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Interview with Pura Vida Tequila Founder Stewart Skloss

By Scott  Talley

 

First of all, how did you wind up in business with Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Billy F. Gibbons of ZZ Top?

Well, Billy and I have been friends for many, many years, and when I first mentioned the idea of building an ultra-premium tequila company he told me he turned his back on tequila when he was 20 years old because tequila turned its back on him!

(Laughing) I think I had a similar experience when I was about that age.

You’re not alone, that’s one of the biggest challenges we face here in America. Getting people to understand Pura Vida Tequila is nothing like what they remember from growing up. In fact, when Billy said what he did I told him all I wanted him to do was just smell the aroma of Pura Vida, and if he liked what he smelled then all I wanted was for him to just taste it. Like a lot of other people who thought they didn’t like tequila because of a bad experience, he quickly found out Pura Vida Tequila doesn’t smell or taste like any tequila he’d ever had.

How did you ever find yourself able to create such an unusually smooth and aromatic tequila?

To answer that question we have to roll back the clock about 25 years, that’s when I started my first tequila brand. I was in my early 20’s and back then I had the attention span of a Mexican jumping bean, so needless to say it didn’t work out. Since then I’ve owned several businesses and had a lot of success, but my heart has always been with tequila. Sometime in 2008 after a discussion with JP DeJoria (Patron) about an investment we shared, I decided it was time to quit thinking about it and just do it. I’ve got a lot of friends around the world and they were all very supportive. They knew how important this was to me. It wasn’t long before I found myself in the Highlands of Jalisco, where the blue agave grow best, and where I knew I would find the kind of man who could help me create the perfect tequila. I needed the best Agavero (agave producer) I could find, and I got lucky when I met the Vivanco family. I already knew what pieces I needed to create the company I’d always dreamed about, I just had to put them together. I knew a fourth generation Agavero would be instrumental in realizing my vision.

Known as the “best damn tequila you’ve ever tasted,” what makes Pura Vida Tequila stand apart from the other tequila brands on the market right now?

It’s a lot of little things, really, the details make a big difference when you’re making tequila, and of course having an ultra-premium tequila at such an aggressive price point doesn’t hurt either.

What are some of those little things you mentioned?

First we begin with pure spring water from deep underground, which we then filter through one of the world’s finest purification systems. Water is the foundation of all spirits, so naturally the first step in making a perfect tequila begins with a perfect foundation. Next, we use only 100% Blue Weber Agave specifically from one area within the Highlands of Jalisco. The agave in this one region produce a more robust flavor with a higher sugar content than the others due to the rich regional soil. The sugar content is critical, and each step is absolutely essential in creating a perfect tequila. The third thing we do might seem a little crazy to some, but it’s a tradition with our Agaveros and I don’t argue with success. During fermentation, we play classical music directly at the tanks, the Agaveros say it makes the tequila dance. I just know it’s one of the many things we do to create the ultimate tequila. Finally we use a specially crafted triple distillation process incorporating our unique combination of both copper and stainless steel distillation equipment. It all works together to create the finest tasting tequila I’ve ever had, and I’ve tasted them all, all over the world.

We all know your line of ultra-premium tequila is comprised of four labels: Blanco, Reposado, Añejo and Extra Añejo, but what about this new product launch of yours, Naranja? Can you tell us about your secret ingredient to making the perfect Margarita?

 I’d love to, it’s something margarita lovers need to know, and it’s the best news they’ve ever had. We all know the best margaritas come from Mexico, but the thing is if you want to make a perfect margarita, you need more than just an ultra-premium tequila, what most people don’t know is you also have to stay true to the same orange liqueur they use in Mexico. It’s made from all Mexican ingredients, the company’s been around forever, in fact, it is the very same orange liqueur that was used in the first margarita ever made at Husong’s Cantina in Ensenada, Mexico by Don Carlos Orozco back in 1941. It’s sold under a different name over in Mexico, but now we have the distribution rights here in the U.S. so margarita lovers everywhere can finally have the last piece of the puzzle in building the perfect margarita. There’s no longer any need to substitute any ingredients, it was a long hard battle but NARANJA is finally here to stay!

Now I understand Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top is just one of the many celebrities who back your line of tequila.

