Tequila is going from strength to strength, so there is much to celebrate on National Tequila Day today. But with whom?
George Clooney? Kendall Jenner? Rita Ora? Justin Timberlake? The Rock?
And with what brand? Casamigos founded by Clooney, Rande Gerber and Mike Meldman and sold for $1 billion? Sausa? Espolon? Olmeca? El Jimador? Hornitos? Don Julio? Patron? Jose Cuervo?
Or Vivir? Britain’s first tequila, from High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire.
Celebrities have got involved in their own tequila brands so why not Paul Hayes from Evercreech in Somerset and Navindh Grewal from Beaconsfield, Bucks?
Hayes and Grewal founded VIVIR in collaboration with the multi-award-winning Casa Maestri Distillery to create their own line of super-premium 100 per cent agave using 100 per cent Weber blue agave Tequila, natural volcanic spring water and traditional production processes.
Birmingham University Engineering graduate Paul Hayes was born on the Wirral but grew up in Oman.
“Dad was an electrical engineer for the Merchant Navy and the ferries in the UK and got a job on a boat over there, so we all moved to be together. I was surrounded by expats and soaked up all the drive and entrepreneurialism.”
Muesli was another inspiration for his own tequila. As well as being allergic to tequila. Hayes launched the Bircher Swiss-stye muesli and high protein oat drink OSO brand, named after his school nickname. He sold the brand six years ago.
“I made it for myself for breakfast. I’m a big snowboarder so made it on my holidays in the Alps initially. Before I knew it, I was making it for about 400 people a day in my office and other offices around us. I then started supplying local coffee shops and it took off.
“I was extremely passionate about local sourcing ingredients and the sustainability behind everything I did. Everything came locally from Cheshire. I refused to use refined sugar. This sounds like the norm now but back then – 16 years ago – it really wasn’t. Finding a good alternative in bulk was not easy. Someone recommended agave and so I went to Mexico to get some.”
Previously he had avoided tequila because it made him ill.
“It was at a meeting over there that I first drank quality tequila. And then by mistake. It was from a clear bottle at a distillery, and I enthusiastically poured it out thinking it was water and downed it as it was a very hot day. I panicked but, to my surprise, I was fine and loved it. That started my whole love affair with the spirit.”
Later, Hayes learned he was allergic to underdeveloped agave sugars coming from cheaper tequilas that use diffusers and underripe agave.
“We met at the now no more EasyGym on Oxford Street. We spent three years developing VIVIR. It’s completely bespoke to us.
“We know our agave is grown to full maturity for nine years and everything else about our plants, even down to the pH of the soil and the environmental factors around the area. This is very important for not just the quality of our final Tequila, but also for our sustainability efforts. We keep a certain amount of crop and allow it to flower, which then essentially makes it useless for Agave production. But it is only at this stage we can fully cultivate the seeds for future generations. It’s also the time when insects and local bat colonies feed of the plants, helping not just agave reproduction, but also the pollination of other surrounding crops and plants.”
The distillery also has its own volcanic spring. Even the left-over husks from our Agave are donated to a local initiative that produces reusable bags and cutlery. “We wanted zero waste from our production,” adds Grewal.
VIVIR has launched its first liqueur, Café VS is made with coffee beans and Piloncillo Mexican cane sugar.
Along with traditional mixers like Coke, soda, grapefruit, pineapple and orange juices, a new one has been launched as a change from Palomas and Margueritas. Korean Yondu Vegetable Umami is made from organic soybean essence, organic vegetable stock (white radish, cabbage, leek, shiitake, garlic) and yeast extract.
“Lockdown has actually helped as people have had the time to discover more about drinks. We also attended Gin & Tonic events. By going to other spirit focussed events, we had a much bigger crowd of curious people that we could educate. A T&T wasn’t too far out of people’s comfort zones. The response was nearly always “Wow! Why haven’t we been told about this before?!”
