How Caballito Cerrero Lost Its Tequila Classification But Gained Everything

Caballito Cerrero is a modest distillery compared to the giant producers in Mexico’s tequila industry. However, their reputation looms large amongst fans of high-quality, additive-free agave spirits. With a history that runs parallel to some of the biggest names in tequila, and an independent streak as long as the Rio Grande, Caballito Cerrero has managed to overcome adversity and prosper. Beloved in its homeland, the brand first arrived in the United States in 2019, and its popularity has been on the ascent, despite losing its official classification as a tequila.

Family Legacy and Tequila Tradition

Like American bourbon or French wine, Mexico’s tequila industry was historically the domain of family enterprises, with new brands birthed through mergers and, in some cases, marriage. Caballito Cerrero was founded in 1950 by Don Alfonso Jiménez Rosales, and the Jimenez family owns it to this day. Don Alfonso learned the ropes of the spirits business while working at Tequila Herradura, then owned by his cousins, the Rosales family.

Don Alfonso left Herradura following an unspecified family dispute. Seeking to forge his own path and create a brand that placed a premium on quality, he founded 'El Caballito Cerrero, El que no necesita herraduras,' which translates to "The Untamed Horse, the one that doesn't need horseshoes," according to their website. The name is both a play on their origins, a dig at Herradura, and a statement of purpose. Like the stallion rearing on its label, Caballito Cerrero has never been afraid to kick and bray against Mexico's spirits industry.

Bucking Tequila's Regulatory Landscape

In the world of Mexican spirits, the CRT (Consejo Regulador del Tequila) holds sway as the regulatory authority governing tequila production. Established in 1993, the CRT oversees every aspect of tequila manufacturing, from agave cultivation to bottling and labeling. Its primary purpose is to establish certification criteria and ensure quality standards across the industry. The Mexican government pays and authorizes the CRT to manage regulations, but it isn't a government agency. Therefore, critics argue the CRT lacks real authority to conduct oversight, and is simply an extension of the big tequila producers that enables them to control the market and dictate terms to the disadvantage of small independent distillers.

Caballito Cerrero’s Javier Alfonso Jimenez Vizcarra, and son Javier Alfonso Jimenez Teran, were among those who helped formulate the CRT's regulatory guidelines. Over the years, however, they distanced themselves from the organization, believing their regulations were too restrictive for distillers and not stringent enough to protect consumers. In 2018, they made the bold decision to remove the word tequila from Caballito Cerrero bottles, instead classifying their spirits as “destilado de agave.”

By abandoning the tequila designation, Caballito Cerrero is free from the restrictions of the CRT. The Jimenez family has been outspoken in its criticism of the organization. They believe it pressures distillers towards mass production, and limits their ability to craft unique spirits by dictating which ingredients must be used to be classified as a tequila, down to the type of agave. Other brands have done the same, including Chacolo, whose artisanal agave spirits rely on traditional distilling techniques and are produced in small batches, like Caballito Cerrero.

A Commitment To Quality

Since the company’s start, Caballito Cerrero has been made at the Santa Rita Factory in Amatitán, Jalisco. The facility was built in 1873 by Don Alfonso’s father-in-law, Maximiano Hernández, and was designed to make the maximum use of gravity in the production process. All their spirits are made from 100% agave, using locally grown varietals, and bottled in small batches that vary in proof.

Caballito Cerrero Reposado, their flagship release, is aged for nine months in American oak barrels. Caballito Cerrero Azul Blanco 46 is a higher-proof blanco that's made using old-world techniques. Another blanco, bottled at 92 proof, rounds out their regular lineup. Caballito Cerrero also offers limited edition anejos and other special bottlings.


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