Posted on | March 25, 2015
Written by | Jeffery Lindenmuth
Pernod Ricard Brands Avión & Altos Make A Powerful Pair
Dominic Alcocer’s title says it all: Director of Tequilas, Pernod Ricard USA. The French-based company is betting big on the continued ascent of Mexico’s national spirit with not just one, but two high-quality 100% agave tequilas that complement each other in advancing market share and the overall tequila category. “The tequila age is just beginning! Our commitment as a company is ensuring we are competing with extremely well-crafted spirits that are in the fastest-growing categories,” says Alcocer.
Figures from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States affirm that position. High-end premium and super-premium tequila, the exclusive domain of 100% agave offerings, have registered impressive growth over the past decade. For the period beginning in 2002 and ending 2013, the super-premium segment of the U.S. tequila market, virtually unknown a decade ago, soared 481% in volume, while high-end premium tequila attained a 178% increase. It’s an impressive run by any measure, especially for a spirit that has relied almost exclusively on sales of shots and a single signature cocktail—the Margarita—since making a splash in the U.S. in the 1960s.
Tequila Avión, created by entrepreneur Ken Austin in 2009 and majority owned by Pernod Ricard since 2014, is a perfect poster child for the changing opinions and perceptions surrounding tequila. Through Austin’s friendship with Doug Ellin, creator of the HBO series Entourage, Avión landed a starring role in two seasons of the hit series soon after its launch. Avión’s appearance in Entourage’s fictional Hollywood fast lane gave rise to an interesting challenge: viewers weren’t sure if Avión was real. “Ken was pleased, but also pained because he was approaching tequila from a purely flavor perspective, and for people to say it was a marketing brand was simply not true,” recalls Jenna Fagnan, President of Tequila Avión. The company responded with a “Yes, it’s real” campaign and saw demand soar. Whether choosing Avión Silver, Resposado or Añejo, tequila lovers, who tend to favor the spirit on the rocks, quickly learned that Avión had the quality to back the buzz. At the 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Avión Silver took the honors for not only World’s Best Tequila, but also World’s Best White Spirit, beating out hundreds of vodkas, gins and rums. Fagnan quickly recognized that Avión had the hallmarks of a lasting luxury brand: “Tequila has to be fun and lifestyle. But something I learned in my time at LVMH, working on not just Champagne but watches, is that you can’t have a quality brand that lasts without quality first.”
Much like the best wines, Avión is not made delicious by doing anything drastically different, but rather through incredibly meticulous attention to the smallest details. “Ken is such a stickler, every step of the way,” she says, noting the agave for Avión comes from 7,000 feet above sea level, where deep-rooted plants result in deeper concentrations of flavor. After being hand-harvested at the peak of maturity by exclusive jimadors, these agave piñas are slow roasted in a brick oven to develop flavors that can’t be created in a modern autoclave. After three days, the sweet, baked piñas are allowed to rest to re-absorb their juices, much like a sizzling steak.
During distillation in a copper pot still, Master Distiller Alejandro Lopez takes a very narrow cut of only the best distillate, followed by a proprietary filtering to create Tequila Avión. “In the end, each bottle takes about 30% more agave than other tequilas. Ken is more about the finished product than cost. That entrepreneurial spirit of not cutting corners is a philosophy that guides the whole team,” says Fagnan.
With unaged Avíon Silver (averaging $40/750 ml retail) as the flagship, Fagnan notes that they also sell “an unusually large amount of Resposado and Añejo,” aged six months and two years respectively. It’s not surprising given the excellent value of these expressions, priced only about $5-$10 more than Silver at retail.
Olmeca Altos: More than a sidekick
Olmeca Altos has joined Avión at Pernod Ricard, created by two bartenders who envisioned an authentic tequila that skews younger, while offering exceptional value. “Altos,” as fans know it, relies on some of its agave crushed by a two-ton stone tahona wheel, one of only seven distilleries in Mexico to retain the traditional method. Also like Avión, it is brick-oven baked. Priced around $25 at retail, the Altos Plata (a blanco style) and Resposado offer incredibly affordable introductions to authentic 100% agave tequila.
“Altos is a younger consumer, often coming from mixto [tequila] or other spirits. They are ready to leave spring break behind. These are the same folks who are starting to explore the nuances of bourbon or Scotch and want to explore other authentic quality spirits,” says Alcocer.
While co-founders Dre Masso and the late Henry Basant brought star bartender pedigree to the brand, the original vision of a quality Tequila with a compelling price and a robust flavor profile that excels in cocktails is in good hands with co-founder and Maestro Tequilero Jesús Hernández. “Henry’s life force is present in the liquid itself,” says Alcocer. “When we work with bartenders and mixologists and the trade community, I love to see the playfulness and creativity, all the ways they bring
Altos to life.”
Pernod Ricard also brings Altos to life by connecting directly with consumers. At altostequila.com, consumers are inspired to go beyond the normal margarita, with cocktails beautifully photographed in martini glasses, teacups, mason jars and flutes. In fact, most of the marketing spend for Altos is in digital. “YouTube has more of our target consumer than all the networks combined. It’s hypertargeted and very efficient,” says Alcocer. Inventive on-premise promotions include a bicycle handing out free tacos street-food style.
With two progressive tequilas, united by their pursuit of quality, Alcocer sees only great synergy for the future: “I love having both these brands. It is exactly where we need to be to meet the needs of where consumers are going.”