Today I’m honored to bring everyone a very special guest in the form of an email question and answer session. That guest would be the founder of Taste Tequila and the Tequila Matchmaker app, (my bible when it comes to studying and finding tequila), Grover. Along with his wife, Scarlet, Grover lives in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, where the couple is highly involved in the world of tequila. I’ve spent countless hours over the last few years digesting their educational videos and look forward to one day joining them in Jalisco for a private tasting! Pour yourself a glass of your favorite tequila and enjoy this very special blog.
***Start of Interview***
Grover, I think I started viewing your website back in about 2012, and using the Tequila Matchmaker app a couple years later as I started gaining more interest in tasting tequila. I’ve seen blog posts dating back to 2009, but when would you say you really decided that you wanted to pursue a genuine interest in tequila and start putting your effort into education and sharing your thoughts with the world? Being an Internet Entrepreneur, was your focus always on developing the best ever app for tequila enthusiasts, or how did this process play out over time?
The process started out when my company, PhotoShelter, had to respond to the economic downturn by cutting back. Naturally, as a co-founder, my salary was the first to get chopped. So, to save money Scarlet and I moved to Mexico. We had no intention of building an app, but as we met more people and learned about the spirit we thought there was an opportunity to create something in the mobile space because nothing existed for tequila back then.
We worked on the app part time until PhotoShelter was back on solid financial footing, and by that time the app was up and running. We've been building on it ever since, and funding it ourselves. No outside investors, and the app itself doesn't have advertising. We're still fully independent, and we just enjoy giving back to the community.
I understand that both of you have gone through extensive training in the evaluation of tequila, earning certifications and gaining incredible knowledge along the way. Can you share what that was like? I envision it being a blend of sophisticated, meticulous, grueling, yet highly enjoyable every single day. Or am I way off here?
Our training in Mexico has been some classroom-style instruction, but mostly organic in-person experiences. One of the things we noticed right away when we moved to Mexico was how tequileros were so forthcoming with sharing their knowledge with us. We were just 2 gringos doing our best to try and speak Spanish, with an intense curiosity about all things tequila, and a genuine love and respect for Mexican culture. That combo probably had something to do with the type of welcome we received.
The learning never stops. Every day we learn new things from our network of tequila industry friends, and because of the app our contact list has grown. Everyone continues to share freely with us, and we're super grateful for that.
I’ve found myself sifting through blogs, YouTube channels, Facebook groups, and other media outlets in my thirst for learning more about tequila. One thing that’s always a hot topic is the use of a diffuser and the use of additives in tequila. I’ve seen your blind taste testing over the years and of course in your additive free tequila verification program that your testing panels are calling out the “vanilla and cake like” flavors left and right. Meanwhile, outside of the small, but growing tequila sipping community, I personally see most people gravitate towards brands that do have additives. I feel like the uninformed masses largely remember tequila as something they reluctantly consumed shots of earlier in life, which led to horrible hangovers, largely from cheap spirits and mixing with other libations. These same crowds came back to hear about tequila much later in life, found something sweet, (perhaps an expensive extra anejo), they enjoyed it, and subsequently started becoming a “tequila snob,” while largely basing their experience on tasting tequilas that use additives for flavor. Would you agree that this happens, and do you feel that tequila is being misrepresented in these crowds? If so, how do you propose this gets sorted out as an industry.
Oh, you just had to bring up the “D word”? Haha. Yeah, super high efficient processes that involve a diffuser have made an impact on the industry. The diffuser is just one part of the overall drive to produce tequila as quickly and cheaply as possible. It goes hand-in-hand with use of immature agave, boiling raw agave under high pressure with acid, heavy reliance on yeast accelerants to speed up fermentation, and column stills that produce 85%+ abv product.
This type of production results in a bland product, similar to a vodka. Additives are then needed to bring back some type of aroma and flavor. Super sweet and heavy vanilla cake batter or “tutti frutti” additives are a popular choice these days because they sell. They surprise people who had that bad college experience because they didn't know tequila could taste like that.
Well, tequila doesn't taste like that. And so we decided to try and do something about it. The only way to sort this out as an industry is through labeling, and that's not going to happen anytime soon. Our Verified Additive-Free program is a step in that direction. We've been told by the owner of one of the distilleries we've verified that our process is “highly invasive” because we require access to everything in the distillery, including sensitive business documents.
The idea is that we maintain a list of additive-free products so that anyone interested can train their palate. Pretty soon the additive-based products will become pretty obvious. That's the best we can do.
Celebrity tequila seems to be a hot topic lately as well. Do you think this is good or bad for the tequila industry?
Celebrities are a blessing and a curse. They bring exposure to the spirit, but the quality of the product they are selling is almost always of the mass-produced variety. Of course their marketing will say “small batch”, but you can't sell 300,000 cases in a single year and be “small batch.”
Celebrities are great for our app, though. Every time another celeb comes out with a brand we see a surge in new members. Years ago George Clooney would be in the news for something, his tequila would be mentioned, and like clockwork I knew we'd see a 40% boost for the next few days. It's still happening today.
I really appreciate your time today, and definitely look forward to having a private tasting with you in the near future. Is there anything you want to share with us about the future plans for your website or the Tequila Matchmaker app?
We are working on an update to the website as I write this. There's a lot of activity going on within the app and our goal is to start showing that activity in the website itself.
People have also told us that they wanted to receive notifications of interest. So, for example, being able to watch a particular distillery and get an alert any time a brand is added or removed.
We created the ability to receive alerts each time our list of Verified Additive-Free products is changed (when brands are added and removed) and this is a popular list, so we're going to create more of these in various parts of the website.
Also, we both still have our day jobs. Something has to fund the development!
***End of Interview***
Thanks once again for the time, Grover. Looking forward to meeting you one day. Salud!