For the past two decades, tequila sales have boomed in the United States. So much so, in fact, that tequila has overtaken American whiskey to become the country’s second best-selling spirit in 2022; it is predicted to soon overtake vodka for the top spot.
When Van Halen frontman Sammy Hagar launched his Cabo Wabo tequila brand in 1996, tequila didn’t have a solid foothold in the United States. For Hagar, working with the humble Jalisco distillery El Viejito to create Cabo Wabo was a passion project. “I was just a rock ‘n’ roll kid who liked tequila,” he says. He intended to serve the spirit at the waterfront establishment he ran in Cabo San Lucas. “I didn’t plan for it to blow up the way it did.” By 2010, Hagar sold the brand to spirits giant Gruppo Campari for nearly $100 million. Amid Hagar’s success and the huge market for premium and super-premium tequila in the United States, celebrity-endorsed brands are booming.
Two high-profile entries emerged in 2013 and 2014: Casamigos from actor George Clooney and entrepreneurs Rande Gerber and Mike Meldman, and DeLeón from musician Sean “Diddy” Combs, who bought 50 percent of the brand. More than a dozen have appeared since then, leading the celebrities involved to be accused of cultural appropriation, especially when the brand’s identity has become more entwined with its celebrity than with the artisans who make the spirit. Tequila cannot be made anywhere in the world outside of the five states in Mexico where it is permitted. The labor involved – from the multi-year process of growing a ripe agave to the backbreaking work of harvesting and roasting it pineapples (hearts)—gives the spirit an identity and sense of place that can easily get lost in the high desert atmosphere of celebrity tequila marketing.
Several celebrities with tequila labels — such as actress Eva Longoria of Casa del Sol and musician Carlos Santana of Casa Noble — are of Mexican heritage. Several have prioritized building their brand identity around social and environmental initiatives, including sustainable agave farming, reducing their carbon footprint and empowering women.
When it comes to buying celebrity tequila, how do you know if it’s worth the high price? A good rule of thumb is to start with the blank spirit of the brand, which is usually the basis for aged expressions and an indicator of overall quality. Hagar recommends avoiding any additives (such as glycerin, which gives alcohol a thicker texture, or sweeteners). We tested half a dozen tequilas in the celebrity realm—including one from Santo Spirits, the label Hagar launched in 2017. “My crystal ball says that in the next two years, you’ll see half as many new tequilas on the market,” he says. “There’s so much competition… Tequila has to be good.”•
Hagar launched this additive-free tequila in partnership with his friend Guy Fieri, host of the Food Network. They work with third generation distiller Juan Eduardo Nunes of El Viejito.
- Scents: Overripe bananas, black pepper and lemon zest.
- Taste Test: Double baked on Nuñez pineapples create a nuanced balance of candied agave, tart lime, clove and light banana.
The ubiquitous Kardashian clan entered the spirits game with 818 Tequila, launched in 2021 by model and reality TV star Kendall Jenner (named after the area code of the San Fernando Valley where she grew up). Its blanco rests briefly in oak barrels before bottling.
- Scents: Candied lemon and red orange.
- Taste Test: Slimming sweet and white marshmallow, with a suitable viscous texture.
Basketball star LeBron James is a prominent investor in actor-documentarian Diego Osorio’s venture, founded in 2020. Blanco and reposado tequilas are blended and then aged for several weeks in Pedro Ximénez sherry casks.
- Scents: Green and grassy, with ripe banana and lime.
- Taste Test: Lemongrass, lime zest and roasted agave; finishes with a slightly bitter aftertaste.
Electronic music duo Alex Pall and Drew Taggart (aka the Chainsmokers) founded Jaja Tequila in 2018 with three entrepreneurs (including Elliot Tebele, creator of Instagram @fuckjerry with 17 million followers).
- Scents: Light agave and lime.
- Taste Test: Pleasant sip, with aroma of creamy banana and light spice.
THE HOUSE OF THE WHITE SUN ($65)
Run by a majority-female team, including co-founder Longoria, Casa del Sol launched in 2021 and already has a range of four tequilas of different ages.
- Scents: Strawberry banana smoothie and gum.
- Taste Test: Aggressive sugar taste of creamy pineapple, strawberry and banana, with an unexpected menthol finish.
FABULOUS CRYSTAL CORAMINE ($50)
Launched in 2022 by comedian Kevin Hart and 11th-generation producer Juan Domingo Beckmann, this tequila may be crystal clear, but it’s actually reposado that’s been aged in European oak and cabernet barrels, then filtered, for to remove all color (hence “Cristalino”). .
- Scents: Spicy pepper and rich blackberry.
- Taste Test: An unmistakable aroma of cedar and a pleasant raspberry aftertaste.
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