On the evening of January 15, 2016, during the busy San Antonio Cocktail Conference weekend, Tequila Aficionado’s Mike Morales was invited to sit in on mezcal historian and author Ulises Torrentera’s Arte del Mezcal class and discussion.
As a bonus, the event was sponsored by the luscious Wahaka Mezcal brand and moderated and translated by its co-founder, Raza Zaidi.
The course, endorsed by mezcal’s regulating body, the Consejo Regulador del Mezcal (CRM), through its official document CRM/PD-069/15, would cover four main topics–
Pre-Hispanic beverages, raw material (maguey/agave), distillation and mezcal’s invention, as well as its history, myths, legends, culture and beyond.
The event was held at the intimate El Mirador Mexican restaurant and featured a delicious menu to accompany the entire line of Wahaka mezcals and Sr. Torrentera’s discourse.
Ulises, considered a preeminent mezcal historian and icon, is the author of “Mezcalaria, The Cult of Mezcal,” and the owner of In Situ Mezcaleria in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Arte del Mezcal Highlights
Introduction to Wahaka Mezcal
In the following snippet, co-founder, Raza Zaidi, introduces Wahaka’s core line of mezcals and the “one-off” creations by their maestro mezcalero, Alberto Morales.
Clay Pot Distillation
With a GoPro attached, another palenquero demonstrates the very rare method of mezcal fermentation and distillation in clay pots.
Raza later explained that such a technique was implemented because it was easily mobile and allowed movement to avoid authorities from confiscating copper stills.
The Legend of Mayahuel and the 400 Rabbits
Translated by Raza, Ulises explains what pulque is and the legend of Mayahuel and her 400 Rabbits.
[Long before the general public does, Tequila Aficionado Media often gets tipped off about new agave spirits brands that will be entering the market. One such tip was for Gracías A Dios (GAD) mezcal. We had no idea that we would bump into them during the San Antonio Cocktail Conference in mid- January, 2015. Of course, we had to invite the co-founders to HQ to learn more about this hot mezcal label making amazing traction across the country.]
GAD To Meet You!
You can’t help but get wrapped up in the charm of Gracías A Dios mezcal. You also can’t help but be drawn in by the infectious enthusiasm of its co-founders, Pablo López, Enrique Jimenez and Xaime Niembro.
Here, the trio introduce themselves.
Whose Idea Was It?
From a pure love of drinking mezcal, to owning a mezcalería (mezcal bar), to making lofty plans for the future, the three friends tell how their mezcal brand was born.
Invoking the Name Of GAD
The phrase, “gracias a Dios” (thank God) has been uttered by families in Mexico and throughout Latin America since the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors.
In this clip, the friends give their explanation behind the name of their mezcal.
Maestro Mezcalero de Matatlán
In the town of Santiago Matatlán, considered the world capital of mezcal in Oaxaca, lives Oscar Hernández, the force behind Gracías A Dios. A third generation Maestro Mezcalero, or Alchemist as Enrique refers to him, he learned his craft from the young age of eight years old.
The trio discuss how they came across such a talented distiller.
Distilling from espadín agave at first, it wasn’t until Oscar met with the co-founders of Gracías A Dios, that he considered producing mezcals made from other types of agave.
Enrique and Xaime continue relating Oscar’s fascinating personal history.
Xaime expounds further on why they chose to work with Oscar Hernández, then demonstrates the purity of GAD’s specialty mezcals made from tepextate and cuixe agave.
The GAD Line Up
Pablo, Enrique and Xaime give us the rundown of Gracías A Dios’ core line, what type of barrels they use for aging, and how they decided on the proof of each of the expressions.
True Small Batches
Xaime describes the labeling plans for the Tepextate and Cuixe expressions and how they will tie in to a Texas-Oaxaca relationship.
Each of Gracías A Dios’ agave expressions are certified organic. Xaime details what investments and improvements were made to the brand’s palenque to meet those standards.
