NOTE-Sept 24, 2013: The DEA announced today that the El Viejo Luis brand was designated as one of six companies to be tied to Mexican drug cartels. The designation effectively shuts the business down in the US. Read the full release here. In addition, Luis Abundis, with whom I spoke for this post back in 2010, left the company to pursue other interests.
El Viejo Luis. Does that name ring a bell? If it doesn’t, don’t feel bad – you’re not alone! This tequila company may be the biggest producer that you’ve never heard of. El Viejo Luis (literally translated into “The Old Luis”) has been available in Texas now for just over a year and to get here, it took a somewhat unconventional route. I had a chance to sit down and speak with Luis Abundis, Central Texas Regional Manager for Rool-USA, the importer and distributor for El Viejo Luis, about this company and it’s relatively unknown history.
While their tequila is fairly new (first bottled in 2005, first imported to the US in 2009) Casa Viejo Luis has a rich and long-standing heritage that started in the 1920’s when Luis Sanchez first began growing agaves and selling them on the open market. He took the proceeds of those sales and continuously reinvested, purchasing more and more land on which he planted more agaves. His sons and grandsons continued the family business and today they have more than 1.5 million agaves in the ground on their assorted plantations, all of which are highlands-based, making Casa Viejo Luis the country’s third largest agave producer.
With control of that much agave, it was only a matter of time before someone decided that making and bottling their own brand might be a worthwhile venture. That happened in 2005 when the company began production under the Tequilera Las Americas, S.A. De C.V. (NOM 1480) license with a distillery that features traditional brick ovens alongside stainless steel stills. The company now keeps the agaves that grow in their highest altitude fields to use for their own brand and continues to sell the remainder on the open market. After only five years, a new distillery is in the works that will drastically expand the company’s production capabilities (Luis noted that the new facility will be able to produce 30-40 times more tequila when it comes online sometime in mid-2011). This will allow for future expansion of the El Viejo Luis brand as well as the introduction of additional labels and taking on the production of estate-grown contract tequilas.
As I mentioned at the outset, the introduction of the brand itself to the US market has taken a very non-traditional route. After initially being released in Mexico, they bypassed the economic temptations just over the northern border and took the tequila to Europe. This was done because the necessary contacts were already in place and the process was much easier and faster than to bring the brand to the US market. Then, through a partnership with Mexican television, El Viejo Luis went to South Africa for the World Cup to help build its brand identity back home in Mexico. An unexpected benefit is that it also opened up the South African market where strong sales continue today. Expansion into the US market was next and has been slow and methodical. Texas was identified in 2009 as the first market for distribution and the import company – Rool-USA – is the first and only company completely owned by Mexican investors with a license to import and distribute tequila in Texas. (Expanded distribution is in the works with California and Florida as initial target areas with national distribution planned at a later date.) Even with it’s introduction to the Texas market, the product took the road less travelled to get shelf space in retail stores. To get there, the company first targeted restaurants and bars. This strategy built enough consumer demand that stores slowly started to carry it. Solid initial sales has led to widespread availability today and Abundis credits willing restaurant owners, strong community involvement by the company and a great product for the initial success and solid growth.
Currently, El Viejo Luis produces a silver and a reposado (titled as “aged” on the label) and will have an añejo on store shelves by Christmas (an extra añejo is currently in barrels and could be available within 18-24 months). With control of so many plants and specifically using only agaves from their highest altitude fields, one would expect a sweet and mineral flavored product. The silver is just that showing a nice balance of the two. The thick and viscous nature of this tequila gives it an interesting mouthfeel. With a smooth and mellow introduction, the juice warms and tickles the palette before melting into a pleasingly sweet and slightly spicy finish. This is a silver that will mix nicely into cocktails as well as be taken as shots, giving the Patron-drinking crowd another quality option with less of a hit to the wallet – suggested retail under $35.
The reposado is rested in new american oak barrels from anywhere between 2-6 months. In the glass, some classic reposado flavors and aromas are presented, from cooked agave and carmel to the distinct addition of oak. Although not as thick and viscous as the silver, the reposado still introduces itself politely before letting it’s flavors out to play. The hint of oak is strong enough to be noticed, but nowhere near overpowering and allows a lasting, peppery sweet finish. Although I enjoy this as a sipper, it would also work well in mixed drinks that need a bit more of a spicy punch. With a suggested retail of $37-38, this is another quality tequila in an increasingly crowded demographic.
As always, I suggest you find this brand and taste it for yourselves. Personally, I enjoyed both of these styles and I’m looking forward to the release of the añejo to see how it stacks up. More importantly, I’m glad I live in Texas where this brand is easily available. With their history and a quality product, I wouldn’t be surprised to see El Viejo Luis on a shelf near you very soon. Then maybe the rest of the country will get to know and enjoy what we here in Texas already can.
Visit the El Viejo Luis website here.
Tequilas reviewed in this post were purchased (silver) and provided (reposado).