An Interview with Founder John Chappell
What motivated you to create a premium tequila brand?
I always viewed tequila as a really interesting business opportunity but there was a motivating incident. I was in a bar with a group of colleagues and one of them sold the largest, high-end tequila brand. He ordered a round of shots. And someone took a picture of me as I threw the liquid down my throat capturing my facial contortion. And what went through my mind was, “wow, this is the biggest brand, worth a ton of money - there must be a way to make a better tequila.”
I was aware that there was a big market out there with very successful brands. I approached it with an open mind very curious as to how these big tequila brands were not that good and selling at $40 to $50 per bottle. I had met I met a tequila insider, a Mexican living in California. He had the tequila connections because he imported low end tequila. I brought marketing skills and the ability to create a brand.
So, how does one usually go about crafting a new tequila (the liquid)?
The interesting thing is that virtually all new brands need to find a liquid so they choose a distillery and simply take the liquid that the distillery currently makes. They're repurposing an existing liquid for their new brand. And this is standard practice that almost all brands go through when they create a new tequila brand. The brand is new, but the liquid inside is not.
But how did you achieve creating a tequila that doesn't have that harsh, biting, burning taste?
There are four things Gilberto did, and the fourth one is the big one. The first key is that we use ripe, mature agaves 7 – 10 years old at a high sugar level. We produce in clean all stainless-steel conditions. We also use a fresh wine yeast with each fermentation to avoid off flavors from the thousands of airborne yeasts.
But the crucial thing that we do is take the distillation to a further point where we remove the impurities that cause tequilas to burn - the reason why people want to shoot tequila. After the PaQuí process, those impurities, congeners and fusel oils, are not in the final liquid. These impurities cover up all the best aspects of the blue agave masking the aroma, the fruit, the complexity, and they are the cause of the burn when you swallow.
Gilberto demonstrated this to me when I attended the first commercial production. He directed me to a vat with a pipe coming up the middle and a receptacle motioning to me to stick my hand in there and taste the liquid. He didn’t warn me it would be so noxious, acidic and burning. He saw me get angry but then explained “John, that’s what we are taking out of PaQuí. And those impurities are in virtually every other tequila”. I finally understood from a visceral point of view how PaQuí achieved its profile.
As a consequence of separating out the impurities, the PaQuí yield is reduced by 15% making its production that much mor expensive than other tequilas.
Beyond the yield, what’s preventing other brands from creating a very similar tequila?
I asked Gilberto what's going to stop other distillers from basically copying our process? He had three answers. One was complacency in the industry where everyone thinks their tequila is the best. The second is the lower yield which poses an economic issue to most brands. He also claims that it's very difficult to remove the impurities and that most Master Distillers do not know how to do this.
So, while other brands are repurposing liquids from the distilleries that they use, PaQuí developed a proprietary process that we own. Our tequila liquid appears in no other brand. The process is laid out in a document in Spanish that we guard.
Some brands talk about highlands & lowlands, is either better?
We’re able to produce in different parts of Jalisco. Some brands make a point of saying that there's a significant difference between tequila made in the Tequila Valley versus tequila made in the Highlands. We've made PaQuí in both areas and we've matched the profile. Gilberto believes there is not a significant organoleptic difference in agaves from these regions. As long as the agaves have the correct high sugar level we can match the taste. We have flexibility of producing in the Tequila Valley or the Highlands.
What do you think about the current state of the high-end tequila market in the US?
It’s a fast growing and sizable segment dominated by enormous brands backed by corporations with huge resources . The industrial and celebrity brands are nothing special in term of taste profile but are ubiquitous from heavy marketing. Tequila drinkers are not yet generally knowledgeable or aware that a brand like PaQui can offer elevated quality and a much more enjoyable taste.
PaQui has to separate itself from the pack as a luxury brand for drinkers who value quality and taste. And access more capital to get the word out to drinkers and expand its presence in the market.