Xaime reveals what it takes to maintain GAD’s organic certification, including the innovative improvements made to the brand’s palenque that were invented by Oscar himself.
Xaime chronicles each of GAD’s expressions and then illustrates the difficulty in harvesting wild tobalá.
Outside of their mezcalería, the partners had virtually no background in the
spirits sector. Keenly aware of their limitations, they met with industry consultants for advice.
In this segment, Pablo, Enrique and Xaime recall their experience in bringing GAD to market, and how they managed to rebuild their entire initial concept and image from the bottom up.
These three amigos are the first to admit that Gracías A Dios is still a work-in-progress and are proactively solving challenges that unexpectedly crop up such as using synthetic corks versus imported ones from Portugal, and labeling special edition batches.
Love and Passion Will Take You Places
The GAD triad disclose how working together to get Gracías A Dios into the market has deeply and completely changed their lives.
The partners all agree that their passion for great mezcal–long before it became trendy–is what fuels their love for GAD.
Cheers For Tomorrow
Xaime and his partners explain how their program, Cheers For Tomorrow, will tackle the Mezcal Industry’s sustainability issues and how the use of biofuel will play an important part of their palenque.
Continuing, Niembro describes how the used bagazo (solid waste) is recycled as an insulator during the roasting of agave piñas.
Sharing the Mezcal Experience
Long term plans for the group and the land surrounding their palenque include a boutique hotel, restaurant, and a complete mezcal experience for visitors.
In this snippet, the trio discuss where they see themselves in five years and spill the beans on a specially blended Mezcal Del Cura that’s in the works.
Pablo and Enrique continue the conversation by revealing GAD’s plans for replanting different types of maguey and other projects within the region of their palenque.
[Moises (Moy) Guindi, one of the two dynamic founders of Milagro tequila, and J.P. DeLoera, Milagro’s Texas Brand Ambassador, hung around after The San Antonio Cocktail Conference held in January, 2015.Tequila Aficionado Media chased down these two gentlemen for a rare chat at the bar of the luxurious Westin Riverwalk Hotel.]
Ambassadors For the Modern Mexico
The time was 1997, and Europe had just signed a trade agreement with Mexico. It officially recognized such spirits as scotch and cognac, among others. In turn, Europe acknowledged tequila and mezcal’s denominations of origin. Even though Mexico had issued its Protection of the Appellation of Origin Tequila in the early 70’s, this agreement was the first step in tequila finally gaining the global respect it deserved.
Up until then, it had been heavily marketed as a traditional spirit often depicted in rustic agricultural scenes of burros and roping charros. But, a new millennium was near, and a bustling Mexico City was partying like it was 1999 with art, music, design and architecture.
For two young college buddies, Danny Schneeweiss and Moy Guindi, the Mexico City club scene was where tequila sorely lacked a more modern edge and feel. It was then that they deliberately set out to propel tequila’s image into the 21st Century.
Further emphasizing their respect for old world techniques, both J.P. and Moy describe how their exclusive joven tequila, Milagro Unico, is made.
Sophistication In A Glass
Milagro’s unique bottles have long been sought after by collectors. Moy blames his partner Danny, as the creative mind behind reimagining tequila’s image in clubs and bars around the world.
Milagro was designed to evolve tequila from a red headed step child to a sophisticated gentleman in a classy container. But, the partners also wanted it to educate consumers. They added a stylized agave inside each hand blown bottle of their Select Barrel Reserve expressions to illustrate tequila’s true bloodline.
In 2004, Moy and Danny entered into a partnership agreement with family owned super-premium spirits distiller, William Grant & Sons. The UK based company eventually acquired a 100% stake in Milagro in 2006. This allowed Milagro to reach nationwide distribution in the U.S. and in key global tequila markets.
Not ones to rest on their success, both Moy and Danny retained certain rights and still have responsibilities to the brand as Moy clarifies here…
After almost 20 years in existence, J.P. describes his strategies to Milagro’s current challenges in the marketplace.
