Where you come from leaves an indelible mark on you. It shapes everything from our accent to how we look to the color of our letterman’s jacket. People put a lot of stock in where they are from. It’s the same for the stuff we drink. Champagne can only be from Champagne, France. Cognac can only be from Cognac, France. Bourbon is from Kentucky. Wines all list their appellation and speak of the importance of terrior, that special something that only comes from the area, the soil and the climate where the wine was born.
The same is true for tequila. Back in 1978 Mexico established the Appellation of Origin Tequila, which delineates the location of production and sets the standards for how tequila is made. According to “Appellation de Origin Controllee” (AOC), tequila can only be made in Mexico. And by law, which is recognized world-wide, only blue agave booze made in Jalisco and a handful of adjacent counties in Mexico can be legally sold with the name tequila. Where you come from matters.
So how is it that there is 100 percent agave premium tequila, Republic Tequila, from Austin, Texas? I sat down with Ken MacKenzie, Partner and Chief Operating Officer of Republic Tequila to get the skinny. It turns out Republic is distilled in Mexico and marketed in the U.S. from its home base in Texas. There is a story behind it and it starts with love. Not love for tequila, but love for a girl.
While living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Ken met a student from Mexico. The two hit it off and soon became inseparable. When she finished college, Ken followed that girl back to Guadalajara and decided to stay and marry her. Lucky for Ken, her uncle introduced him to the tequila business.
Do you remember your first experience with tequila, or at least a few of the circumstances surrounding it? Did you smother your hand in salt, slam back the shot and madly suck a lime to mask the fiery burn of rot-gut tequila? After soldiering through a few of those, did you profess your undying love to that pretty girl’s shoes before you puked on them? Yeah, that’s probably similar Ken’s first experience with tequila even though he didn’t say so. Imagine his surprise when he was introduced to the good stuff at the tequila distilleries in and around Jalisco. He fell in love again, but this time with tequila.
Ken immersed himself in the tequila business and soon began importing tequila to the U.S., helping Mexican distilleries navigate the distribution system in the states, and eventually owning his own brand.
Fast-forward several years. Ken was introduced to Texas businessman and marketing whiz, Tom Nall and to an idea for creating premium tequila in a distinctive Texas-shaped bottle. The two set out to start Republic Tequila with only that iconic bottle as a simple idea. They quickly built a business around it.
Ken put his tequila expertise to work and arranged to have Republic Tequila distilled at Cia Tequilera la Quemada, in Guadalajara, Mexico. The independent distillery came with three massively important qualities:
- The distillery makes certified organic tequila. This is no simple feat and it takes three years to qualify. The fields have to be certified that there are no herbicides or pesticides that affect the agave. This is extremely important because it that takes 8 to 12 years for an agave plant to reach maturity. The distillery itself has to be certified to prove that there are no foreign cleaning agents, yeasts or accelerants on premise. Because of the stringent criteria, certified organic tequilas are rare and hard to come by. It’s a clear sign that the sauce is made with higher standards which creates a more consistent tequila.
- La Quemada is a green distillery that recycles everything. The crushed agave fibers are woven in to rustic amate paper or used as bio fertilizer for feed. The waste alcohols are hazardous materials which go through a reverse osmosis process to reduce it to distilled water over a three week period. This is in contrast to some distilleries that still dump waste alcohol in the fields, leaving scorpions and lizards with horrendous hangovers.
- La Quemada is blessed to have Master Distiller Sebastian Melendrez at the helm. In his 22 years as a master distiller, he has worked his magic at Herradura before coming to La Quemada to make 4 Copas and Republic Tequila. He is a fourth generation agave grower and owns agave rich lands outside of Jalisco. This gives Republic a single source for low-land agave to make estate bottled tequila. In addition, the water used in production is sourced from an artesian well on the property. Having a consistent source of raw materials, not having to buy agave from several states on the open market further adds to the consistency of the tequila.
Clearly, the birthplace matters for estate bottled Republic Tequila. So why the Texas bottle? With apologies to Jim Bowie and Davey Crocket, Texas and Mexico share a rich history and common heritage since the Republic of Texas gained independence from Mexico in 1836. Tequila is a rich part of the TX culture. As Ken explains it in this video, there are some things that Texans just know better than anyone else; steak, salsa and yes, tequila.
Tom is about as Texan as they come, from his hats to his boots. He knows that Texans are proud of their state. He has had his share of tequila all over the state and knew it was time for a new premium tequila with Mexican heart and Texan soul. That Texas shaped bottle full of liquid magic had to come to market.
It took 18 months to go from start-up to shipping the first bottle. What took so long? Believe it or not, they had challenges making that damn bottle. It was very difficult to manufacture the bottle with the distinctive panhandle. The first four companies Tom and Ken approached didn’t want anything to do with that funky bottle. The challenge presented big up front cost because no semi-automatic machine could do it. After a year they finally found a company that would hand-pour glass into Texas molds and the bottle came to life.
Where you are from matters. Tom and Ken know that people buy Republic Tequila for the Texas bottle the first time and for the Mexican tequila the second time.
What does it taste like? You’ll have to wait for me to write part two of this story. I’ll introduce you to the three lines of tequila. Stay tuned.