Tequila 512 is making the best tequila on the planet

Tequila 512 ReposadoTequila 512 just pulled off something very few booze companies have ever done. The Austin brand won an impressive double gold medal and was awarded “Best in Show” at the prestigious 15th annual San Francisco World Spirits Competition. That’s pretty amazing for any spirit, but even more so from a tequila company that is less than 3 years old.

Scott Willis, the founder of Tequila 512, has been juggling the tequila business with a full-time job at a tech company since he introduced his first bottles in November 2012. Willis worked on every aspect of starting Tequila 512 for seven years before it came to market: Getting through all of the regulatory hurdles and raising money to get the company started was a job of its own.

After the brand launched, Willis spent nights and weekends driving around Texas self-distributing his tequila and pouring at liquor shops and festivals. The work paid off with 180 percent growth in 2013 and 265 percent growth in 2014. But the demands of running Tequila 512 and working his full-time job were taking a toll on Willis.

“My wife said, ‘We can’t live like this. You have to quit your job,'” says Willis. “We decided to sell a rental house we owned and use the money from the sale to pay my salary for the next year. I quit my job over the phone in the airport while I was getting ready to board a plane to Mexico to bottle my next batch of tequila. They were calling my name to board the plane when I was finalizing the call with my former boss.”

Scott Willis Tequila 512

That was in February. In April, Tequila 512 won the double gold in San Francisco. What a great way to start a new full-time role.

At the competition thousands of liquors were evaluated in blind tastings by a panel of 41 of the most highly qualified spirits judges in the world. The judges sipped various categories of spirits in numbered tasting glasses. Some got dismissed, and some moved on to the medal rounds where bronze, silver and gold were awarded.

“Winning double gold is a really big deal,” says Willis. “Winning a gold medal means your spirit is above and beyond: it’s one of the best and is highly recommend by the judges. Winning a double gold means that it has been unanimously voted gold by all judges and is considered far superior to all the rest.”

There was also a sweepstakes round where judges reevaluated each spirit that had been awarded the double gold medal to select the best in show. That’s when Tequila 512 won the biggest prize of the day.

“It’s almost impossible to get to the final round,” says Willis. “This tiny company was named the best tequila on the planet.”

Willis is hopeful that this impressive win will accelerate his success. He points to the incredible growth of Tito’s Handmade Vodka after its win of the double gold in 2001 and hopes to see similar results.

Tequila 512 has just signed a new distributor who will get the tequila on more store shelves and bar backs all over town. The company is also in the process of seeking investors to help expand production.

To top it off, the brand just launched its second style of tequila. Tequila 512 Reposado is made with the triple distilled Blanco tequila and then aged for nine months in used oak bourbon barrels. The tequila is then stored in stainless vats, filtered and blended before bottling.

The result is a bold lowlands tequila with the vibrant smell of pepper and spice along with vanilla. It packs plenty of zip with rich, powerful flavors that tequila lovers will love. It will be sold for about $34 a bottle in Austin.

The industry’s most prestigious honor, bigger distribution and more products could be the recipe for success that Tequila 512 craves. “I want to be the tequila in Austin,” says Willis. “I want our town to know and love our tequila.”

This story was originally published on CultureMap.

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6 tequila cocktails to try for Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo tequila cocktailsCinco de Mayo is often confused with Mexico’s Independence Day, but the date actually marks the Mexican army’s improbable trouncing of the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Similar to St. Patrick’s Day, most people aren’t concerned with the reason why it’s celebrated, and see it as a great excuse to down alcoholic concoctions inspired by the country. And what’s more appropriate to drink than tequila?

With nearly 1,000 brands of tequila to choose from in the U.S. (not too long ago, not that many could be found), we’ve gathered a few stand-out tequilas and recipes that are bound to tilt your sombrero.

Drinking in the area code

Tequila 512 hit town last November and is quickly gaining notoriety. It picked up a gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in March and was recognized as “Best Blanco Tequila in Austin” by the Austin Tequila Society last fall. Not bad for a tequila created by one man, Scott Willis, who has boot-strapped the entire operation on his own.

Willis was inspired by the local distilling trail-blazer, Tito Beverage, and decided to follow his passion for the art of craft tequila. He has spent six years perfecting a specific recipe that has a prominent agave flavor, and is smooth enough to be accessible to the American palate. Tequila 512 is made with 24 hour filtration to mellow it out and an oxygenation process for a silky mouth feel.

While Willis named after Austin’s area code, it is made at the La Cofradia distillery in the town of Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico.

“I traveled to Mexico to find a distiller that would make my tequila. Most distilleries won’t do custom recipes,” said Willins. “I was also interested in finding a distillery that sourced its agave from a specific region. Where the agave is grown matters a lot to the flavor.”