Having birthed Milagro in the midst of the Agave Crisis of the late 90s that almost bankrupted them, Moy learned the hard lessons of staying ahead of the agave pricing curve.
What About China?
Unlike the major spirits brands who consider exporting into China as the next gold rush, Moy believes that a conservative “wait-and-see” approach is best for Milagro.
La Leyenda del Milagro
Both J.P and Moy share their views on the one thing that you should know about Milagro.
Demonstrating that they haven’t lost their entrepreneurial drive which spearheaded Milagro into tequila’s New Age and made them one of the top three most influential start ups in Mexico, Moy and Danny are currently involved in a partnership with Montelobos mezcal.
If you are a start up tequila brand on a tight budget, how can you still be perceived as a player in your field when you don’t have deep pockets?
This Beverage Trade Network article shares several ways to optimize small marketing budgets to support your retailers and build your brand.
You might be implementing a lot of these strategies, already. Yet, when it comes to the most cost-effective way to generate brand awareness, exposure and loyalty–Social Media–chances are, you’re so lost that not even GPS can help you.
Say Hello to My Little Friend
Social Media is your friend–or, at least, it can be. Let me explain.
Social Media (SM) levels the playing field for small, start up brands and craft labels that don’t have the enormous war chests like the Big Boys. But…
The secret to using it effectively is not to be on all the SM platforms. You can’t be–and you know why.
You’re too busy selling, trying to get placements, forging key relationships with distributers and mixologists, putting out fires, and educating your customers.
And what about those that don’t know about you, yet? How do you reach them in a genuine manner without spending hours in front of your Facebook page that you could be using to pitch the next account?
And how do you do damage control when someone has spread misinformation about your brand? Online reputation management (damage control) carries its own unique challenges as we described in Ambhar Tequila–The Recalibrating of A Brand, that not every company is prepared to deal with. Few, like Ambhar, do so successfully. Most need to call in a professional and pay dearly.
Nico Martini is a former professor who taught Digital Marketing Design and Self-Branding Through Social Media and is the founder of Hypeworthy. Hypeworthy manages, among other things, social media, public relations, digital content creation, and online reputation management. We caught up with Nico at the speakeasy, The Last Word, during the San Antonio Cocktail Conference where he was a featured speaker.
Here, Nico gives us the following tips on balancing the score, whether you’re a spirits brand, a budding mixologist, or just trying to launch your own plumbing business.
Not only should you add value to your customers’ lives, but as Nico further recommends, represent yourself and your brand accurately and honestly.
Eso No Me Ayuda
Perhaps you’re just too good at what you do but you feel that word-of-mouth just isn’t traveling fast enough. You have no patience for Pinterest, no tolerance for Twitter, and no stomach for Instagram, so you decide to bite the bullet and hire someone else to deal with your social media headaches.
You’ve just figured out which popular SM platforms you should have a presence on and how to use them when, like the deluge of tequila and mezcal brands lately, another one pops out of nowhere claiming to be the “next big thing.”
Choose one of the myriad of other PR firms who profess to know all there is about social media, but when you look at their own Facebook or Twitter pages, they have less active followers than you do.
On the other hand, you could seek a competent individual with impeccable references like Tequila Aficionado Media’s own Lisa Pietsch, who specializes only in niche marketing of spirits brands, as well as bestselling book authors.
With a keen sense for accurately marketing to, and targeting these segments, Lisa teaches online classes on Social Media geared to these specialties a few times a year.
Unlike most every PR firm, she, like a handful of other social media mavens, practices what she preaches with real followers numbering in the thousands in just about every SM platform that counts.
Who Got Time Fo’ Dat?
Whether you choose to hire a reputable outside service like
Hypeworthy that deals with businesses from a variety of industries, or your cousin’s niece who communicates to her friends on three different platforms at the same time but isn’t old enough to drink, decide who will do the best job of representing your brand and transmitting that image to your customers.
Shop around for the best marketing bang for your buck. You can’t afford to leave your branding–your image–to amateurs or charlatans.
