Once there was an agave farmer whose wife happened upon a rabbit that was acting rather strange. She saw him running madly to and from an agave plant, and after closer observation, she realized the rabbit was drinking a liquid that was dripping from the plant. The farmer’s wife decided to collect the liquid and share it with her husband. It made them both feel alive and vibrant, so they continued to enjoy the agave liquid for the remainder of their lives. And tequila was born.
If a rabbit was able to discover it, surely the process of making it should be rather simple. However, there is a lot that goes into making a pure, 100 percent agave tequila, and part of it has to do with sticking with the traditions that began in Mexico.
Laurence Spiewak, co-founder and CEO of Suerte Tequila in Boulder, takes those traditions very seriously.
“What makes it different from other brands is our tequila is hand-crafted, small batch. And so it’s being made still in the traditional ways that tequila had been made for a long time and that now a lot of the larger manufacturers are getting away from,” he says.
Part of sticking to the tradition involves using traditional equipment, such as an horno, a traditional outdoor oven made of brick. This is used to slow-cook hearts of the agave plant, called piñas, for 52 hours, which is four times longer than the industry standard. The piñas are then transferred to a tahona, which is a large stone that rolls around and crushes the agave to get the juice out of it. This equipment is seldom used by tequila manufacturers anymore, but it is what was originally used for tequila production in Mexico. After the tahona crushes the piñas for 16 hours, the juice is then diluted with water to the proper consistency needed for fermentation.
Spiewak and his business partner, Lance Sokol, decided to honor that original process.
“Being from Boulder and living in Boulder, and having both worked in the natural products industry for many years, we both had a really strong desire and passion to see that it was natural and 100 percent pure,” Spiewak says.
Much like a good wine, tequila tends to get better with age. The Tequila Regulatory Council in Mexico has set requirements on how long each type of tequila should be aged. For example, for tequila to be labeled añejo, it needs to be aged a minimum of one year. Once again, Spiewak and Sokol decided that the minimum simply wasn’t enough.
“Our añejo is aged for two years. The longer it sits in the barrel and ages, the smoother it gets. So it really has a smoother quality that the other añejos don’t have. And the other thing is that it starts to take on more flavor from the barrel, from the oak, so it starts to take on some very unique characteristics,” says Spiewak. “It’s definitely got more of a full-bodied flavor, but it’s still a really wonderful balance of the pure agave with some subtle oak from the barrel.”
One of the initial goals that the founders had when making Suerte Tequila was making sure that it had a certain smooth quality that could be sipped easily and wasn’t harsh in any way, according to Spiewak.
“We purposefully went looking for something very smooth because we knew the American consumer needed something smooth. Americans don’t really take too kindly to really harsh spirits,” he says. “We also felt like we could offer something to the American consumer that’s more affordable. There’s so many people that won’t go near a really good bottle of tequila because it’s $70 a bottle, and so we wanted to give them another choice.”
Part of what gives tequila these characteristics has to do with not only how it’s made, but where. In the Mexican state of Jalisco, the highlands in the city of Atonilco el Alto are where Suerte Tequila is made, along with popular brands such as Patrón and Don Julio. Tequila made in the lowlands, including Jose Cuervo and Sauza, has much different characteristics.
“The soil is different, the weather is different, and the environment is different,” says Spiewak. “Highlands tequila tends to be a little sweeter and just more of a sweet agave flavor, in essence. Lowland tequilas tend to be a little more floral. Still agave, but much more floral.”
Despite being very traditional when it comes to the process of making tequila, Spiewak and Sokol aren’t quite so traditional when it comes to marketing it.
This winter, for example, they will be taking the brand to some Colorado ski resorts, Spiewak says.
“Vail, Aspen, some of the bigger ski towns that have a lot of people coming from all over the world, there’s always nightlife going on at night after the ski day, and there’s always live music, there’s always parties and things,” he says. “So we hope to be able to get involved with some of those things. We not only want to make it available up there to people in Colorado, but we’re hoping to start educating people outside of Colorado.”
Suerte Tequila is available in seven different liquor stores around Boulder. It is also being served at Casa Alvarez in Boulder, Treppedas in Niwot and Comida Restaurant in Longmont.