Spirits & Liqueurs Tequila & Mezcal

Get to Know the Tequila Herradura Legends Winners and Finalists

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Twenty-five bartenders arrived in Mexico for the Tequila Herradura Legends finale. Each finalist took a different route to Casa Herradura, using their own style and background to reach the last true tequila-producing hacienda.

Naomi Levy walked away from the hacienda the champion, with Christian Suzuki-Orellana and Ryan Puckett finishing close behind. Even though they were the only three to earn a cash prize, every finalist picked up something from the experience.

Earlier, the bartenders talked about what inspired their winning cocktails, but now they’re sharing what made Tequila Herradura Legends such a memorable experience. They even have tips for bartenders looking to stand out in next year’s competition.

Naomi Levy (Boston)

Most memorable moment: “The regionals were a great chance to meet great bartenders from all over New England. It was so fun to see everyone’s unique twist on a tequila cocktail.”

What they’ve learned: “How to integrate strong flavors with Tequila Herradura without one overpowering the other. It took a lot of trial and error.”

Tip for future competitors: “Challenge yourself, learn from others, and make a few friendships along the way.”

Christian Suzuki-Orellana (San Francisco)

Most memorable moment: “Getting a chance to experiment with unexpected ingredients in the semifinals.”

What they’ve learned: “That agave, raspberries and orange bitters go quite well with Herradura.”

Tip for future competitors: “Be honest with yourself, your competitors and your judges.”

Ryan Puckett (Nashville)

Most memorable moment: “Nothing could compare to hearing that I’d be advancing to the finale in Mexico, with the chance to represent my bar and city.”

What they’ve learned: “How important it is to challenge yourself. And it was a big challenge to create something true to the classic but distinctly my own.”

Tip for future competitors: “Mezcal and other bold flavors are fun with tequila, but you will lose the nuances of the spirit if you’re not careful. Build a drink around Herradura, not the other way around.”

Andrew Larson (Seattle)

Most memorable moment: “The chance to create drinks on the fly and make fun new things at the semifinals.”

What they’ve learned: “That you can create something incredible when you keep your head down and continue pushing yourself.”

Tip for future competitors: “Stay positive, stay hungry, and stay humble!”

Michael Cadden (Seattle)

Most memorable moment: “The regionals took place over the course of an afternoon, but I believe I made friends I will have for life.”

What they’ve learned: “All about the history of Herradura. That they have the last true hacienda and use barrel aging to invent a whole new type of tequila.”

Tip for future competitors: “Take a chance and enter. Every stage gives you more exposure. I still have customers today that I’ve meet at my first competition 10 years ago.”

Eddie Didonato (Winooski, Vt.)

Most memorable moment: “When I got an email the following morning that said I’d be going to the finale. There was a miscommunication at the semifinals, so I didn’t think I advanced because I came in second place.”

What they’ve learned: “Always prepare. Leading up to the competition, I spent almost all of my free time making adjustments until I knew I would be putting out my absolute best work.”

Tip for future competitors: “You gotta work. Put the time in, and make the best tequila cocktail you could possibly create.”

Adam George Fournier (Los Angeles)

Most memorable moment: “Having an all-female judging panel for the L.A. regionals. It speaks volumes about the L.A. bartending scene.”

What they’ve learned: “That I can work well with tequila, a spirit I’m not normally associated with.”

Tip for future competitors: “Get outside your comfort zone, and try to create something new.”

Shaun Gordon (Atlanta)

Most memorable moment: “Knowing that my drink, inspired by something so personal and dear to my heart, was chosen to advance to the finale.”

What they’ve learned: “The experience and confidence you gain from competing at a national level is immeasurable.”

Tip for future competitors: “Always challenge yourself to get better in all aspects of the industry.”

Kenton Gugliuzza (Roanoke, Va.)

Most memorable moment: “The semifinals in Arlington were so much fun. Industry people are so hospitable and welcoming.”

What they’ve learned: “That Herradura is a sustainable company and values making tequila the traditional way.”

Tip for future competitors: “Never stop trying. But when you make a great drink, let it be.”

Nick Hipwell (Las Vegas)

Most memorable moment: “As one of the youngest competitors, I didn’t have my hopes too high. So hearing I would advance to Mexico was an unforgettable moment.”

What they’ve learned: “The competition helped me realize I can keep my cool in stressful situations and still create a well-balanced and visually appealing cocktail.”

Tip for future competitors: “Give it a shot. There are always valuable things to be learned from each experience, all of which will help you grow professionally.”

Kyle Law (Savannah)

Most memorable moment: “The four of us in regionals pulled drinks from a hat and had five minutes to prep. We all cleared a table and laid out everything we brought individually and shared. It was a beautiful moment of collaboration.”

What they’ve learned: “Just how many amazing bartenders you meet in the competition. It’s a great chance to put your bar or city on the map.”

Tip for future competitors: “Did I expect to be going to Mexico? No. Am I going to do my best to crush this competition and make my city proud? Absolutely.”

Will Mohring (Indianapolis)

Most memorable moment: “It was refreshing to see the balance of camaraderie and competitiveness at the regional competition.”

