Defying gravity: Avion founder ‘passionate and proud’

avion tequilaBy Ryan Kelley | 10.01.10

Avion, the other character in HBO’s Entourage

Everyone in the business of selling high-quality, premium 100% blue agave tequila shares a primary mission of educating consumers on sipping ‘good’ tequila and breaking the mixto curse that comes from youthful indulgence and agave abuse. Some people were cursed so badly they refuse even a free sample. Ken Austin, co-founder of Tequila Avión, has an even bigger challenge: convincing consumers his product is real. This because the brand recently played a significant role in the hit, hip HBO television series “Entourage.” Adopted as a business venture by one of the show’s primary characters, Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), the tequila ends up endorsed by Turtle’s friend, movie star Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier), who spreads the word (and demand) for the tequila via Twitter.

The product placement didn’t cost the brand a single penny. Austin is friends with the show’s creator and producer, Doug Ellin, who also happens to be a childhood friend of Kenny Dichter, the other co-founder of Tequila Avión (and CEO of Marquis Jet). Unlike most product placement arrangements, where a main character sips a Coke, for example, the tequila played a major role in the show’s plot and got a significant amount of screen time in more than half of the show’s 10 seventh season episodes. This prompted “Entourage” fans to seek out the brand online. On Facebook (where Avión has almost 7,000 fans), many of the show’s fans questioned if it was a real tequila and, once confirmed, began asking for the brand in their city or state, and there have been several requests from countries around the globe.

In a funny case of life imitating art, one of the ‘Entourage’ episodes finds Turtle trying to meet demand for a Los Angeles liquor store where the product has taken off due to Vince’s celebrity endorsement. Robi Brian of Cellars Wine & Spirits Warehouse in Fort Lauderdale exclaims on the brand’s Facebook page: “This Stuff is selling like crazy – no surprise really because it’s awesome!”

The incredible exposure and subsequent response to the tequila is a good “problem” to have for a brand that launched less than a half a year ago. Austin is working hard to keep the momentum going. He’s been traveling and working seemingly nonstop, personally visiting accounts across the country and assuring orders can be met in this period of high demand and major expansion – while still retaining product quality. Austin carved some time out of his demanding schedule to answer a few questions via email; in the below Q&A, we discuss the creation of the brand, the impact of the “Entourage” appearance, and the future of Tequila Avión.
Tequila Aficionado: Why did you start out on a journey to create your own tequila?

Ken Austin: I have loved tequila for many years. It has been my dream for over 20 years to create a product like Tequila Avión – the world’s finest tequila at a reasonable price. I’ve watched the enormous growth in popularity of ultra-premium tequila and seen it become a year-round drink. I thought to myself; imagine the potential of combining the smoothest tequila ever introduced with the brand strength of the leading ultra-premium product. So I went on a quest to create the world’s smoothest tequila.
TA: With so many new tequila brands on the market, how does Tequila Avión stand out?

KA: First, what distinguishes Avión from other brands is its combination of ultra-premium quality, flavor and unmatched smoothness at a price tag well below what you would expect for something this good. Critics, bartenders, mixologists and everyday consumers alike have been shocked at how smooth the taste is at $40 – $60 a bottle. It is great to hear these reactions. Our tequila comes from 100% pure weber agave from the highest regions of Jalisco, Mexico, resulting in the most flavorful agave. Our proprietary ultra-slow filtration process – which takes 10x longer than standard filtration – ultimately creates what’s been called the smoothest tequila anywhere.

Second, we put enormous effort into designing the right packaging for Avión. First, we created our own Avión font and the iconic ‘Flying Agave’ logo. For the bottle, we elected to use premium glass with a thick base, long neck and a wide mouth, plus we embossed on indented side panels the words ‘LLEGADA’ and ‘SALIDA’, ‘Depart’ and ‘Arrive’. The end result is a standout bottle with great weight and hand feel and an easy pour that is in all respects bartender, mixologist and consumer friendly.

Finally, we have been very fortunate to attract a best of breed management team that shares the vision. We believe in taking a hands-on approach to sales and marketing. Our team is out at many accounts every day and night introducing Tequila Avión. We’re very passionate and proud of what we have accomplished so far. We have only been in the market for a few months and we are already everywhere: on billboards, planes, trains and were even fully integrated into this season of HBO’s Entourage. The result has been that many accounts have been overwhelmed with consumer demand and are making constant re-orders to ensure they don’t run out.
TA: The distillery you chose to produce Tequila Avión also produces other fine tequilas (Campo Azul, Clase Azul), but there are, of course, many other terrific distilleries out there. What were the deciding factors for choosing Productos Finos de Agave (PFA) (NOM 1416)? How much control over the product do you have?

KA: Avión has a full time team in Mexico. We oversee every batch and bottle filled. PFA is run by a 5th generation family of agave growers and lead by an extremely talented master distiller. We quickly became comfortable with their talent, history and approach to tequila making and, just as quickly, they were able to grasp our vision and make it their own.

We went through many dozens of iterations trying to get the formulation exactly as we envisioned but it was definitely worth the extra time and effort. We are involved in every step of production and go through great effort and expense to ensure consistent quality. As we grow, the one thing we will never do is sacrifice quality for speed.
TA: What is the story behind the brand name, Avión?

