There are many secrets to effectively climbing life’s ladder — much to the pleasant surprise of your pals here at InsideHook, we recently discovered that one of them is tequila.
That’s right, gents — you can learn a lot about becoming successful from distilling that sweet agave nectar into Mexico’s eminent spirit.
Patience. Meticulousness. Inefficiency. Yes, you read that right.
For the latest installment of our Worth the Wait video series, we journeyed south of the border to have a chat with Founder Ken Austin and Master Distiller Alejandro Lopez of Tequila Avión, get a firsthand look at their “beautifully inefficient” process, and glean some good solid advice on what it can teach any ambitious fella with a dream and the willingness to bust his keister to make it happen.
LESSON ONE: FIND THE RIGHT PARTNERS
LoveWhatYouDo (3 images)
The Lesson: So you’ve got a vision. That’s great. Problem is, you’re but one man. You’re gonna need help. And when looking for said help, it behooves you to be patient and find folks who actually share your vision. This is how you build a proper collective, one that will weather the inevitable trials and tribulations more effectively because of a shared common goal.
The Example: “This wasn't something that was a business to me.” says Avión founder Austin. “I wanted it be successful. But to me, it was the spirit that I loved, it was a country that I love, it was a dream that I had from the time that I was in my 20s. It was about doing it right. It was about not cutting corners.”
But as he shopped his dream of a “meticulously inefficient” tequila across the region, he found little traction. “Most people I met with said ‘No way. We'll sell you our tequila, but we're not going to let you make a tequila with us the way that you want to make it.’”
Enter the Lopez Family, who function not only as tequila producers, but also the single-source growers of the agave itself in the hills of Jesús María. “It is very special what they do here.” says Austin. “I wanted to meet people that were willing to collaborate with me. Very hard to do. I was very lucky to meet this family. And I give them a lot of credit for helping me create this meticulously inefficient tequila.”
LESSON TWO: IT ALL STARTS WITH YOUR INGREDIENTS
Agave (4 images)
The Lesson: Nobody wants to be the guy standing in front of a pig holding a tube of lipstick. And thus it behooves you, regardless of the nature of your endeavor, to set yourself up for success from the jump — starting with quality materials may cost more and/or require greater effort to acquire, but avoiding corner-cutting will save you a load of headache down the line.
The Example: Little known fact: an agave plant takes between seven to ten years to reach its harvesting point. So stands to reason you’d want to plant as many as possible. But in the case of Avión, they do things a little differently — they take only the first generation “babies” of each “mother” rare blue agave plant, the strongest genetically. Fewer plants, but better ones. “There are some producers that they will take advantage of that.” says Master Distiller Alejandro Lopez. “Use some [second and third generation] plants just because they don't want to spend. We don't do that.”
LESSON THREE: EXPERIMENT. THEN EXPERIMENT SOME MORE.
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The Lesson: There will be times when you’re tempted to rest on your proverbial laurels. When you’ll be satisfied with the current state of affairs. Beware those times, oh pedigreed chums, for they are perilous — complacency and mediocrity are close bedfellows. Being bold enough to try new things, even when the existing thing is working, is key.
The Example: In the case of Avión’s Reserva 44, Austin notes “It was originally Reserva 43” — that is, 43 months of barrel aging. But on a lark, Austin and Lopez decided to add an extra month in smaller, 20 liter American Oak barrels. The result: their flagship dram, the best your correspondent has ever tasted. “It goes back to company culture.” says Austin. “Just trying different things and not having that big company kind of philosophy where say, ‘Okay, it's good as it is.’"
LESSON FOUR: EMBRACE INNEFFICIENCY
Inefficiency (3 images)
The Lesson: Yes, you read that right. Yes, it sounds counterintuitive. But it ain’t about being inefficient across the board, mind you — it’s about acknowledging that there’s certain things you can’t rush without sacrificing quality. And then it’s about leaning into that and letting people know that it’s what sets your product apart, whether it’s tequila or floating coffee tables.
The Example: From planting only first generation agave to slow roasting in small brick ovens to pulling only the heart of the liquid from small distillation batches to a filtration process that’s up to ten times slower than any other tequila out there, Avión has sacrificed efficiency for quality at just about every possible turn. A gamble for sure. But one that’s paid off. “In 2012 we were voted the World's Best Tasting White Spirit.” Austin says. “Beating every vodka, every white rum, every gin, obviously every tequila. That was a really, really big moment for us.”
LESSON FIVE: SCALE, BUT DON’T COMPROMISE YOUR VISION
The Lesson: This goes hand in hand with Lesson Four -- as your project grows, the pull of “bigger, better, faster” is gonna come a callin’. And while it can be dangerous, you certainly don't want to shun it altogether -- growth is good, after all. But being cognizant of what makes your product special and then growing it accordingly in the right way is what creates true lasting power.
The Example: Ask him the importance of slow roasting in small ovens and Austin gives a particular analogy: “If you take a piece of pineapple and you roast it on your grill, right? It caramelizes, it becomes charcoally, it's delicious. Versus you take a piece of pineapple and you throw it into your microwave oven, hit 30 seconds and it's this flabby, grotesque tasting thing.”
So the ovens are key, got it. But then how to grow? “When we started with Avión, we only had three ovens.” says Lopez. “Now we have six, but the same size. If the brand continues to grow up, and we expect that, we’re gonna have maybe nine, 12 or 15, but the same size, and the same process. Just replicate that.”