A Chat with Don Julio’s Master Distiller Enrique de Colsa

At last months Imbibe Live BarLifeUK were lucky enough to spend some time with Don Julio’s Master Distiller Enrique de Colsa.

We say ‘lucky’ as it turns out Enrique is a thoroughly charming and funny guy. He was in town to spread the word of Don Julio and in particular 1942 which, despite being around since 2002, has just recently hit UK shores.

Over here at BarLifeUK we are always fascinated by the people behind the spirits we enjoy, they are often as interesting, and occasionally more so, than the brands they represent. As a result we are going to concentrate on the man himself here but if you want to find out more about Don Julio 1942 then we shan’t deny you – just click your merry self here.

Enrique has been with Don Julio for 14 years but his journey to the role of Master Distiller wasn’t a particularly obvious one. He has a degree in Industrial Engineering specialising in Liquid Management. Which sounds impressive but what on earth you do with a Liquid Management degree was beyond us.

Enrique de Colsa

In Enrique’s case it meant a job in a bottling lines company, a company which just happened to supply several Tequila distilleries in Mexico. In the late 1980’s Don Julio became a client however his first move into the world of Tequila production saw him moving to Cazadores a few years later.

During his time at Cazadores he had kept in touch with Don Julio’s Master Distiller Don Julio González who employed him at Don Julio in 1999. It is impossible to tell you Enrique’s story without touching on Don Julio González’s (we shall call the man González and the product Don Julio from now on to avoid massive confusion).

Don Julio González

González began distilling tequila in 1942 (hence the name of the aforementioned tequila) at the grand old age of 17. Whilst he wasn’t the first to produce tequila he was certainly one of the great innovators of the category and spent the next 40 years improving his craft and knowledge.

Don Julio as a brand is however reasonably new in the history of this man as it was only launched in 1987. Originally González conceived the product we now know as Don Julio as something for his friends and family to enjoy. It was only through consistent badgering that he relented and allowed the brand to be bottled and sold.

The story of the distinctive bottles was one of the favourites Enrique told me about González during our chat, it was also the first time I noticed the glint in his eye when he speaks of his old mentor and friend. Don Julio was due to be served at a big party in González honour after he had recovered from a serious stroke.

Don Julio Gonzalez

When the party was being discussed González decided he didn’t want the traditional tall tequila bottles on the tables as they interfered with peoples ability to converse across the tables. He wanted short bottles so this didn’t happen, the distinctive Don Julio was born and a story that sums up the spirit of tequila was logged into history.

Back to Enrique

When Enrique joined in 1999 González was still at the helm and they worked alongside each other for 5 years before the master retired from the day-to-day running of the distillery (Don Julio Gonzalez unfortunately passed away in 2012, a great loss to the whole Tequila industry). The knowledge and skills that were passed over during this time are evident not only in the tequila that Enrique produces, but in the way he speaks of the product.

When I asked him the biggest lesson he learnt from González during their time together the biggest smile of the day came over his face (although to be fair I didn’t see the one after I stopped asking questions which could easily have eclipsed it).

The lesson was passion. Passion and to be proud of what you produce, a great product first and foremost.

That passion spills over into every subject you speak with Enrique about. Some Master Distillers aren’t overly keen on the world of bars, bartenders and cocktails but Enrique is a man who seems to have embraced it. He has been involved with the Diageo World Class competition and is excited by what he see’s and fascinated by the skills and techniques people use to bring the best out of his product.

His preferred serve is also a little unusual for a Master Distiller. Usually the most interesting part of the answer to that question is whether they have ice or not in their neat spirit. Not this Master Distiller though.

Don Julio and tonic with a lime twist. I’m telling you right now if you haven’t tried it give it a go. It works a treat and I can only imagine how good that would taste in the hot midday sun at La Primavera Distillery (was that a subtle enough hint?).

I’m sure Enrique will be back in the UK soon and I suggest in the strongest possible way to get your butts along to any training sessions he is holding. If you are fortunate enough to find yourself in Mexico head over to the distillery. Whilst it doesn’t do tours for the tourists it does do special tours for bartenders, just let them know when you’ll be coming and they will give you the VIP treatment.

In the meantime grab a Don Julio and tonic and enjoy the last few weeks of this English summer.