KA: Avión means airplane in Spanish but it is also slang in Mexico for “the best.” I thought that this double meaning fit our juice perfectly as we strive to deliver “taste elevated.” The brand theme is well represented on our bottle through such elements as embossed side panels with ‘LLEGADA’ and ‘SALIDA’ (aka ‘Depart’ and ‘Arrive’); “ELEVADO’ (aka ‘Elevate’) written in our brand seal on the bottle top; and our “Flying Agave” logo. I’ve been told that Avión creates a gravity defying experience.
TA: According to the New York Post, Avión’s appearance in the hit HBO television show, Entourage, is the result of childhood friendship rather than money. (Link to the original article…) What has the reaction been to this fortuitous product integration?

KA: The creator of Entourage, Doug Ellin, grew up with the Co-Founder of Avión, Kenny Dichter, and Doug and I have also become good friends. We were thrilled when Doug said he wanted to make Tequila Avión a part of such an amazing show. Tequila Avión’s presence on Entourage put us on the map in a way that was never before seen. It has definitely created great name recognition and buzz and opened up various conversations. We were very fortunate that our friend liked our real life quest to bring the best tequila to the market so much that he incorporated it into the show. We are now focusing on educating consumers that not only is Tequila Avión real, but also it is ultra-premium tequila that tastes delicious.
TA: How do you drink Avión? Which expression (age) do you prefer?

KA: I love all three expressions of Avión – Silver, Reposado and Anejo – and it depends on my mood and theme of consumption. All three can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks or in a cocktail. Tequila is the new vodka. A lot of people are drinking Avión in cocktails – they’re making Avión Cosmpolitans now in martini glasses and mixing Avión with juices, tonic, soda, etc.

  • Avión Silver, or Blanco, is exceptionally well balanced and smooth. The agave aroma is beautiful with herbal tinges of mint and rosemary, delicate hues of flowers and black pepper, hints of grapefruit and pineapple.
  • Avión Reposado is aged 6 months, with an agave presence, and notes of cherry, pear, and peach, flower hues of rose petals and tinges of herbs. Oak aroma is elegant with hints of caramel and vanilla. It is extremely well balanced and sophisticated.
  • Avión Anejo is aged 2 years, with hints of vanilla, caramel, coconut and maple; tones of roasted agave, delicate tinges of mint and rosemary, fruity aromas of peach and cherry. It is rich, balanced and exquisite.

Like any parent, it is impossible for me to choose a favorite child.
TA: What other brands of tequila do you admire, and why?

KA: I admire all brands of tequila. It is and has been my spirit of choice and I feel we all should bond together and advocate for the consumption of this fine and dynamic spirit for those who choose to partake.
TA: What do you see in store for the future of Avión?

KA: We started by rolling out only in New York and California and just rolled out in New Jersey, Florida and Texas. Based on the incredible consumer response and the calls we are getting from other markets, we will continue to expand sooner than we originally planned, but we will be very thoughtful as to our expansion.

As for other expressions such as Extra Añejo…stay tuned.


Tequila Avión Tasting Notes

Tequila Avión is produced using agave grown in the highlands and is slow roasted in brick ovens under low temperatures. Distillation process uses pot stills with copper coils and is then filtered through a proprietary filtration process coined “ultra slow filtration.” This involves slow filtering the tequila through activated carbon, and, according to the brand’s fact sheet, “it is at this point where the flavors become firmly set to Tequila Avión specification at an exact moment in time – ‘the moment of elevation.’ The process takes approximately 10 times longer than traditional filtration.”

The lineup is consistent in flavor and essentially well-balanced. Some robustness in flavor seems to be missing, likely lost in filtration, and the resulting “smoothness” is as advertised. The reposado is my favorite to sip (the añejo is a bit too far on the sweet side) and the silver demonstrates versatility in cocktails.


Tequila Avión Silver

Clear. A light crisp scent that’s well-balanced with sweet, floral baked agave, strong on citrus and light herbal notes; lightly astringent. Sweet and light on the palate, it has a clean, floral agave flavor offering notes of mango with a nice, slight jolt of spicy pepper toward the back of the palate. It’s finish is smooth and short, with a nice herbal, almost minty aftertaste.

Rating: 7.5 – Recommended

Tequila Avión Reposado

Very pale, like light hay. Scent is subtle and consistent with the blanco, with added notes of honey and just a hint of roasted almond/wood and light vanilla. Baked agave and dried fruit dominate the nose with subtle floral notes and a hint of bitter dark chocolate and toasted pecans. The finish starts out dominated by flavors from the wood and is nicely surprising as it exhibits a stronger kick and stays around a bit longer than the blanco. The herbal aftertaste is a little bitter and woody, but leaves me pleased.

Rating: 8.5 – Highly Recommended

Tequila Avión Añejo

Lightly golden in hue. Smell is as sweet as candy with strong notes of caramel and vanilla surrounding floral agave with just a hint of citrus and pepper. Rich, sugary baked agave greet right upon entry, with strong notes of vanilla and citrus blossom backed with hints of chocolate, wood, and cherry. A short, sweet finish that offers a lingering, lightly herbal aftertaste of honey, chocolate, and oak. All bitterness displayed in the reposado has been nicely smoothed out.

Rating: 8.0 – Highly Recommended

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