Julio Bermejo

Julio Bermejo
Consummate beverage manager at San Francisco’s famous Tommy’s Mexican restaurant; highly-regarded tequila expert, with multiple industry and lifetime achievement awards.

What was the moment you realized that you and the spirit industry were a match? 
My career has essentially held firm to one track, aimed a single direction – Tequila. My epiphany moment came on my first trip visiting tequila distilleries, when I met several legends in the business:  Don Felipe Camarena, of Tequila Tapatio, Guillermo Romo de La Peña the owner of Tequila Herradura, Fernando Gonzales, one of the owners of Tequila Siete Leguas, Master Distillers, Don Mario Gomez of tequila Regional, and Don Guty Sanchez of Tequila Vuida de Romero. All of these gentlemen took in a green, young, rookie who knew very little, and shared their passion for all things agave, Jalisco, and quality. Thanks to these titans, tequila had me hook, line, and sinker!  I would go on to continue to visit the region every 6 weeks on my own dime for the next 16 years.

What is your favorite spirit?
Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the Yucatan, so early on I enjoyed light lager-style Mexican beer, rum, and brandy. However, I never enjoyed how I felt the morning after overindulging. Fortunately I discovered tequila – 100% agave tequila. What started as a youthful experiment evolved into my lifetime passion. Sure, I like single pot Irish whisky, some cognac, calvados, and bourbon, but my LOVE is 100% agave, naturally cooked, naturally fermented, pot distilled … Tequila!

What is your favorite classic cocktail?
A Tommy’s Margarita made with naturally made 100% agave highland añejo Tequila!  A simple recipe, yet refreshing and complex when made just right.

First original cocktail recipe?
My first published cocktail recipe was actually my own take on sangria, back in the early 90’s, I believe that was in the Washington Post. Larry Walker then reprinted that same recipe in his book on Tequila. It took Dre Masso and Henry Besant to start to promote the Tommy’s Margarita recipe before it started appearing in print.

First cocktail/mixology gig?
Anyone who knows me is aware my career path has been relegated to one location and has lasted a lifetime, my family’s restaurant, Tommy’s. It has been the central point from which I have found a lifetime of adventure, fueled by my passion for and promotion of the world and culture of quality tequila. Hard to call a specific ‘first gig’ but I will say that my career was affirmed to me in on two fronts … First, when Tony Abou-Ganim walked into Tommy’s for the first time in 1997?, sat at the bar, and wanted to see what we were doing. Tony was, and still is, a pillar in the bartending world. Having someone like him want to know what we were doing was like having Willie Mays come see you play catch! Life uplifting, in that for the first time I realized a serious heavy hitter was taking the time to notice what I was doing. Second, I started to see international interest … Dre Masso and Henry Besant got me invited to early London Bar Shows in the early 2000’s. That second come to Jesus moment was when I was allowed to bartend on a stage, Dale Degroff was bartending on my left, and Salvatore Calabrese was bartending on my right. I definitely was the weakest link, but felt incredibly proud and in awe to share a stage with those gentlemen. After one of the Bar Shows, Dre and Henry took me to a house party at the home of Jared Brown and Anastasia Miller. Amazingly anyone who was anyone in the London Bar scene was there. Aside from meeting so many luminaries there, I was blown away when Dick Bradsell knew who I was and then asked me if I would make him a Tommy’s Margarita!!!! I could not believe he knew who I was! I then proudly asked if he would make me a Bramble!

Most influential/inspirational mentors?
There are so many, but it must start with my parents, brothers and sisters. My parents, Elmy & Tomas (Tommy) are/were immigrant form the Yucatan, southern Mexico. That geographic fact immediately distinguished us as the Yucatan had tried to secede form the Mexican Republic. Yucatecans consider themselves Yucatan before Mexican! The pride we take in our cuisine and Mayan culture cannot be overlooked.  My parents taught me the value of mutual respect, education, hospitality, and a love of food, language, and travel! Likewise, all of my brothers and sisters worked hard and led by example; absolutely no slackers tolerated. God bless, I had a great foundation because of this. Professionally, I was blessed to be influenced greatly by the best; Tony Abou-Ganim and Angus Winchester, and their incredible thirst for sprit knowledge; Dale Degroff and his incredible yet humble gentlemanly presence, Dre and Henry’s, and Dom Costa’s global visions, and all of their respect for the craft, spirits, and technique. In the world of Tequila I also hit the jackpot… And none of my mentors were preoccupied with making money, marketing their brands, or what others thought of their work. Their dedication and passion was to the land, agave, the process, and to quality. It was these things that would make them successful. So, I owe a HUGE and impossible to repay debt to Don Felipe Camarena, Guillermo Romo de La Peña, Fernado Gonzalez, Don Mario Gomez, and Don Guty Sanchez. Don Guy Sanchez I must also say introduced me to my greatest hospitality mentor, Don Javier Dlelgado Coronoa, the creator of the Batanga cocktail and the owner of La Capilla Bar in Tequila. If I could ever be the 10% as gracious a host as he, I would retire!  I must also note that Tony Abou-Ganim also introduced me to Eddie Heintz and David O ‘Malley, again gentleman who have taken hospitality to new heights in the United States.  Finally my wife Lily, who has kept me grounded for 15 years!

What is your dream job?
There is a saying that “those who do not know, teach!”

Well I think it is time to go on to the next step. My dream is to follow in the footsteps of my Tequila mentors and one day make Tequila with my wife. We have been trying since 2008 to finish our little distillery. With no partners, bank loans etc., we move at a snail’s pace, but we are patient, …just as one needs to be to produce great agave distillates!

Favorite outdoor activity or hobby?
Without a doubt, TRAVEL. So far I have visited 95 countries and I dream of visiting every single place on the globe and making new friends everywhere! I love Jazz Fest in New Orleans and I love the Fifa World cup … I’ve made it to the last 9 World Cup Final Matches and plan to be in Quatar for 2022!

Favorite Sports?
Because of my father, baseball, though admittedly it is pure luxury now for me to be able to see a game. So now depend on ESPN Sports Center for recaps, but every 4 years I drop what I am doing and attend the semi final/finals of the Fifa World Cup, wherever it may be.

Describe your favorite getaway holiday?
With my wife Lily anywhere, anyplace, anytime! As long as there is live music, good food, and good people to make lasting memories!!!!

What is one thing about Julio Bermejo that would surprise your industry colleagues?
I am so much more a home body than people think… Also, I suspect am more grateful and thankful for everyday of my life than people think!

A San Francisco native, Julio Bermejo is the beverage manager at Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant and a highly regarded expert on tequila. Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant has made the Top 50 Bars in the world list in the inaugural year of the list 2009 and also 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2018. NO other bar outside of NY has made the list so often from the United States. In 2016, Tommy’s received the Tales of The Cocktail World’s Best Spirits Selection award. Julio received his first lifetime achievement award in 2014, the Helen David Award. In 2017, he received his second lifetime achievement award, the first ever Industry Icon Award from Drink International, Top 50 Bars in London. Julio holds a degree in Political Science from the University of California at Berkeley.

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