In the world of tequila, where craftsmanship and culture intersect, one name stands out: Karina Sanchez Huitron. With a background that blends chemical engineering, a passion for adventurous eating, and a deep love for the art of tequila, Karina has emerged as a true trailblazer. As the Global Brand Ambassador for Don Julio Tequila, she embarks on a mission to educate, inspire, and ignite a love affair with the Mexican spirit. Over the course of 17 years, Karina honed her skills, serving as a brand ambassador and orchestrating unique drinking encounters that showcased the artistry of tequila consumption.
Drawing from her scientific background, Karina brings a rare perspective to the table. With her profound understanding of the distilling process and the intricate complexities of tequila production, she unravels the secrets behind the spirit’s flavors and aromas. From the careful selection of agave to the delicate aging process, she decodes the alchemy of tequila, revealing its hidden depths and captivating nuances. Her chemistry degree grants her a deep appreciation for the diverse compounds that compose tequila, allowing her to craft immersive experiences that transcend the ordinary.
Just recently, Karina found herself in Vietnam, ready to immerse herself in the local culture and engage with a dynamic community of bartenders, mixologists, and trade professionals. Karina’s mission is clear: collaboration and knowledge-sharing. She eagerly seeks to connect with local industry experts, fostering a vibrant exchange of ideas and experiences. Education takes center stage as she delves into the intricacies of tequila, unveiling the unique characteristics that make Don Julio shine among the vast array of tequila brands. From the agave fields to the art of distillation, she unveils the secrets that give Don Julio its distinctive flavor profile, ensuring that every participant gains a deeper understanding of this remarkable spirit.
In Vietnam, where tradition meets innovation, Karina Sanchez Huitron embraces the spirit of adventure and cultural exchange. Through collaboration, education, and the artistry of cocktail craftsmanship, she leaves an indelible mark on the Vietnamese tequila landscape, forever enriching the local bartending community and paving the way for a deeper appreciation of Don Julio Tequila. For her, tequila is more than a drink - it’s a conduit to the heart and soul of Mexico.
How important is the role of women in the tequila industry, and how have you observed their participation and influence grow in recent years?
I would like to begin by acknowledging that in the 90s, tequila experienced significant growth, largely driven by the increasing consumption of tequila among women. Women played a pivotal role in the expansion of this industry. Presently, we are witnessing a rise in the number of women involved in various aspects of tequila production, marketing, and other positions that men traditionally held. It’s worth highlighting that Diageo, the company that Don Julio Tequila is part of, has been actively promoting gender equality and encouraging equal participation of women and men in all roles.
Today, we see more women participating in agave fields, working as distillers, and contributing to the production of tequila. There is also a notable increase in the number of women holding key positions within the industry, including master distillers and company owners. It’s remarkable to witness the transformation where women have transitioned from being consumers of tequila to becoming leaders in the tequila industry.
I truly appreciate Diageo’s commitment to equal representation of women and men in high-level positions across their careers. The focus is on fostering equal participation, and I find that truly commendable.
What is your favorite cocktail?
My all-time favorite cocktail is the Paloma. It holds a special place in Mexican cocktail culture and is considered the quintessential Mexican tequila cocktail. With its refreshing combination of tequila, grapefruit, lime juice, and agave syrup, the Paloma captures the essence of Mexico and delivers a delightful flavor profile.
What are some of the highlights and achievements of your career, particularly regarding your involvement in the design, development, and launching of the first National Tequila Day celebration in Mexico?
I’d like to begin by mentioning that there are two major tequila celebrations. One of them is International Tequila Day on July 24th, which is celebrated globally, led by the US. While we played a significant role in promoting this international celebration, we felt the need for a dedicated celebration of tequila within our own country. Thus, the birth of National Tequila Day, held on the third Saturday of March in Mexico. It was essential to establish a date to commemorate tequila’s origins in Mexico.
During my tenure at the Mexican chamber, we worked diligently to achieve this goal and create a team dedicated to organizing the first National Tequila Day in Mexico. It was a collaborative effort, and I was heavily involved in the design and development of this special day. We focused on promoting tequila in on-trade establishments and ensuring people could experience various tequila brands in cocktails. It was challenging as we brought together major players like Diageo, medium-sized tequila companies, and smaller tequila companies on the same platform, offering consumers access to different tequila brands at the same price in cocktails. It was a remarkable experience and a significant achievement.
I also want to highlight that during the development of the National Tequila Day celebration in Mexico, I worked closely with a team where 70% of the members were women. Witnessing their dedication and contribution to driving the event’s success was inspiring.
In 2019, we celebrated the inaugural National Tequila Day in Mexico, which I had the privilege to promote. Unfortunately, the following year, the pandemic posed significant challenges the following year and affected our plans. However, tequila proved resilient as a spirit, and even during the pandemic, people began experimenting with making cocktails at home. To adapt and continue strengthening the perception of National Tequila Day in the minds of Mexicans, we explored alternative avenues, such as leveraging e-commerce platforms. While this approach primarily benefited medium and small tequila brands, it was an incredible opportunity to showcase their offerings and expand their reach.