[Between seminars during the Fourth Annual San Antonio Cocktail Conference, Tequila Aficionado Media was invited to the Ambhar Tequila Relaxation Lounge inside the historic Sheraton Gunter Hotel where we finally sampled each expression of this elusive brand with a jaded past.
The following day, we caught up with the new Ambhar CEO, Jaime Celorio, at the acclaimed Bohanan’s Restaurant while the staff prepared for the busy dinner shift.]
The Deceptive Dragonfly
In the spirits realm, and in particular, the tequila segment, brands come and go for a variety of reasons–
Either the juice is not up to par, or the ineptitude of the brand owners or importers causes a rift between them, or the marketing is all wrong. You name it, it happens.
Every once in a while, a brand gets lucky and all the elements click and a star is born.
Partida’s Gary Shansby, a self-proclaimed student of one of Patrón‘s founders, Martin Crowley, once declared that a tequila brand needed three things to be successful–
Good juice, a pretty bottle, and a symbol with a story.
Ambhar appeared to have all three.
On the other hand, a tequila label could experience the worst
case scenario, but for some reason, it just doesn’t go away.
The latter may be the perfect example of what happened to Ambhar tequila.
All That Glitters…
Launched in 2009, Ambhar was originally based in Austin, Texas, but made its big splash on the Las Vegas Strip.
Owing to key friendships among the principals, Ambhar became a part of the Tropicana Hotel’s facelift in 2010 and established the Ambhar Lounge.
More key relationships allowed the brand to have a very visible presence, especially among the MGM properties. Ambhar soon became Las Vegas’ go-to tequila for many events including several outdoor pool parties during the warmer months.
Then, things began to unravel.
After unbridled spending, Ambhar accrued a rumored debt of up to $2 million. Another round of funding gave it a much needed infusion of $2.7 million from investors in 2011, but still, rumblings of unpaid bills and payrolls persisted.
To make matters worse, a series of ho-hum reviews, including this scathing blog by the OC Weekly, made Ambhar the butt of jokes among the tequila cognoscente who took particular issue with the label’s claims of being distilled five times.
It seemed that the powers behind Ambhar at that time had been blinded by the glitz and glam of Las Vegas, and paid a hefty price.
Saving A Broken Brand
Coming from a solid financial background, Jaime Celerio, CEO of the newly formed Ambhar Global Spirits, LLC., explains what attracted him to purchase the troubled label in 2013.
Here, Jaime explains the dilemmas of taking over a broken brand and what is being done now to revive it.
Further, he illustrates the problems in dealing with the Nevada market, and which states Ambhar will target, instead.
Overhauling the former sales and marketing division, Jaime Celorio has surrounded himself with both a young, enthusiastic crew along with some premier seasoned veterans to reestablish a foothold in Ambhar’s home state of Texas.
Damage control, and distancing itself from the past, also requires making some improvements to the packaging.
No tinkering will be done to the substantial and elegant bottle, but the corks will be changed from real to synthetic, and the stoppers, as well as the wearable dragonfly charm around the bottlenecks, will be made of a much lighter alloy.
To continue to win back customer loyalty and regain goodwill,
Celorio insists on concentrating on Ambhar’s strong points by demanding complete honesty and transparency on the website, subsequent point of sales (POS) materials, and from his sales team.
The More Things Change
When we met with the Ambhar Texas unit, they admitted that Jaime Celorio felt the brand itself would not have survived its tumultuous circumstances had the juice not been favorable in the first place.
Celorio next discloses the reason why Ambhar’s flavor profile, especially that of its añejo, remains intact even though it’s more labor intensive than the reposado expression.
In this snippet, Celorio recounts the improvements since rebooting the brand, and its focus for the future which includes sales in Mexico and exporting to China.
Here, Celorio discusses the focus on the dragonfly logo and what it means in China.
It’s Not All About Tequila
Like a good portfolio manager, Jaime Celorio has diversified by establishing a sister company to compete in the vodka sector of the spirits market.
