Two Minnesota guys dream of a non-tequila for $ 170 a bottle

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The United States has a long love affair with distilled agave drinks. First there was the tequila craze, then smoked mezcal was all the rage. Now, entrepreneurs, keen to take advantage of the reopening of bars and restaurants across the United States, are betting on a new drink they call Avila.

Revel Spirts, Inc., a private company based in Los Angeles, Calif., Has a simple concept: take the same blue agave that is used in tequila, grow it in Morelos state, and distill it using the artisanal method. slow cooking. burning wood which produces mezcal with smoky accents.

But if Revel’s secret recipe is based on two parts of agave, one part of heated rocks, it is also at least part of marketing. Only distilleries in a certain region of Mexico are allowed to call their product “tequila”, just as Champagne can only be made in part of France. Revel’s operations are elsewhere, in the central state of Morelos. So instead of selling just another mezcal, Revel co-founders Hector Ruiz and Micah McFarlane, both of whom grew up in Minnesota, simply created a new category to create a sense of mystique and novelty. The company invests millions of dollars in the brand, markets it with a celebrity reputation, and offers its most premium product, called “Añejo”, up to $ 170 a bottle at liquor stores in the United States.

Bottles containing Hacienda Don Raul aged avila, in one of the distilleries that supplies Revel spirits.

Photographer: Luis Antonio Rojas / Bloomberg

“If I ask someone if they want mezcal from Morelos, Oaxaca or Guerrero, obviously people will say Oaxaca or Guerrero, because these are the places with the longest history,” said Juan Carlos Gordillo, director of Revel operations in Mexico. “The mission of the Revel project is to create a new category called avila.” Ruiz, the co-founder, was born in Morelos.

The company, which sold its first bottle in 2017, hopes to raise $ 20 million in a C round of investment in the coming months. About 60% of this amount will go to advertising and marketing, with the rest going to building up the inventory of its avila products. The name is a tribute to Noe Avila, a master distiller who works in the distillery of the Hector Ruiz family. It doesn’t hurt to have Justin Hartley, a star of the popular ‘This is Us’ streaming series, as the owner since May 2020.

is about Two Guys From Minnesota Dream Up a Non-Tequila for $ 170 a bottle

Revel’s head of operations in Mexico, Juan Carlos Gordillo, holds a shovel used in agave processing.

Photographer: Luis Antonio Rojas / Bloomberg

As the pandemic closed bars and clubs, Revel spent the fallow months selling his 24-year-old ‘Añejo’ offerings. months in French oak barrels, through online liquor suppliers like the Reserve Bar and regular liquor stores.

“We’re small and handcrafted so we can’t beat our product and try to sell it for $ 20,” McFarlane said of the high price tag. “We have worked too hard to offer quality, natural agriculture and few pesticides.”

In the dry plains that lie among the hills of Morelos, avila pickers peel the thin, pointed leaves of the Blue Weber agave until only the pineapple-shaped heart remains. The hearts are roasted on a bed of rocks collected from a nearby volcano, then crushed into juice and fermented. It is distilled up to three times, pushed through a filtration system and left to age for up to 24 months for the Añejo in barrels. A tequila-like steaming system is used to cook other agave hearts, and most Revel drinks are an alcohol blend made from two processes.

Globally, tequila and mezcal still have plenty of room to grow, accounting for just about 3% of the $ 491 billion spirits industry, according to Kenneth Shea, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. In North America, the main market for agave distillates, the share is higher at 11%, he said.

IWSR, a market analyst who tracks alcoholic beverages, predicts that the volume of mezcal in the United States will grow by more than 64% from 2019 to 2024, while tequila is expected to grow by 36%.

“Consumers are looking for something different, something crafty, handcrafted,” Shea said. If founders are “good brand marketers, they have a good chance of success.”

is about Two Guys From Minnesota Dream Up a Non-Tequila for $ 170 a bottle

Labels for bottles of El Popo de Revel, named after the Popocatepetl volcano which is near the distillery

Photographer: Luis Antonio Rojas / Bloomberg

In addition to his premium Añejo, Revel’s portfolio includes a light-colored “Blanco” that sells for $ 60, and the “Reposado” priced at $ 75 and aged for 12 months in American white oak barrels. A fourth product called “El Popo”, named after the Popocatepetl volcano which is about 15 miles northeast of the Revel Distillery, is expected to launch in the United States in the second half of the year.

Agave takes seven to ten years to mature. The lengthy process and huge demand have driven up prices for agave, says BI’s Shea. “The demand is so great that producers don’t seem to be able to grow that quickly,” he said.

Revel says he is able to produce enough by mixing three types of agave. The company currently has access to 550 hectares which cultivate Blue Weber, Espadin and Criollo. The former is traditionally used by tequileros, while the other two are more commonly used by mezcaleros.

is about Two Guys From Minnesota Dream Up a Non-Tequila for $ 170 a bottle

Agave piñas, or hearts, are roasted on the volcanic rock of Popocatepetl.

Photographer: Luis Antonio Rojas / Bloomberg

“We have enough agave until 2030,” McFarlane said. “Every year we try to add more hectares by buying from farmer associations.”

The rows of agave in the town of Jonacatepec are surrounded by empty corn and sugar cane fields amid low mountains. The Popocatepetl volcano is in the distance – its long plume seen rising into the sky when active. Planting agave is a long-term bet for farmers in the area, who make money by selling small agave plants to other growers while they wait for theirs to mature.

Small Morelos distillers have long sought certification as producers of tequila and mezcal, but have always been rejected on both counts, said Andres Torres Acuña, quality control manager for the Tequila Regulatory Council. . This is why Revel chose from the start to propose a new name and a new category. Morelos has in the past attempted to commercialize raffino, an agave alcohol that state-native revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata would have favored, but it never caught on.

“Each region has different qualities,” Torres said. “If everyone was trying to make a product that stood out from ours, that would be fantastic.”

– With the help of Tiffany Kary

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