sports, working out several times a week, and hanging out with my children. Our distillery has a soccer team and we have won our championship two years in a row. This year, we will be defending our title.
TM: Salud to that!