Suerte Tequila's Colorado owners get lucky, on more than one occasion
The distillery where Suerte Tequila is made can be found in the highlands of Jalisco, an hour-and-a-half east of Guadalajara in a very small town called Atotonilco El Alto.
Suerte Tequila The agave fields at the Suerte distillery
But long before that location became Suerte's home, co-founders Laurence Spiewak and Lance Sokol shared the dream of launching a tequila brand while they both worked at Boulder-based skincare company Pangea Organics.
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During the day they worked on branding body care products -- and on nights and weekends, they cultivated and refined their tequila knowledge.
"We used to go check out the selection of tequilas at local liquor stores," Spiewak says. "Time after time, we were disappointed in the quality of product that was being offered and the price points -- and after being at Pangea and working with other brands, we had this confidence that we could do this. When we left Pangea, I went to work for another skincare company, and Lance went to Madhava and was traveling to Mexico three or four times a year."
During one of those trips, Sokol, who hails originally from Mexico City, met someone at a party in Jalisco who handed him bottle of tequila; he knew the distiller, and the distiller was looking for people to bring his tequila to America.
Fear of drinking out of a stranger's bottle aside, Sokol tasted it. "He took the bottle, brought it home, and put it on my kitchen table," Spiewak recalls. "He said, I want you taste this. I think I found something. We had been talking about this now for six or seven years, and all of the sudden we had this bottle that was unbelievable."
That unbelievable bottle would come to be Suerte's blanco. After that initial taste, they got in touch with the distiller, Pedro Hernandez Barba, and asked him to send them samples of everything. When Sokol and Spiewak later visited Barba at his family's distillery, they had already tried all three tequilas; blanco, reposado, and añejo.
Suerte Tequila Suerte's Añejo tequila
The family had bought agave when it was cheap eight years earlier but hadn't been able to sell the resulting tequila. The good news for Sokol and Spiewak was that the delay meant that the añejo was ready, eliminating what would normally be a two year wait.
The location of the distillery was also fortuitous: Atotonilco El Alto is the same town where Don Julio, Patron, and Siete Leguas are made, meaning the tequila heritage there is deep-rooted and well-known, the quality of agave is very high, and the water source is a very special one.
"The mineral content of the water is famous all over Mexico for being the most mineral-rich; distillers want this because it creates a truly unique tequila," says Spiewak.
After that, things happened quickly. "Within eight months of deciding to do this, we had product on the shelves. We were told this was incredibly fast, but to us this felt like forever because we'd been thinking about the concept for so long."
Earlier this month, the two men bought the distillery from the Barba family, although Pedro Hernandez Barba still retains an ownership stake. Barba produces Suerte tequila using traditional methods such as low temperature, slow cooking and use of a Tahona, a stone wheel used to crush the baked agave.
"The Tahona is a 3,000-pound stone wheel that sits like a car tire and rolls around in a trough to crush or press the agave as a way of getting juice from it. Ours was hand-carved by an artisan, and it's a modern version in the sense that it functions on a gear system that runs on electricity," explains Spiewak.
Suerte fills a unique niche of the spirits world in Colorado by providing a beverage that has local ties, but can't be made here. To use the name, tequila, the spirit must be made in Mexico.
Suerte Tequila Suerte's traditional tahona, hand-carved from a stone found nearby
Currently, Suerte offers a blanco, reposado, and añejo. All three are double-distilled. The blanco is rested in stainless steel tanks for two months before it's bottled, so it gets aerated before bottling. "It's very smooth for a blanco," says Spiewak. "Compared to most, it's smooth and flavorful. The blanco is my thing, it's all I ever want. I remember when I tasted it in front of the distiller when we went for our first visit, I told him 'this is an award-winning tequila.' Lance told me not to say things like that, and not to get his hopes up. If it doesn't happen, he might not trust us. I said, 'I don't care, it's award-winning!' and sure enough, we're winning awards in several competitions."
The reposado, with notes of oak and butterscotch, is aged for seven months in whiskey barrels. The añejo has hints of berry and chocolate, and ages for two years in same whiskey barrels.
"Everything about our story has been very lucky," says Spiewak. "We couldn't even believe that the word suerte was available for our brand, it blew us away. We're in six states. We're less than a year old, and we're growing very fast."
Suerte bottles (complete with etched rabbit design created by tattoo artist Adam Jackson) can be found throughout Denver from Argonaut and Marczyk's to Uncle, City O' City, Park Burger, and Steuben's.