We interviewed David Ravandi, founder of 123 Organic Tequila. We found out why organic tequila is actually good for us, the story behind his eco-friendly packaging, and what it means to make a biodynamic tequila.
How did thinking about wine enthusiasts help you develop your product and brand?
When thinking about these parallels, my wine maker friends always come to mind. There are so many similarities in the process of making fine wine and premium tequila. Each is based on importance of the terroir, cultivating plants by applying stress to enhance the quality of the initial flavour profiles and of course the aging techniques.
The slow, graceful aging process that is so essential to ultra premium tequila and of course in making certain wines. All tequila begins with Blanco, the un-aged mother spirit, and goes on to become Reposado, Anejo and Extra Anejo. I’ve always preferred using new American or French oak barrels over other industry standards. Inspired by winemakers who have long recognized the importance of using quality barrels, I’ve also used them to enhance the complexity and character of my aged tequilas. Of course most importantly is the consumer’s experience, like fine wine, tequila is always enjoyed best when paired with good friends and food.
Is it expensive to have eco-friendly packaging?
All the materials used in the packaging are recycled. The bottles are individually hand blown from 100% recycled glass and the labels are made from recycled paper and printed with soy ink. Each bottle is signed and numbered. There’s a considerable amount of time and effort involved in sourcing and producing sustainable packaging but like every aspect of our brand, we’re willing to go the extra mile to bring our vision to market.
While there is a cost to producing eco-friendly packaging, the vision for the brand would not be fully achieved without including these important elements. Being very focused and concerned about organic production, we are both certified organic by USDA and also EU for the tequila. It’s only natural that our packaging would be aligned with our philosophy in sustainability.
What makes each of your tequilas different?
123 Organic Tequila Blanco (Uno) is the mother spirit from which Reposado, Anjeo are created so it’s essential that we start with a superior spirit. Blanco is un-aged tequila that has clean, intense aromas of fresh agave and vibrant flavours of lemon peel, black pepper and minerals. It’s silky smooth and has a slight sweet kick on a lengthy finish.
123 Organic Tequila Reposado (Dos) is Blanco that has been aged six months in oak, which gives it a very light color and flavours of salted caramel, creme brulee and toffee notes but no real hint of wood. You can detect agave on the nose, but it quickly dissipates as the flavours deepen and conclude with a minty anise finish. Dos is a very complex and versatile tequila.
123 Organic Tequila Anejo (Tres) spends eighteen months in oak so the wood character is more prominent, and on first blush it’s heady on the nose with tannin and wood oil notes. These fade after some time in the glass to reveal richer versions of the characteristics found in the Reposado: caramel and some chocolate notes. A lovely anejo, it really opens up when you give it some time and savor it. Anjeo is comparable to fine aged brown spirits like scotch and cognac and is best enjoyed when sipped so its complex aromas and flavours can be appreciated to the fullest.
123 Extra Anejo Diablito, which was originally my personal stash, is aged for forty months in brand new French White Oak barrels. Very limited release of 2,500 bottles per year. The nose reveals deep vanilla notes, along with plenty of fresh black pepper. The flavours are textbook extra añejo, a seductive mélange of deep vanilla, racy spices, and chewy, roasted agave all in harmony. The body is rich and creamy, and the finish surprisingly long lasting, offering citrus-focused tartness and plenty of bite. Extra Anejo demonstrates a level of complexity that few tequilas ever achieve making it dangerously easy to drink.
Is tequila good for you?
Traditionally in Mexico, tequila has been used as a remedy over centuries to treat many different ailments. Our organic tequila is produced under the strictest of guidelines using the purest of methods. During fermentation no additional yeast or sugars are added. In modest consumption, tequila can stimulate the appetite and after a large meal can also aid with digestion. For someone with blood sugar sensitivities, tequila is better than other alcohol because the sugars are simple sugars, they breakdown easier in the body. It is also know that tequila, in moderation, can aid in lowering bad cholesterol. Also since tequila is gluten-free, it’s a great option for celiac. One should remember, tequila treats you the same way you treat it, if you aggressively slam it back it will get mad and return the favor.
Why is organic tequila better than conventional tequila?
The process of distilling tequila is as much an art as it is a science so there’s an incredible amount of craft in every bottle. Quality begins on the plantation where our organic estate agave is grown and we’re only as good as the raw materials from which we produce our tequila. By law tequila can only be produced from Blue Agave the species known as Agave tequilana Weber (the name of the botanist who discovered it). This is the very reason that we’ve invested so much time and effort into securing organic certification for our plantations. In conjunction with the Blue Agave, natural fermentation and terroir maintenance play an important role in crafting the finest of tequilas. 123 Organic Tequila, both US and EU certification, meets the highest levels of organic certification which translates in to quality and complexity the consumer can taste.
What’s the difference between organic and biodynamic? Can you be both?
