Infusing tequila with fruit and other flavors is more of a Mexican tradition than you might realize.
When Matt Davis used to go surfing in some of Mexico’s beach towns, he stumbled across a local tradition — agave spirit infusions that residents often created themselves, in their own kitchens. The infused tequila was so good on its own that Davis would replicate the flavors upon his return to the U.S. for friends and family.
Now, he’s producing them on a commercial level with the official launch of Playa Real Tequila, a line of three tequilas including a traditional silver. The other two, Mandarin and Pineapple, feature natural fruit infusions. But you wouldn’t necessarily know it looking at them: Like Playa Real’s Silver, the Mandarin and Pineapple are crystal-clear.
Davis, the husband of local jewelry-making powerhouse Kendra Scott, is hoping the clarity will be a boon to the brand, making it easy to pair the tequila with simple cocktail ingredients like lime and Waterloo Sparkling Water.
"Nobody has done an 80-proof flavored tequila with all-natural flavoring and kept the liquid clear, so I feel like we’re in a category all our own with that. That’s what makes us different and what I hope consumers will start to appreciate as well," he said.
He and his business partner, Arturo Vargas, organized a number of focus groups to settle on the two fruit infusions that Playa Real would start with, and it became obvious which ones were the winners.
"The mandarin and pineapple continually outpaced the other flavors," he said.
Wanting the tequila be as natural as possible — with no artificial ingredients — the pair sought "the best flavor manufacturer in the world" to create each flavoring. (Davis declined to name the company, citing it as a trade secret.) The flavorings are brought to the tequila distillery in Jalisco, Mexico, where Playa Real is made by master distiller Luis Trejo (who also produces Tequila 512).
Getting the infusions just right, with the silver tequila as the base, wasn’t easy in part because of Davis’ desire not to have a colored spirit.
"We had a lot of failure at first," he said. "There was a lot of back and forth and testing until the flavor was right, the color was right, the clarity was right. One thing about having a clear vodka is that you can sip it, shoot it or mix it, and we want people to be able to do that with our tequila. With a certain color, you might not mix it with certain things. You want it to look pretty. The functionality of mixing it without any adverse effects of coloring, that was important to us."
He and Vargas, a Mexican native, had worked together at Heineken — Davis has almost 10 years’ experience in the liquor industry — so he knew who to turn to when he decided to make Playa Real more than an idle fancy. Davis is CEO of the Davis Spirits Company producing the tequila; Vargas serves as president.
It was actually the support of Davis’ wife, Scott, who encouraged him to take the plunge. The Austin-based designer who has created jewelry donned by celebrities like Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga is nearly doubling the size of her staff this year, and she knows how to build a billion-dollar business from the ground up.
Namely, she knows one singular ingredient Playa Real Tequila would need for a successful launch.
"Kendra told me, ‘You have to do this! There’s never a right time to launch a brand, but there are right places. And this is the right place, being Austin,’" Davis said. "I realized she was right. I’ve been seeing it ever since, you know, because it’s the local Austin support that’s just been so awesome even in our first four months."
Playa Real Tequila launched in Texas late last year and has expanded into Colorado this month. Recently, the brand was picked up by Texas-based Republic National Distributing Company, one of the largest alcohol distributors in the country.
For more information, visit playarealtequila.com.
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