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Behind the Backbar at Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant

In "Anatomy of a Backbar" we get to know the world's most notable spirits programs in five bottles. This round, agave expert Julio Bermejo on the famed selection of more than 300 tequilas at Tommy's Mexican Restaurant.

Backbar Tommys Mexican Restaurant Tequila Collection

When Julio Bermejo first set foot in his family’s Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant, he was barely old enough to walk. Since taking over the bar program in the 1990s, however, Bermejo has turned it into a true epicenter for tequila; not only is the restaurant now known for its namesake modern classic Margarita, it’s home to an enviable collection of more than 300 bottles of agave spirits.

Bermejo first started studying tequila at the age of 21, when he made a point to begin visiting distilleries in Jalisco, Mexico, to learn firsthand from local tequila makers committed to quality—among them, Guillermo Romo de la Peña, the former owner of Herradura. “When I was being mentored by Guillermo, Herradura was the largest 100-percent agave tequila producer in the world,” says Bermejo, who swapped out the well tequila, a mixto, for Herradura Silver early on in his tenure behind the stick. “It really taught me about the importance of emphasizing real agave tequila.” Over the course of about 15 years, Bermejo grew the collection at Tommy’s to include a wide variety of new-to-the-market and rare bottlings, small-batch offerings and classic distillery-owned and operated brands—all of them made with 100 percent agave.

Today, Bermejo is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost tequila experts, and he repeatedly proclaims that the spirit is one of the most terroir-driven in the world, something that’s reflected on the list at Tommy’s. There, bottles like Roca Patrón and Tapatio, both highland tequilas from the Los Altos region of Jalisco, tend to reflect the area’s rich soils in their fruit-forward flavors, while valley-based brands from central Mexico, like Fortaleza and Herradura, are made with agave grown in volcanic soil and heavily watered, resulting in an earthy, herbaceous, often spicier spirit.

In addition, the bar’s selection includes a wide range of styles, from the more commonly known blancos (including the always-popular Patrón Silver) to rare reposados from brands like G4. Bermejo says that if a tequila is distillery-owned and operated and will export to the state of California, he wants to carry it. Hence, the collection has a near-equal amount of each style, though it leans slightly heavier on complex reposados and añejos.

Another element that sets Tommy’s apart from other bars is its education program; whenever he’s given the opportunity, Bermejo takes time to educate his customers not only on the spirit itself, but on tequila culture. “The culture of agave and tequila is deep-rooted in many parts of Mexico. It’s not just a distilled spirit that happens to come from a particular country,” explains Bermejo. “It’s Mexico’s extended handshake to the world.”

As it turns out, among the most effective means of educating customers has been via Tommy’s Blue Agave Club, an intensive membership-based training program that—upon completion of a written exam—offers graduates access to an especially rare, secret, 100-bottle tequila list. But the restaurant attracts an equal number of novice drinkers, too, which is how Bermejo prefers to run his business.

“If you don’t want to spend a lot of money drinking añejo, then you don’t have to drink that… If you prefer your Margaritas blended, that’s fine, too,” says Bermejo. “I want tequila to be accessible to everyone.”

Get to Know Tommy's in Five Bottles

Roca Patrón Silver

In 2014, the company behind one of the world’s most oft-sipped tequilas, Patrón, launched a premium line of the spirit called “Roca,” which is more refined than their flagship bottling. “Patrón is doing the opposite of everyone else right now,” says Bermejo. “While others are trying to stretch production as much as they can… Patron created another brand that’s made the way everyone used to make tequila over 100 years ago.” The high ABV of this spicy, citrusy highland blanco gives it more heat than others in the category, he says.

  • Price: $66
  • ABV: 45 percent ABV

Siete Leguas Blanco

This family-owned and operated distillery has stayed committed to their roots despite being the largest-selling brand of 100 percent agave blanco tequila in Mexico, with about 30 percent of the market. “They have always operated using their own agave and sticking by their guns in production,” says Bermejo. “They respect the process, and I respect them for that dedication.”

  • Price: $44
  • ABV: 40 percent

Fortaleza Blanco

The family that makes Fortaleza has roots in tequila-making that date back to the late 1800s; in fact, they were the first to bring tequila to the United States, where it was sold as “Mexican whiskey” or “Mexican brandy” to appeal to the American palate. A century later, the family sold the business and shut down for 20 years, before the family’s younger generation decided to restore their distillery and begin making tequila again. “Fortaleza is a quintessential valley tequila,” explains Bermejo. “Their blanco is quite earthy, with herbal tones and a very faint sweetness.”

  • Price: $50
  • ABV: 40 percent

G4 Reposado

Bermejo’s brother-in-law makes G4 tequila, which is new to both Tommy’s and the United States (for the past few years, it’s only been available in Mexico). As Bermejo explains, the distillery (which he says is among the “greenest” in the industry) is making tequila by marrying two widely used production methods: the roller mill (an efficient method of crushing, but one that can be harsh on the agave) and the stone wheel (a slower method that makes agave-forward tequila). “[Their] crushing method for cooked agave is something that no one has ever seen before,” explains Bermejo. “It’s as fast as the roller mill, but gentle like the stone wheel.” Lightly oaked, this reposado offers hints of vanilla and cooked citrus, with a long, smooth finish.

  • Price: $67
  • ABV: 40 percent

Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia Extra Añejo

“This tequila is one of my favorites; it’s almost like bourbon on the nose,” says Bermejo. “I always recommend it to people who like oak-driven spirits.” In fact, Bermejo loves it so much that he purchased five barrels of the spirit, which is aged in French and American oak barrels for a minimum of three years, to commemorate the restaurant’s 50th anniversary in 2015. The celebratory tequila isn’t available at Tommy’s yet—because the distillery is creating special packaging for it—but it’s expected to arrive by September of this year.

  • ABV: 40 percent ABV

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Ashley Goldsmith lives in San Francisco where she's the assistant editor at Via. In her spare time, she writes about food and travel for publications including Bon Appétit, Lucky Peach, AFAR, and Vice. Ashley spent over a decade working in the restaurant industry before deciding to make the move to the dark side.