Tequila Timeline: From Agave to the Worm

One tequila, two tequila, three tequila … floor! Nothing can make a night — or a year — disappear quite like the agave-fueled Mexican liquor. Jose Cuervo is still No. 1 on the market, though Patrón has soared to No. 2 since its 1989 launch. On the occasion of spirit maker Diageo celebrating the 250th anniversary of Cuervo this November 2, one year late, we drink up its economic history.

Tequila Timeline: From Agave to the Worm


Don Pedro Sánches de Tagle, “the father of tequila,” starts the first commercial tequila factory, in what was then called Nueva Galicia (now Jalisco).



The King of Spain gives a land grant to Don Jose Antonio de Cuervo to grow agave.


Don Cenobio Sauza exports three barrels to El Paso, Texas, the first tequila in the United States. Today, the U.S. is the No. 1 market for tequila. Mexico is second. Third? Greece.


After Mexican distillers create mixtos, agave mixed with other sugars for a blander, sweeter taste — tequila need contain only 51% agave to be labeled tequila — the margarita is invented. It’s now America’s most popular cocktail; about 60% of all tequila sold in the U.S. goes into margaritas.


The frozen-margarita machine is invented by Dallas restaurateur Mariano Martinez Jr., who sells 36,000 gallons of the concoction in its first year. His invention was added to the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in 2005.


Jimmy Buffett charts his only top-10 single, “Margaritaville.” He later parlays the tune into a multimillion-dollar lifestyle-brand empire — including a line of tequilas — paving the way for musician-tequilapreneurs such as Sammy Hagar (Cabo Wabo) and Justin Timberlake (901).


Entrepreneur Robert Denton begins importing the 100% agave Chinaco. He’s credited with being the first to use sophisticated marketing and packaging to sell small-batch top-shelf tequila. In 2008, high-end and superpremium tequilas made up more than $600 million of the $1.6 billion U.S. market.


Early 1990s

A surprising surge in tequila’s popularity leads to a shortage of agave. It can’t be harvested for up to 10 years after planting, forcing growers to predict demand a decade ahead. This has led to boom-and-bust cycles in agave production and repeated predictions of an industry shakeout.


Cuervo’s 250 Aniversario ($2,250), with agave grown on King Carlos’s original land grant, will be released on the 251st anniversary. “We needed more time,” says a Cuervo spokesperson. Only a tequila drinker would understand.