What they’ve learned: “How to find balance in a Horseshoe Margarita. I didn’t want to use more than three ingredients but knew I had to add complexity.”

Tip for future competitors: “Being comfortable in a competition setting is something you can only learn by going through it yourself.”

Lee Noble (Lancaster, Pa.)

Most memorable moment: “I had a terrible cold at the regional in Philly, so I was amazed that I held it together well enough to pull off my presentation, let alone advance.”

What they’ve learned: “How to make a good cocktail in even the worst circumstances.”

Tip for future competitors: “Win or lose, you’re going to network with a lot of amazing bartenders and come home with a wealth of inspiration.”

Aaron Pollack (Chicago)

Most memorable moment: “When one of the bartenders on my staff made it to the final round of the semifinals in Indianapolis.”

What they’ve learned: “That Casa Herradura is the last true tequila-producing hacienda in the world.”

Tip for future competitors: “Don’t be afraid to put your work—and yourself—out there.”

Scott Ruggiero (Boulder, Colo.)

Most memorable moment: “The whole process of creating cocktails that balance my style with the flavor of Herradura.”

What they’ve learned: “Just how versatile Herradura can be. It seemed like every bartender used the tequila in a different way.”

Tip for future competitors: “Push hard and take it one step at a time. It’s awesome enough to make it to the regional finals.”

Carlos Ruiz (Morristown, N.J.)

Most memorable moment: “Making friends with all the other bartenders at each stage of the competition.”

What they’ve learned: “I’ve been amazed by all the techniques and flavor combinations I’ve learned throughout the course of the competition.”

Tip for future competitors: “Give it 100 percent, and always be overprepared. But keep having fun and being yourself.”

Kristine Serrano (New York)

Most memorable moment: “Going to the semifinals and hearing the stories behind every bartender’s cocktail.”

What they’ve learned: “How important it is to get outside your comfort zone. When you push beyond your nerves and self-doubt, good things can happen.”

Tip for future competitors: “Don’t be afraid to talk about what inspires you. Engaging with the judges and spectators definitely helps.”

Evan Sewell (Winter Park, Fla.)

Most memorable moment: “When they called my name and said I’d be going to Mexico. It didn’t even feel real.”

What they’ve learned: “The close ties between the history of Herradura and Mexico. I can’t wait to get to the hacienda and experience it up close.”

Tip for future competitors: “What do you have to lose? If you enter, you can gain so much knowledge and meet so many interesting and cool people.”

TJ Vong (Denver)

Most memorable moment: “In the semifinals, we had to scramble to figure out what we were going to make and how we were going to do it. I literally grabbed twice as many bottles as I needed because I couldn’t decide.”

What they’ve learned: “The competition has exposed me to all sorts of different flavor combinations that work well with Herradura.”

Tip for future competitors: “Ask as many questions as you can to help you understand how to perform at your best.”

Tim Weigel (Las Vegas)

Most memorable moment: “The second round of regionals. I was looking forward to the chance to improvise with the nontequila classics.”

What they’ve learned: “That the show must go on. I messed up in front of the judges during the regional competition, so I had to stay composed and fix the mistake.”

Tip for future competitors: “Having fun is key to a great competition.”

Chas Williams (Ferndale, Mich.)

Most memorable moment: “Getting together with all of the bartenders and making our drinks for the judges in front of everyone. It was a chance to see old friends and meet amazing new people.”

What they’ve learned: “The whole experience has been an opportunity to learn, which will continue at the hacienda.”

Tip for future competitors: “Do your research on the brand and the category. There is no such thing as useless information.”

Will Witherow (Alexandria, Va.)

Most memorable moment: “All of the support and congratulations I’ve received. It’s come from friends, family, colleagues, bar management and regulars.”

What they’ve learned: “Talking to and learning from so many talented bartenders in the competition has helped me improve and grow.”

Tip for future competitors: “This is a great way to meet some very talented people with interests similar to your own.”

Ryan Wolfe (Orlando)

Most memorable moment: “Seeing how talented the bartenders in my local area are. It’s inspiring to watch everyone’s expertise shine. It makes me want to be better.”

What they’ve learned: “Discovering that this is an opportunity to test myself among some of the most talented people in the industry.”

Tip for future competitors: “Be prepared. No one is competing to lose.”

Stephen Wood (Lancaster, Pa.)

Most memorable moment: “When I finally got to taste the flavors I dreamt up in my head, working in harmony.”

What they’ve learned: “How drastically the nuances of the blanco, reposado and añejo affect the outcome of a cocktail and how well they shine through all sorts of flavors.”

Tip for future competitors: “To take in your local surroundings for immediate inspiration all while being well-versed and read in Mexico’s rich history and culture.”

Rachel Wright (Buffalo)

Most memorable moment: “Getting to compete in the semi-finals. I met a ton of incredible bartenders and had an excellent time connecting with them following the event.”

What they’ve learned: “It’s possible to advocate for Buffalo in a national competition. My city often gets overlooked, but this was a great opportunity to represent it.”

Tip for future competitors: “I would tell upcoming bartenders to continue to challenge themselves through competitions and appreciate the connections you make through experiences like Tequila Herradura Legends.”