Tequila 512 is starting on a small scale and Willis hopes to sell 1,000 cases in the first year. You can find it at retail shops for under $30 and at restaurants like Shady Grove.

Willis prefers to drink his tequila straight, but when he is in the mood for a cocktail he mixes a classic skinny margarita.

Organic 512 Skinny Margarita

  • 2 ounces Tequila 512 Blanco
  • 1.5 ounces orange juice
  • 1 ounce fresh lime juice
  • .5 ounce agave nectar (light)

Shake well and serve over ice in a brandy snifter.

Keep it in la Famila

The Camarena’s have been making Familia Camarena Tequila in the Los Altos Highlands of Jalisco Mexico for six generations and entered the U.S. market in 2010. The approachable, easy drinking tequila is made from 100 percent blue agave and is one of the better value tequila’s around for $20 or under. This tequila is a solid base for excellent cocktails. The website has a huge list of recipes and they sell a nice “Tipple Toolkit” with everything you need to make them at home. Here is a delicious drink from mixologist Joel Black, of Tinga in Los Angeles, CA.

Camarena Grand Slam

  • 1.5 ounces Camarena Reposado Tequila
  • 1 ounce fresh lime juice
  • .75 ounce  agave nectar
  • 1-2 slices fresh jalapeño
  • 2 cubes fresh pineapple
  • 1 pinch fresh cilantro

Muddle all ingredients, except tequila in a shaker tin. Add tequila and ice, shake nice & easy and strain over fresh ice in a double old fashioned glass. Garnish with a pineapple square, jalapeno slice and fresh cilantro.

See unicorns with Sparkle Donkey  

Legend has it that people have been drinking Sparkle Donkey Tequila in Mexico for more than 100 years, but it just found its way into the U.S. last fall.  Made in the Jalisco region, Sparkle Donkey Silver, which won a Gold Medal at the 2012 BTI International Spirits Competition and  the Reposado tequilas are available around Austin for just north of $20. Try this simple mix with a kick, but don’t have too many or you may be seeing unicorns.

The Mule Driver

  • 1 part Sparkle Donkey Silver
  • 3 parts orange juice

Combine in a shaker over ice, shake well, and strain into a rocks glass.

Spice it up

If you like a little zip in each sip, Tanteo Jalapeño Tequila is worth a try. This 100 percent Blue Weber Agave blanco tequila is infused with locally grown organic jalapeños. It will put a fire in your eye straight up, or you can try it in a tangy twist on the margarita.

Mexican Spiced Apples

  • 1.5 ounce Tanteo  Jalapeño Tequila
  • 2 ounces apple juice
  • .5 ounce fresh lime jice
  • .25 ounce agave nectar

Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice Shake well and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with an apple slice.

Get out of the house

There are several bars in Austin restaurants celebrating Cinco de Mayo, with excellent tequila-based cocktails. The energetic matron of Drink.Well, Jessica Sanders, will convert the bar from Derby Day festivities to Cinco de Mayo overnight. In addition to their creative cocktails, their standard margarita will knock your socks off.

Drink.Well. House Margarita

  • 1.5 ounce Siete Leguas Blanco Tequila
  • .75 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • .5 ounce Paula’s Texas Orange

Add all ingredients to a cocktail tin with a scoop of ice. Shake well. Strain into a glass with ice. Garnish with Lime. *For those who like a little extra oomph, Jessica recommends adding four drops of Bittermens Hellfire Shrub, which makes the drink nice and smoky/spicy.

Here is what Jessica suggests for those who want to celebrate in a more “elegant” manner.

Agave Old Fashioned 

2 oz Siembra Azul Anejo Tequila
.5 oz Cacao-Chai Infused Agave Syrup (I use cacao-chai tea from ZHI tea)
2 dashes of orange bitters
2 orange peels

Add the infused agave syrup and bitters with ice to a double old-fashioned glass. Add the tequila and stir until chilled and properly diluted. Express an orange peel over the cocktail and garnish with the expressed peel.

Libationist Joyce Garrison at the W Austin is mixing up a few amazing specialty cocktails for Cinco de Mayo including a classic Paloma.

W Austin Paloma for Cinco de Mayo Paloma from Joyce Garrison at W Austin

  • 1.5 ounces Don Julio Reposado
  • 3 ounces grapefruit soda
  • 1.5 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
  • .5 ounces lime juice

Build in a tall glass and garnish with lime.

Whether you stay in or head out on the town to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, you won’t go wrong with these ideas.

Disclosure: Samples were provided by Tequila 512, Familia Camarena Tequila, Sparkle Donkey and Tanteo Jalapeño Tequila

This story was previously published on CultureMap.

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