Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cuestion is the Answer: Locally Marketed Tequila Takes Off

Posted By on Wed, Mar 23, 2011 at 8:28 AM

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Apparently, it's not safe to be an agave plant around Nashvillians anymore. On the bootheels of Toby Keith's launch of his new Wild Shot Mescal comes the news that a group of local entrepreneurs have taken on the international marketing and importer rights to a new brand of premium tequila. Jason Fandrich first encountered Cuestion Tequila while on a vacation in Playa del Carmen with his mother. Being a good son and looking for something to do on a hot Mexican afternoon, Jason decided to take her to a tequila tasting in a tequileria down some small side street off the town square.

After tasting their way through a few of the local fire waters, Jason and his mom were struck by how smooth one particular brand of blanco was and also by the intriguing "question mark" design of the hand-blown bottle. Although Cuestion Tequila has been previously unavailable in the United States, it already has a reputation as one of Mexico's finest craft tequilas. Jason inquired about the possibility of importing and distributing Cuestion in the states and then spent the next two years putting together the investment capital and distribution network for the product.

He flew down to the distillery in Jalisco to learn everything he could about the product and the process from the owners, Jose de Jesus Dominguez Figueroa and Jose de Julio Marquez Ochoa. Cuestion is made from a specific strain of agave, the Blue Weber. Rather than harvesting the agave piña after two years like most tequila makers do, Cuestion allows the plant to mature for a full 10 years before using it. Think of how much more complex wines made from old vine grapes are compared to a new vineyard and you'll understand why they make this choice. This is one major difference between tequila and grain-based spirits like scotch and bourbon. Tequila takes years to grow and then only spends one season in the barrel. Conversely, malt, barley, corn and rye grow in a single season and then spend years aging.

The time that Cuestion does age in oak is well-spent. Due to a marketing agreement with a certain black-bottled liquor product made about an hour southeast of Nashville, they can only specify that their tequila is unique in that it is aged in "Tennessee Whiskey" barrels. Already starting with the smoothest blanco tequila that they can possibly produce, Cuestion gives their Reposado six months sleeping with Mr. D., and their Añejo ages for 18 months. This is much more than the standard mellowing period that other tequila manufacturers allow. Cuestion lovers can also look forward to a 4-year-old Extra Añejo due out some time this summer.

In the hot climate of Mexico the aging process happens much more quickly, except for in the case of Ricardo Montalban. The result is a smoothness and complexity that you would never expect from such a short time in oak. The Reposado has strong notes of caramel and vanilla and a long finish like a rusty old scotch. Enjoy it neat, on the rocks or with just a splash of lime juice to open up more of the tropical flavors. The Añejo doesn't even need that splash. It's ultra-smooth and redolent of oak, dark chocolate and cloves, and I wouldn't pair it with anything except maybe a really good cigar.

Speaking of which, part of Cuestion's management team came from CAO Cigars, so they know how to succeed at marketing a premium product. It is difficult to imagine the challenges in taking on international distribution of a spirit product. Fifty different states means 50 different sets of regulations, some even more screwy than Tennessee's. Fandrich's distribution partnership gives him rights to the entire globe except for Mexico and South America. His plan is to establish a strong base here in Tennessee through his local wholesaler Horizon Wine and Spirits then expand market by market as production and cash flow ramps up.

Don't expect to see scantily clad spokesmodels pouring upside-down margarita shots into bar patrons' gullets, though. Fandrich says he doesn't want to use sex or gimmicks to make Cuestion's name known. Along with his marketing director and local social media guru Pinky Gonzales (stop giggling, that's his name!), the Cuestion team hits the road hard, encouraging sampling at tastings and introducing the product to local bars and liquor stores. In the premium tequila category, Patron is king, so it's hard to convince folks to try a new brand when there is $40-60 per bottle at risk.

Fandrich and Gonzales have been getting it done so far. Right out of the gates Cuestion has been placed in over 50 local outlets and already exceeded their aggressive sales projections, making it one of the most successful brand launches for Horizon in recent history. With a great product, engaging personalities at the helm and a dedicated work ethic, I have every confidence that Cuestion will continue to prosper and grow.

For more information check them out on Twitter, Facebook or their website.

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Breaking news: I just got word that Cuestion was awarded three medals at the 11th Annual San Francisco World Spirits Competition: Gold for the Blanco and Bronze for Reposado and Añejo. So I guess it's not just me who likes the stuff...

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