What‘s the next step for a two-time Grammy-nominated country group that has bucked conventions of the genre since launching a debut five-song EP in 2016? Well, in March, Midland is playing the first night of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in the middle of a tour that brings the band back to its home state. But that’s not the true next step.
On Monday, a new tequila brand hits store and bar shelves across Texas. Bottles of Insólito are going to be plentiful on the Midland tour bus and at Midland shows for fans to try, too — because the band decided to dive into the booze business and release the three Insólito products, a collaboration with lauded highland distillery Premium de Jalisco and beverage development firm SIP.
They know how it might look.
"How many celebrities and artists go out and release a spirit brand, right? They do it every (expletive) day," Midland lead singer Mark Wystrach tells me on a rare day the trio is all in the Austin area, where they have settled with their families.
But it was important to the group that Insólito ("extraordinary" in Spanish) stands on its own merit. At launch, the brand has blanco, reposado and añejo tequilas, each one a blend made from highland and lowland agave, with the latter two deriving additional flavor from time spent in new American oak barrels. The 18-month-aged añejo in particular is a marvel, a silky stew of dark chocolate and dried fruit notes.
Añejo — one of five categories of tequila that describes its long aging time — is supposed to be smooth enough for people to sip it neat or on the rocks. But the brothers behind Premium de Jalisco, Alberto and Octavio Herrera, made blanco and reposado options that also can be enjoyed with little else in your glass, if you choose. Midland bassist Cameron Duddy likes the blanco "on the rocks with lemon or a splash of soda water or mixed into a paloma," he says.
Each tequila comes in striking bottles covered almost entirely in colors redolent of the southwest (midnight blue for blanco, sea green for the reposado and coral for the añejo) and lettered in gold. One thing that isn‘t on the front of the bottles is the Midland name. You won’t find it until reading the tiny print on the back.
The band members purposely chose to highlight master distiller Alberto Herrera‘s name, emblazoned on the front, over their own. They remember the magical visit to the brothers’ distillery, 7,200 feet above sea level in the mountains of Jalisco within a charming town called Mazamitla. (It‘s so high up, the distillery is the highest in Mexico.) Right away, they say, it was clear the brothers would be good business partners. They were passionate about their craft and were "laser-focused," Duddy says.
So Midland decided to go for it. About three years ago, before the group had gained today‘s popularity, Wystrach, Duddy and lead guitarist Jess Carson — friends before they’d ever formed a band together — were asked by their manager about the future.
"Thank God we were naive enough two, three years ago when they said, ‘Look, close your eyes, dream up your future, what happens to Midland?’" Duddy says. "‘Well, we become very successful as a band and make great music.’ ‘OK, beyond that, what aspirations do you have that maybe aren’t related to music?’"
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Before forming the band, the snappily dressed trio had been successful on their own. Wystrach was an actor and model, then the co-founder of a footwear company. Carson owned a vintage clothing store. Duddy directed music videos for artists like Bruno Mars. But they arrived at one answer: starting a tequila brand.
That‘s perhaps appropriate, at first glance, for a band whose first big hit was called "Drinkin’ Problem." ("They call it a problem, I call it a solution.")
"When we threw out doing a tequila, we thought, well, we can all do the same things that we do with music, but with tequila. We all get to flex those creative muscles or whatever. The things we do best, we can do for this," Duddy says. "But it might be worth mentioning that in the country music world, it probably would’ve been way more on the nose to do a bourbon. Way easier, less time-consuming and way more on brand."
The Midland members wanted to focus on tequila because the Mexican spirit is their drink of choice whether they‘re spending time with family in Dripping Springs or on tour belting out anthems from last year’s sophomore release, "Let It Roll." For Wystrach in particular, who grew up going to church in Sonora across the border and learning to speak Spanish, tequila is a taste of home.
To bring Insólito to market and have it stand out from the start, Midland also teamed up with Spirits Innovation Partners, the operating arm of the business. SIP’s Libby Christopoulos consulted with the band to come up with the clean, colorful bottle design and Insólito’s flamingo logo that they hope will distinguish the tequila on crowded bar shelves.
Midland didn‘t want Insólito to resemble every other tequila bottle out there. Many of the brands today, they’ve noticed, "tend to all replicate each other to a crazy degree," Wystrach says.
"You could have just inserted country music into that exact same paradigm. We’re the same way. We came flamboyant straight out of the gate," Duddy says.
In addition to the initial launch in Texas bars and stores, Insólito will be available on Midland‘s current Road to the Rodeo tour. (The tour goes through multiple states and eventually Europe but will hit San Antonio, Fort Worth and other Texas cities starting Feb. 20. Midland’s Houston Rodeo appearance is on March 3.) The band is confident fans are going to love the tequila, and not just because Midland is behind it.
"That was the goal for us: Make it look good, taste even better, and be worth sharing with your friends," Duddy says.
Sounds like a solution.