Celebrities and their enthusiasms—it seems there are no bounds. In addition to being great looking, rich and getting to travel around the world at will, they also love to launch brands—and spirits are the hottest moneymakers.
But one current celeb craze comes in the form of a beverage near and dear to the hearts of many Mexicans—tequila.
While many in Hollywood went old school backing wine labels, a few celebs have taken the less traveled and trendier path with tequila.
Rock 'n' roll legend Sammy Hagar launched his Cabo Wabo tequila in 1996, hitching his wagon to a tequila-making family with over 80 years of experience.
Motely Crue front man Vince Neil (of Mexican decent), launched his Tres Rios Silver tequila in 2007 with a marketing blitz--selling his new tequila, publishing a book about his life titled, " Tattoos & Tequila: To Hell and Back with One of Rock's Most Notorious Frontmen" (written by himself and co-authored by Mike Sager), as well as releasing his third solo album, titled "Tattoos & Tequila"
In 2010, Justin Timberlake launched 901 Tequila – named after the area code of his hometown, Memphis. He chose the Tequilera Newton distillery in Jalisco, Mexico to help transform a 60 year-old recipe into 901.
And the latest “jimador” is George Clooney. Working with restaurant mogul Rande Gerber, husband of Cindy Crawford, Clooney and Gerber are rumored to launch their Casamigos tequila sometime next year. The label is named after houses the two own in Mexico.
Put a celeb's face on anything and you might be able to sell a bit more. But talk to the tequila experts and real connoisseurs, and they’ll tell you, that unless tequila making is your life’s passion, then anyone can slap a label on a bottle.
David Nava, the LatAm branch manager for Anchor Distilling, and Chinaco Tequila, one of the oldest and well respected in the spirits world, says it wasn’t until 1983 that people in the US even began to drink real tequila.
People are realizing how agave, like grapes, change with age--it’s very artistic. Also, it’s earth driven because it takes years for an agave plant to develop and the complexity is very interesting to people.
- David Nava, the LatAm branch manager for Anchor Distilling, and Chinaco Tequila
“Before that it was simply a Mixto—a mix of half agave and the rest, sugar and additives. Which is why most people who tasted tequila in the US before the more luxury brands were imported here, thought the liquor was so terrible,” Nava says.
Mexican law states that tequila isn’t tequila unless it comes from one of these five states in Mexico—Jalisco, Nayarit, Michoacán, Guanajuato, and Tamaulipas, AND must be 100% pure blue Agave. Much like Champagne isn’t champagne unless it comes from that region in France. Mexico even holds the exclusive international right to the word "tequila;" threatening legal action against manufacturers of distilled blue agave spirits in other countries.
The art of making tequila goes back to the Aztecs. The legend says a bolt of lightning tore into the heart of an agave plant, lighting its piña on fire, causing the nectar inside to spill out. The natives regarded this as a gift from the gods. Over time, the drink (a fermented agave which they called octli and later pulque), became essential in ceremonies and celebrations—producing "a state of euphoria in priests, warriors and the wise."
Making tequila is hard work. And there are only a couple of ways of doing it, the traditional method or “artisanal process.” Artisanal custom is to crush the cooked agave using a stone wheel called a “tahona," which is pulled by a mule or ox. The more modern method uses machines—obviously faster and more efficient.
“Tequila is an attractive and romantic venture. People are realizing how agave, like grapes, change with age--it’s very artistic. Also, it’s earth driven because it takes years for an agave plant to develop and the complexity is very interesting to people. Vodka has no character,” Nava says.
Although no one can say exactly how much involvement a celebrity has in making their own tequila brand, Nava suspects that most celebs probably go to contract house distilleries, where maybe 150 brands of tequilas are produced, and design a pretty label, put it on a really pretty bottle and call it a day.
Rebekah Sager is a nationally published lifestyle and culture writer. She's a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. Follow Rebekah on Twitter @Rebekah_Sager.