“The agave takes around eight to nine years to grow and after harvesting, they are cooked in a clay oven for four days. Then the milling process extracts the agave syrup, which is fermented and distilled in stainless steel stills. For the VIVIR Blanco expression, the process ends at this stage while, for the Reposado and Añejo, the liquid is transferred into Jack Daniel’s casks for aging.”
El Sueño (meaning ‘dream’) is VIVIR’s quality Mixto and is an environmentally-friendly and affordable tequila alternative.
The business is based in High Wycombe, Grewal’s hometown, and says:
“As the demand for tequila grows and the pressure on agave supplies increases, there are producers who are adopting processes which are neither kind to the land or the reputation of tequila. El Sueño offers an alternative with no compromise on raw materials and production.”
To produce Tequila Reposado, they age their Tequila Blanco for 6 months in American Oak bourbon casks to add maturity and complexity to its profile. Tequila Blanco is aged for 18 months in American Oak bourbon casks.
“The tequila maintains its agave roots whilst bringing smoky oak, burned bananas and chocolate. It’s fantastic neat and to sip.”
The first independent tequila brand based in the UK works closely with the Destiladora del Valle de Tequila, run by Michael and Celia Maestri in Jalisco. Hayes continues:
“They work really closely with the jimadores -Mexican agave farmers who are employed by the distillery. They manage the wildlife. All the good stuff that we really care about.
“We get big 80-90 kg piñas from them. We did try copper, but it added a slightly metallic finish. We don’t use big vat casks as the profile is quite strong and over-emphasises the natural vanillas and caramels. We did try about eight or nine different cask types ranging from like wine-finishes to different bourbons, but Jack Daniels worked best.
“We’re going to get some Cognac casks and start ageing our blanco in them. Because our Espresso Martini did so well, we keep getting asked to do a coffee-infused version of our blanco, so we’ve been working with a local coffee provider in Mexico on that with our own natural agave syrup.”
VIVIR wants to change general perceptions of tequila here and get away from the shot, lick the back of your hand, bite into a lemon, close your eyes and neck it culture.
Grewal, who also works in accounting, adds:
“The key is getting across the heritage and craft that goes into making it. People don’t know that a bottle of tequila can take years to make. We want to help people understand what it is that tequila is and can be. It’s one of the best spirits you could ever drink.
“It’s too often still seen as that horrible drink you had as a student at the end of a night when you’d probably drunk too much already. Showing it’s not just a shooter you do with salt and lime is key. We never serve them with VIVIR Tequila. Because you just don’t need to. Tequila and tonic is an easy way to get people into British tequila.”
Cazcabel Premium Tequila
We thought we would also give a mention to another exciting and popular tequila here in the UK, Cazcabel, who produce an award-winning range of tequilas, that include the fresh and crisp Blanco and oak aged Reposado, as well as the flavoured expressions of Coconut, Honey and Coffee.
At the heart of the brand, is Don Cazcabel, a mystic figure from the Jalisco mountains. The name Cazcabel meaning ‘snakeman’ after his work with local plants, herbs and native rattlesnakes. The Mexican curador developed recipes using harvested piñas from the diverse and rugged landscape around him.
These days the Cazcabel range of tequilas is created in an independent micro distillery in Arandas in Jalisco with weber from sun baked agaves, crushed using traditional methods.
Depending on your taste, these earthy but vibrant tequilas can be enjoyed either on their own or as part of a refreshing juicy summer cocktail, such as a punchy Paloma. Simply fill a glass with ice and pour in some Tequila Blanco with a Double Dutch Pink Grapefruit mixer for the perfect refreshing summer cocktail with which to celebrate National Tequila Day.
Kevin Pilley is a former professional cricketer and chief staff writer of PUNCH magazine. His humour, travel, food and drink work appears worldwide and he has been published in over 800 titles.
Simon Burrell is Editor of Our Man On The Ground, a member of The British Guild of Travel Writers and professional photographer.
Photographs courtesy of VIVIR and Cazcabel