Mexican Heart, Texan Soul: Republic Tequila

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

What are you drinking?

Published by

Matt McGinnis

As a marketing strategist for Pen & Tell Us, Matt McGinnis provides marketing, branding and communications counsel to food and beverage as well as other clients globally. He is also an avid beverage enthusiast, chronicling his interests as a Food & Drink contributing writer for CultureMap, as the Food & Drink columnist for Austin Man Magazine, and as a blogger for What Are You Drinking?. He is passionate about the wine industry having previously worked at a winery in Oregon and in wine sales. He has served as Guest Host of Sommelier Cinema at the Alamo Drafthouse, and is a Certified Sommelier in the Court of Master Sommeliers. His writing has been recognized as a Top 10 Food Blog by the Austin Chronicle in 2013 and 2014, with a 2011 Texas Social Media Award from the Austin American-Statesman.

9 thoughts on “Mexican Heart, Texan Soul: Republic Tequila”

    1. Thanks John. Thanks for catching my bone-head error too. I fixed Jim Bowie’s name, but left Crocket. You’re right that I probably put Sam Houston’s first name in there on accident. I guess that’s what happens when I write late at night. I need an editor. Cheers!

    1. Thanks Marilyn. I happen to have some Spirit Blends at home, however my review is of all three tequilas straight up. Maybe I’ll whip up a cocktail and describe it too. Thanks for the suggestion.

  1. Derrick, (Copy of response to Derrick Schommer, reviewer at Everyday Drinker.com)

    Regarding your 2009 review of Republic Tequila: I agree with almost nothing you say about this tequila, other then it is sort of lightweight for the money. I also remind you that tasting is 100% subjective and strictly a matter of pallet and personal preference. I bought a bottle of both Reposado and Añejo on sale for about $25 each, and thank God too, because they are far from being worth twice that, about $48 appearing to be their normal retail price.

    I was roundly disappointed in both. They both were nearly the same light color with the Añejo being only just slightly darker which I found quite surprising considering the Añejo is oak aged in a medium char, 50 gallon barrel for over 20 months, Reposado aged 8 months. Nothing special in nose or body, nothing jumped out whatsoever. Flavor difference was not striking either. Both were just sort of ho-hum tequilas, not at lot happening, medium flavor and body, with a medium smooth taste after burn. Taste and flavor differences between the two styles were also not very distinct, which I found hard to understand considering the great difference in barrel aging. I just think you might try to be a little more objective, experienced and honest when it comes to tequila because you make Republic sound like its better then Patron, which absolutely is not the case and I’d be the first to say so it were. Regards, Jerry

    1. Thanks for your opinion Jerry. It looks like you intended for this comment to be posted to a different review of Republic Tequila, but I’ll let you have your say nonetheless. Cheers.

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