I take immense pride in observing how medium and small tequila companies embraced the e-commerce model. It demonstrated unity and collaboration within the industry, where companies of all sizes worked together to protect and promote the tequila category. This unity plays a crucial role in the success of tequila as we collectively strive for balanced opportunities for all players within the industry.
Do you think Vietnam deserves a Tequila Day, too?
It would be fantastic if Vietnam could participate in the existing celebration of International Tequila Day. In fact, this applies not only to Vietnam but to other countries as well. By including more countries in the celebration, it helps strengthen the position of tequila as a global spirit and creates a larger and more vibrant celebration. So, yes, I think Vietnam deserves to be part of the Tequila Day festivities.
However, I truly believe Vietnam deserves a similar transformation in the mindset that we experienced in Mexico. For many years, tequila was considered a harsh spirit in Mexico, but it has undergone a process of premiumization. The perception of tequila has evolved, not only in Mexico but also in neighboring countries. I think Vietnam deserves access to the knowledge and tips we have learned about enjoying tequila better to fully appreciate the spirit.
What are your first impressions of Vietnam as you visit for the first time?
Since this is my first time in Vietnam, I make it a point to fully immerse myself in the culture of the places I visit. This means getting to know the people, experiencing the local cuisine, and understanding the regional spirits. So far, I have been fascinated by the food in Vietnam. I particularly enjoyed pho, which caught my attention due to the abundant use of herbs and aromatic ingredients. This is something we also do in Mexican cuisine, so I found it quite intriguing. The culinary similarities between Vietnam and Mexico, and the importance of agriculture as a foundation for both cultures, are something I appreciate.
Regarding the people, they are warm and welcoming, much like Mexicans. Even though I have only been here for a few hours, I have already noticed the openness and friendliness of the Vietnamese people. During my master class presentation, when they asked to take a photo together, it reminded me of how Mexicans always hug each other. It’s not something that happens in all cultures, but it is common here in Vietnam. Experiencing the warmth of the people has been delightful.
How do you plan to collaborate with local trade professionals, bartenders, and mixologists in Vietnam to showcase the versatility of Don Julio Tequila and create unique cocktail experiences?
For this visit, I will engage with local bartenders, mixologists, and trade professionals to foster collaboration and share knowledge about tequila and Don Julio. Education will be a key focus, ensuring everyone understands the unique qualities that set Don Julio apart from other tequila brands. By exploring traditional cocktails like the Paloma and introducing them to new flavors and experiences, we aim to create unforgettable cocktail moments that highlight the versatility of Don Julio Tequila.
In addition to that, I am particularly enthusiastic about collaborating with bartenders, as they play a crucial role as brand ambassadors and direct influencers of consumer experiences. They are the ones who have direct contact with customers and can truly showcase the distinct qualities of Don Julio Tequila.
How is the Vietnamese spirits industry different from other markets, and how does it affect tequila promotion and education?
I believe the Vietnamese spirits industry shares similarities with other markets in the region. Whisky and Gin have a strong presence and a growing interest in exploring luxury spirits, which presents a great opportunity for premium tequilas like Don Julio. However, compared to European markets, especially Southern Europe, there is still room for further development regarding how tequila is consumed and the occasions it is associated with.
For me, it’s crucial to focus on education when promoting and educating about tequila in Vietnam. We need to highlight the versatility of tequila and its ability to complement different cultural preferences and cuisines. By sharing the cultural significance of tequila and its premiumization and guiding how to appreciate and enjoy it, we can engage the Vietnamese market and create a deeper appreciation for the spirit.
What aspects of being a Global Brand Ambassador for Don Julio Tequila do you find most fulfilling and exciting?
Being a Global Brand Ambassador for Don Julio Tequila brings me immense fulfillment and excitement for several reasons. First and foremost, I can share my deep passion and love for Mexico, Don Julio tequila, and our rich traditions. It is truly a privilege to speak about and represent something that I am so deeply connected to.
Additionally, this role allows me to travel around the world, meet incredible people, experience diverse cultures, and explore various cuisines. It’s a remarkable journey of discovery and learning, not only about tequila but also about the beauty and diversity of the world beyond Mexico. The ability to connect with people from different backgrounds and share the story of Don Julio is an incredible and rewarding experience.
What excites you the most about the Vietnamese audience and learning about their perspectives on Don Julio Tequila?
What excites me the most about engaging with the Vietnamese audience is the opportunity to share my Mexican culture and showcase what sets Don Julio apart. I am eager to introduce the Vietnamese audience to the versatility of tequila and how it can be enjoyed as a standalone spirit and an integral part of various food and beverage experiences. I am thrilled to witness their reactions and see how they embrace and appreciate the unique qualities of Don Julio Tequila.
Moreover, I am genuinely excited to learn about Vietnamese culture and its distinct spirit preferences. Vietnam has a rich heritage and a vibrant culinary scene, and I look forward to exploring how tequila can harmonize with the local flavors and traditions. It’s a chance for me to expand my knowledge and deepen my understanding of the Vietnamese perspective on tequila, which will undoubtedly enrich my journey as a Global Brand Ambassador.
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