This Master Distiller Helped Change the Face of Luxury Tequila

Clase Azul's Viridiana Tinoco created the brand's iconic Clase Azul Tequila Gold.

Clase Azul's Master Distiller, Viridiana Tinoco
Photo: Courtesy of Clase Azul

Tequila is having more than just a moment. The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States reported that agave-based spirits were the second fastest–growing alcohol by both revenue and volume in 2021.

Clase Azul Mexico, made in Jalisco, Mexico, is a huge part of this agave spirits trend. The company offers a portfolio of seven staple agave spirits that include mezcal and tequila. The most recognizable iteration in the U.S. is its reposado, in a blue and white hand-painted ceramic decanter topped with a bell cap that emits a celebratory ringing sound when tapped. Clase Azul works with Mexican artisans to create these beautiful bottles, but it's the liquid gold inside — the reposado has a smooth finish with a hint of sweetness and notes of hazelnut and vanilla — that has them flying off the shelves.

The woman responsible for perfecting the agave spirits at Clase Azul is master distiller Viridiana Tinoco. The Durango, Mexico, native was first introduced to the tequila industry during her undergraduate studies when she visited different factories to learn about how agave was processed. "During these visits, I was always fascinated with the fermentation process and I decided early on that I would want to apply fermentation in my future career," Tinoco told Travel + Leisure.

She graduated in 2002 as a biochemical engineer and moved to Guadalajara to work for a food and beverage manufacturing company. Here, she worked fermenting wheat flour and making agave honey. It wasn't until she tried working with agave that she realized she wanted to steer her path toward the tequila industry. "When I first arrived at the factory and was able to smell the aromas of the raw and cooked agave and saw the magnificent fields of agave driving to work every day, it brought me to where I am today," Tinoco said.

Clase Azul's Master Distiller, Viridiana Tinoco
Courtesy of Clase Azul

Fast forward to 2016 and Tinoco was brought on to join Clase Azul while she simultaneously earned her master's degree in tequila processes. Her certificates in quality control and experience with fermentation caught the attention of the brand.

Plus, her love for science comes in handy. "Every step along the way of creating tequila is a series of chemical reactions that [I] feel are important to develop because they have a direct effect on the finished aromas and notes of the product," Tinoco said. "Some of these steps include the effects of the minerals in the soil, the rainfall on the agave, the cooking, fermenting, and distilling process, as well as the aging process where we get to personalize the product with the final notes we want to achieve."

It became clear that Tinoco was exactly what the brand needed when she created her first blend: Clase Azul Tequila Gold. It was meant to be a one-time batch, but it was so well-received that it became part of the official portfolio. The spirit combines the brand's Plata Blanco (a light tequila with flavors of vanilla, Meyer lemon, fresh mint, and a hint of green guava) with a special reposado matured in French Oak barrels and an extra añejo aged three years in American whiskey casks and finished in sherry barrels. The medium-body tequila has flavors of fig, green olive, ginger, and cocoa. 

Since then, she has crafted every distill, including limited-edition runs like the Día de los Muertos tequila and Master Artisans tequila. The latter is particularly special as it marks the beginning of an annual series where the company partners with a different Mexican artisan to design a new bottle, celebrating the region's culture and arts. Introduced this past December, the inaugural decanter was done in collaboration with award-winning artist Ángel Santos, a renowned ceramicist based in Jalisco.

What's inside will also change, but Tinoco made a statement with the first release by putting together the brand's longest-aged tequila to date. The eight-year-old extra añejo was first aged in American whiskey barrels for 64 months and was finished in three different types of sherry casks for 41 months. While the aging process predates Tinoco's tenure at Clase Azul, she brought this exceptional spirit to life during the blending process, turning it into the final product that's housed inside Santos' masterpiece.

Tinoco approaches her task with genuine excitement and is deeply grateful to play a role in this sliver of Mexican culture. She cried tears of joy when she first attended "A Taste of Culture" — one of three culinary concepts in Clase Azul's multi-restaurant space in San José del Cabo. A Taste of Culture features spirit pairings that Tinoco helped create, presented with invented dishes and multi-sensory, immersive art. "I love everything about tequila and to me, this will never feel like a job," she said. And to that, we say, salud.

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