Biodynamic is similar to organic farming, both take place without synthetic chemicals and fertilizer, but biodynamic farming also incorporates the agave field as an entire ecosystem, and also takes into account astrological influences and lunar cycles. Biodynamic tequila means that the agaves are farmed bio dynamically, and that the producer or tequilero did not make the tequila with any common manipulations such as yeast or sugar additions. A tequila “made from biodynamic agave” means that a tequila maker used biodynamically-grown agave, but followed a less strict list of rules in tequila making. We practice both methods.
Are tequilas healthier than other spirits?
While most spirits are either made from grain or sugar cane, tequila is made from 100% Blue Agave, which many don’t know comes from the lily family. It takes ten years for our agave to mature, during that time the agave gathers nurturance, vitamins and minerals from the earth, adding deep complexities that naturally enhance the flavour profiles. Enjoying tequila straight, or with a splash of soda, or with fresh fruit juice can help to eliminate many of those extra calories or added sugars that contribute to not feeling that great the next day. It’s the impurities in any spirit, the congeners, and dehydration that can cause trouble when consumed in excess.
What are the benefits of blogging as a small business?
While I’m a tequila maker, social media plays an important role in the exposure of my brand. When consumers, mixologists, or chefs start posting, tweeting, or sharing in their enjoyment of 123 Organic Tequila, it helps to introduce others to my tequilas in a very organic way (no pun intended)!
If you could choose any chef to collaborate with, who would it be?
While I’ve had the opportunity over the years to collaborate with so many talents, Chef Jose Andres has been an early supporter of 123 Organic Tequila. With the greatest respect for his incredible palate and creative vision, having the opportunity to develop tasting menus paired with 123 Organic Tequila, has been an exciting journey in understanding the endless possibilities in paring tequila. Last year, together with Jose Andres and team, I was invited to launch my latest 110 proof tequila El Luchador Organic Tequila, during the Day of The Dead celebrations at Oyamel Conina Mexicana, in Washington DC. Created for the growing artisanal craft cocktail movement, having delicious El Luchador cocktails were the highlight of the evening.
What’s your favourite social media platform for marketing?
While we use a lot of different ways to engage our consumer base, Instagram has been my personal favorite. The visuals say so much about the lifestyle of 123 Organic Tequila, from beautifully crafted artisanal cocktails to me walking through my agave fields against the striking landscape of Amatitan. Consumers can share my vision of 123 Organic Tequila with others, through their enjoyment, their adventures and celebrations. From a couple carrying a bottle of my tequila with them on their trek in the Antartic or good friends posting a picture of their evening, seeing consumers enjoying 123 Organic Tequila never gets old! (Here’s Lisa’s social share!)
Can anyone just make the claim that they are “premium artisanal”? Does this happen? Does it frustrate you?
In the rise of Tequila’s popularity, there are more tequila brands in the market than ever before. While new brands might market themselves as a “premium artisanal” product, consumers are way more educated and have higher standards in evaluating products that make these claims. When I started seriously thinking about making premium tequila in early ‘90s there weren’t a lot of quality tequilas on the market and certainly none that were 100% organic. Most people had never experienced the magical characteristics in sipping fine tequila, this inspired me to want to make and share something I thought was very special. This is not just about growing and cooking agave but more about delivering a carefully crafted artisanal product that I felt was unique and beautiful. For me, it is all about the customer enjoying and supporting my tequilas because they can clearly distinguish the quality of my brands. It seems redundant to call an artisanal product premium as artisanal implies that the product has been crafted using traditional methods by an artisan, in this case a tequilero, who is completely and wholly integrated into the creation of their product. This certainly describes our approach to producing 123 which is made with the greatest attention to detail and to the highest standards.
What is your biggest struggle running a small company in the big business of alcohol?
Like any small company there are challenges, but we’re growing and getting stronger in the market all the time. While larger companies have bigger budgets, they’re not always as in tune like I am with my direct consumers. I am very hands-on, and enjoy doing lots of 123 Organic Tequila tastings. I get to meet with consumers, share more about my vision, and learn from them directly why they love my tequila. As we continue to grow, I want to make sure I continue connecting in that way.
How do you feel about the heavy taxes on alcohol?
While this is not my area of expertise, it’s important to know that excise taxes and other fees differ widely by state. States with lower taxes including California and Texas represent some of the best markets for the off premise sales of 40% abv distilled spirits in 750 ml containers while states like Washington, Oregon, Virginia and Alabama have some of the highest tax rates. The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States is the best resource for the specifics.
Favourite early morning activity?
I’m a morning person, and do laps in the pool every morning. Afterwards, I like spending some time checking in on social media. Seeing consumer’s enjoy my tequilas is really the ultimate compliment.
Favourite evening activity (besides drinking tequila)?
In the evening, it’s about family and friends. I’ve always enjoyed cooking dinners, enjoying wines and sharing my tequilas with others.