That’s true, Billy is an investor, not a spokesperson. Another huge name in rock and roll that’s part of the Pura Vida family now is Sully Erna, Godsmack frontman and rock icon. Then we’ve also got Mike Hampton (MLB Retired), US Ambassador Tony Garza (Retired), Chester Pitts (NFL Retired), Tom Wood (Retired INDY Car Driver), etc… All are investors, not paid spokespersons.

Investors, not spokespersons, I guess that says a lot about how much they actually believe in this tequila?

Absolutely it does. Anyone can endorse a product when they’re picking up a check, but to put your money where your mouth, so to speak, says a lot more about the quality of Pura Vida Tequila than any amount of paid endorsements ever could.

How did you get such an eclectic group of celebrities to come together like this?

In the liquor industry today, it takes about $10MM to start a liquor company and even with that much money, there’s no guarantee it’ll succeed. We decided to grow our brand organically through six degrees of separation, that’s why we have investors from different professions, geographies and demographics. The one thing that ties everyone together is a passion for perfection. From lawyers to rock stars, doctors to IT legends, each of our investors are perfectionists in their own right, that’s part of what made them famous to begin with. Pura Vida is just another way for them to enjoy their passion for perfection and living the good life. Which is what it’s all about.

Can you tell us a little bit about Radio Pura Vida.mx? I understand it was the first radio station owned and operated by a liquor company, is that right?

It is, and I have to tell you this has been such a fun project. We were first approached by Pat Fant, the DJ that first played Billy Gibbons first single in Houston, to do these stations. These guys have built radio stations for NASA, Ford Motor Company, and now us. It’s the first time they’ve ever done anything like this, we were the first liquor company to have their own radio station. We’ve had fantastic feedback, so much so we even had to add an extra station, a double shot, if you will, of Pura Vida radio. People love it, and it’s just another way we bring the good life to our customers.

I know Pura Vida translates to “Pure life” in Spanish, but can you tell us how this name for your tequila came about?

 Pure life is a direct translation, but it’s more than just that. It’s also the good life, living life to the fullest, enjoying and appreciating every day for what it has to offer, that’s what Pura Vida means, and I wanted a toast other than just “Cheers” and by saying “Pura Vida” when a glass is raised, it’s truly a toast to life. Pure Life says it all to me, it means so much in so many ways. It’s something I strive for personally and professionally, living the good life, the pure life, Pura Vida!

Tell us about the bottle design, I know there’s some backstory there.
Well I first wanted to create a bottle that was a true piece of art, something that totally represented Mexico and Tequila to me. The colors remind me of Mexico as I remember it when I was a kid. I always loved the cobalt blue glass and shiny silver balls in so many stores. The lower shape represents the part of the Pina (Agave) that the tequila comes from, the part that’s underground, similar to a pineapple. That’s the art part, but I’ve been on both sides of the bar so I also wanted a bottle designed specifically with Bartenders and Mixologists in mind, it’s shaped so it doesn’t slip out of your hands, no matter how big or small they may be. I also had the glass made twice a thick as your typical bottle, you can feel the quality when you hold it. If you happen to accidentally drop one, no biggie. Precious cargo deserves an appropriate package. Industry insiders appreciate it on a professional level, regular people enjoy the aesthetic quality. Something for everyone.

I see Pura Vida has won an awful lot of awards, taking the industry by storm a little, huh?

Well the awards are important, no doubt about it, we couldn’t get this far without the experts agreeing Pura Vida is one of the best, but what means more to me, and the average consumer, is that we crafted a line of tequilas that are truly the smoothest I’ve ever tasted. And perhaps more importantly we’ve done it for such a great price. Our Silver retails nationally at an average of just $32 a bottle, $34 for our Reposado (Gold) and $38 for our Añejo. Where a lot of tequila companies go wrong is by charging $40 or more for something that costs them next to nothing to make, just because they can hammer their suppliers down through volume. I’d rather produce better tequila for less profit than make more money on an inferior product. Not everyone agrees with how we do things but I’ve always believed in a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. In the end, it’s all about customer experience in our market segment. You can get cheap tequila anywhere, but most people won’t order it twice. If you want an ultra-premium tequila at a fair price, we are hands down the best damn tequila you’ve ever tasted.

 

Texas GolferInterview with Pura Vida Tequila Founder Stewart Skloss