The Ambassador of Tequila
Growing up the son of Mexican immigrants in San Francisco, Julio Bermejo worked at his family’s Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant. “I cut tomatoes, shredded lettuce, grated millions of pounds of cheese,” he says. Restaurant work is “the last form of legalized slavery. You better be in love with it if you want to succeed.”
As a young man, Julio was embarrassed by the work — until he discovered pure agave tequila. Tending bar at Tommy’s, he began making margaritas with Herradura’s 100-percent-agave tequila.
“My father went ballistic,” Julio says. Compared to cheap mixed tequilas, “it was four times as expensive. But people could taste the difference.”
In the late 1980s, Julio tried Patrón and El Tesoro. “That blew me away,” he says, and propelled him on a pilgrimage to Jalisco, the Mexican state where most tequila is produced.
“I knew Patrón and El Tesoro were different but didn’t know why or how,” he says. El Tesoro’s Don Felipe Camarena and his son Carlos welcomed Julio with open arms and showed him how fine tequila is made. Julio didn’t just fall in love with tequila on that trip; he became smitten with Carlos’ sister Liliana, whom he married in 2006.
In San Francisco, Julio founded the Blue Agave Club at Tommy’s to encourage customers to try 100-percent-agave tequilas. The first incentive: Taste a number of different tequilas and get a T-shirt, which evolved to a framed diploma.
But people wanted more. So Julio launched a card for graduates. Fill it, then score 80 percent or better on a notoriously difficult test about tequila, and you can become a “Demigod” and travel to Mexico on one of Julio’s tasting tours. The club now has more than 8,000 members — not all of them active, he says.
Because Julio has shared his passion for fine tequila with so many people and has become so knowledgable, the Mexican tequila promotion authority Cámara Nacional de la Industria Tequilera (CNIT) gave him the title “Ambassador of Tequila to the United States.”
Director Mel Lawrence was so taken with Julio and his love for tequila that he’s making a documentary about him. It’s called, of course, The Ambassador of Tequila.