As you can probably imagine, the drinks industry doesn’t often need an excuse to throw a party. It’s rare that something’s launched – be it a book, a bottling or a bar menu – without an invite going around and a mix of journalists, bartenders, brand owners and influencers turning up for weeknight revelry on someone else’s dollar.

A recent one, though, carried significantly more weight. Turning up to Cafe Pacifico in Covent Garden a few Wednesdays ago, there was a celebratory mood, but also a sombre one. It was the launch of the new edition of The Tequila Ambassador, a book by a man whose influence on the drinks industry around the world – but particularly in the UK and Europe – is being felt now more than ever.

Tomas Estes founded the restaurant in 1982. At the time, the country’s Mexican dining scene was nonexistent – Cafe Pacifico claims the title of the very first Mexican restaurant in the UK – and a margarita was still something made in blenders in American movies. Tequila for sipping, not shotting, would likely have garnered a look of borderline disbelief from your dining companion.

The Tequila Ambassador V.O.

Born and raised in and around the Mexican diaspora of east Los Angeles, Estes was a huge exponent of the cuisine at a time when its existence outside of Mexico and the bordering states was minimal. He and his business partners found enormous success with the Cafe Pacifico brand, having opened its flagship in Amsterdam six years before, and went on to run 18 venues across Europe. And the group’s cultural footprint can’t be overstated: while London’s Mexican restaurants are now numerous and varied – from low-key taquerías to Michelin-starred, World’s 50 Best nominees, and with sophisticated menus ordered from by diners now largely literate in the country’s hero dishes – it was Estes who started it all.

But despite his success as a restaurateur, the food isn’t even half the story. Running the group not only allowed him to promote Mexican cuisine and a refreshing, laid-back, and personality-driven style of service to diners in Europe; it also gave Estes access into the world of tequila by buying and selling it at the kind of scale almost no one else in Europe’s hospitality scene could match.

But despite his success as a restaurateur, the food isn’t even half the story

Estes knew the great and the good of the spirit, the virtues of premium tequila, and the opportunities it opened up to bartenders almost half a century before the boom it experienced in the 2010s and beyond. When the British were still buying mixto with a sombrero on top, Estes was preaching 100% puro de agave and starting a journey into terroir-led tequila.

Along with that came genuine advocacy for the category to both consumers and drinks-industry professionals, which led to the CNIT – the official trade board for tequila in Mexico – installing Estes as the tequila ambassador to the EU. It was, according to his obituary by Club Oenologique’s editor-in-chief Laura Richards, “an honour that Estes took extremely seriously, a mantle that he carried out until the very end.” Far from pencil-pushing, Estes carried out this work through hands-on work in the bar and drinks trade for decades, taking his innumerable friends and industry acolytes along for the ride.

Much of this extraordinary life was chronicled in his 2012 book The Tequila Ambassador, which became a cornerstone text in the industry and beyond. But despite its influence, Estes was never truly happy with it, and thus, during the COVID-19 pandemic, he worked with a new publisher, Wonk Press, and editor Mitch Wilson (himself an ambassador in the drinks industry) to “unwrite” and rewrite it from scratch. They did so, and they did so exquisitely.

It was an appropriate time, given the preceding few years had seen the creation of the brand that built directly on this work. Having fallen in love with Burgundy and the region’s genre-topping wines, Estes realised that the world was ready not just for premium, 100% puro de agave tequilas with no additives and using traditional production methods; but that he could push this further still.

He created a truly modern tequila brand, Ocho, with a beautiful flagship product and a selection of regular single-field limited editions – tequilas made from agave harvested in small plots around Jalisco’s highlands and created to express a sense of genuine terroir so rarely found in the world of spirits. I had the chance to try a selection of them last year. For anyone who loves tequila, they are utterly exceptional.

A corn maize tequila cocktail

The brand was the product of a partnership with fifth-generation tequilero Carlos Camarena – whose family are as embedded in the history of the spirit inside Mexico as Estes was outside of it – with one of his four sons, Jesse, playing a crucial role as its global ambassador, and a close circle of colleagues and collaborators helping spread its message.

The Tequila Ambassador V.O. is a triumph – a lovingly written, painstakingly edited and beautifully compiled book filled with personal stories from Estes, his family, friends and modern classic cocktail recipes from many of the bartenders in his orbit. As you can imagine, the Ocho story is properly told, too, with the brand having come to market since the original version was published. Tragically, though, Estes wouldn’t live to see its publication – he died months later after a short illness.

Some launches, then, are more than just launches

Some launches, then, are more than just launches. Some parties, then, are more than just parties. And if an excuse for either were ever needed, it was this one, which somehow managed to squeeze a who’s-who of the most influential people in the world of UK bars and drinks into a tiny section of the iconic Mexican restaurant Estes founded more than four decades ago. This was first and foremost a celebration of an incredible project, not a memorial, but people shared anecdotes, stories, cocktails, shots, and drank to the life of a true icon of the world of drinks.

I never met Tomas, but having edited a publication about London food and drink for years, and now working in the UK drinks industry, I can attest to his towering influence. Many people I work with at The Whisky Exchange have known him personally for years and miss him dearly. His legacy – built on with such dedication by Jesse, his family and his colleagues – was assured no matter what. However, both the Ocho brand and the reissued, reimagined version of this classic book means this remarkable story is now told on his terms. There’s surely no better tribute to the man than that.

Buy The Tequila Ambassador V.O. at