The Texas Vodka Trail
In this clip, Celorio reveals plans for Cinco Vodka’s distillery based in San Antonio, Texas.
Cinco Vodka–Imported All the Way From Texas
Jaime further reviews plans for the Texas Vodka Trail Tour and its similarities to tequila distillery tours in Mexico in aiding to educate consumers.
In this portion, Celorio considers how competitive the vodka market is in Mexico, and where you can find Cinco Vodka.
Jaime Celorio, gives his explanation as to why he chose to sell tequila in the first place.
Same Old Friend, Whole New Character
Described as his “elevator pitch,” Jaime Celorio, gives us the one thing he wants people to know about Ambhar, and shares his vision for its future.
Whether in the US, Mexico, or even China, look for the recalibrated Ambhar tequila to continue to make splashes, but in a much more precise, targeted and cost effective way.
[The fourth annual San Antonio Cocktail Conference was held from January 15 to January 18, 2015 here in San Antonio, Texas. Tequila Aficionado Media attended with particular interest in all events surrounding agave spirits.]
Wednesday Night Media Party #SACC2015
As most of San Antonio’s cocktail culture creatures were safely at home in their jammies on the eve of the opening of the Fourth Annual San Antonio Cocktail Conference, every foodie, cocktail and spirits blogger, writer, photographer or pretender from all major cities in Texas, hobnobbed, photographed hors d’oeuvres for future food porn, and took selfies while collecting their official press credentials and tickets for their requested seminars from the organizers’ public relations company.
The St. Anthony Hotel, considered the Grand Dame of hotels in
downtown San Antonio, was the site of this evening’s sedate affair for the thin press corps.
Having hosted such dignitaries as Eleanor Roosevelt and Princess Grace of Monaco during its illustrious history, this early 20th century monumental inn was San Antonio’s first luxury hotel. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and its importance to this city’s nightlife can’t be denied.
With a recent renovation under its belt, the lobby’s grandeur alone was impressive. The St. Anthony’s timeless elegance would also be the site of the Waldorf on the Prairie soiree later that week.
Edwardian-era furnishings, high ceilings and crystal chandeliers made most of us feel underdressed, and the DJ spinning hip hop for the millennials in the group, seemed anachronistic.
After a greasy and unappetizing crab cake morsel, it was time to
hit the bar.
The Roca Patrón Roadshow Rides Again
The Roca Patrón roadshow finally hit San Antonio, and the response was unimpressive and underwhelming.
In sharp contrast to the all-out event that Tequila Aficionado Media attended in Austin, Texas at the Brazos Hall in late summer 2014, the San Antonio media’s introduction to Roca Patrón and Patrón’s other lines, was hardly noticed.
And, even though this was a major cocktail conference, only a small crew of four bartenders took orders from a prepared menu of Patrón signature drinks that included a build-your-own Old Fashioned using each of Roca Patrón’s expressions. It left no room for imagination, and a lot to be desired. But, hey, it was an open bar.
We preferred to sip the Roca Patrón reposado neat since we had determined it to be the star of the line up. Our bartender that evening agreed, but, sadly, only rocks glasses were available to sip from.
In the end, the juice’s nose and flavor unceremoniously dissipated into the hip hop’s baseline.
Ready to call it an uninspired night with no reason to linger, we were again distracted by Patrón.
…But First, A Selfie
With an unusual take on the traditional photo booth, Patrón hired a photographer who encouraged willing souls to pose for black and white photos with, or without, their Patrón signature cocktails in hand.
A separate printer would instantly spit out the Patrón branded selfies where another assistant would graciously frame them for you. You could even text the photos to your own cell phone.
Never missing a chance to educate their audience on its products (and to mine more followers on all its social media platforms) the back of the frames shared Patrón production factoids (“Did you know the high quality agave used to produce Patrón is slow baked in small brick ovens for 79 hours?”) while the inside flap invited us to share our photos on their social media accounts with specific hashtags.