In the midst of 213 agave-based spirits, fresh-faced brand Muerto Tequila took the spotlight and was dubbed “Best in Class – Reposado” at September’s Spirits of Mexico Festival, the world’s premier stage for all agave spirits. Muerto Tequila, a first-time competitor at the ninth-annual event in San Diego, is a new brand in the market of Mexican spirits and will add this accolade to a list of accomplishments it has achieved in just a year.
The spirits industry’s most reputable members, writers and master distillers judged 113 entries during the Spirits of Mexico competition, deeming Muerto’s Reposado the best in its class - the highest honor in the category for reposados, and also gave gold medals to both its reposado and plata tequilas. This past March, Muerto racked up two medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition as well and, with a total of five wins in only seven months, the newcomer will continue to be poured, sipped and celebrated.
“It is extremely gratifying to win awards from the Spirits of Mexico Festival our first year out,” said Muerto Co-Owner Mike O’Hara. “Our journey has been a crazy road and everything has happened so fast. To achieve respect from, basically, the Olympics of tequila is something that we never would have anticipated in our launch year.”
Sacramento residents, Mike O’Hara, a computer engineer and part-time bartender, and Ralph Bailey, a successful business owner with a background in freight, happened to fall into the tequila industry by being in the right place at the right time. O’Hara’s love of tequila had landed him an invitation to visit a customer’s hometown of Amatitan, Mexico, back in January 2011, and O’Hara brought Bailey along on the trip.
During what they call their leap-of-faith journey, they toured distilleries small and large, from ones that had just one to two batches of tequila brewing, to giants like Jose Cuervo. They found a match made in heaven when they met Michael Maestri, a fellow American, and his wife Celia, who ran a modernized distillery and had a history of working with America’s favorite spirits including Skyy Vodka and other beverage staples.
O’Hara, a part-time bartender at a Mexican restaurant in Sacramento, had been developing his palate for tequila for quite some time, favoring sweeter flavors. This meeting sealed the deal. Together Bailey, O’Hara and the Maestris designed a recipe that was not a traditionally tasting Mexican tequila but catered to the American palate – with flavor notes hinting of vanilla, caramel, butterscotch, nutmeg, cinnamon and even banana. The spirit was aged for seven months using Canadian white oak barrels three-times charred, and later would become the award-winning Muerto Reposado.
Inspired by Dia de los Muertos, a Mexican holiday dedicated to honoring the dead, O’Hara and Bailey came up with the name Muerto. The bottle’s logo is a skull, much like the painted skeleton faces worn on Dia de los Muertos, to reflect the aggressive approach they took to pushing the boundaries in their tequila.
With a mix of curiosity and willingness to be bold, the two tequila-fans-turned-full-blown agave-aficionados created Muerto Tequila from start to finish with the hope that those who imbibe the spirit will celebrate life, honor those who have passed and do it all while enjoying tequila.