It’s no secret that alcohol and musicians have had a lasting, if not stormy, relationship throughout the years. So it should be no surprise to see some famous musicians as owners, investors and spokesman of different spirits companies. Just in the tequila segment some of the big names include Justin Timberlake and 901 Tequila, Vince Neil and Tres Rios and, until his recent sale to Campari, Sammy Hagar and Cabo Wabo. Then there are the musicians that you may not be familiar with.
Go back about ten years or so and you’d likely find Julio Gomez Rejon sitting behind a drumset keeping time for his band as it toured throughout Mexico. It was about this time on one of those tours that this accomplished musician was introduced to a woman that, unknowingly at the time, changed his life. The woman lived in an area that was losing it’s farm labor to larger cities as the workers left looking for better jobs. She was the owner of a small farm planted with different varieties of agave and was now left without enough help to tend her plants. After being introduced to Julio, the two struck up a conversation that ended with her offering him the agaves so long as he tended to them. Having already had an interest in agaves, he took the plants in that field, made mezcal and sold it from his bus at stops along the tour route. Inevitably, the topic of tequila came up with a friend who, after learning Julio was actually an American citizen, suggested that he apply for an import permit which would allow him to bring tequila into the United States on behalf of various Mexican distilleries. Once obtained, he began to do just that, importing various small tequila brands. During this time, he was also becoming more and more interested in starting his own brand and experimented with different tequila “recipes” when he had the chance, always trying to reproduce the flavor of the morning seepage of raw agave sap from the flower stalks before natural fermentation had a chance to set in – perfectly sweet, refreshing and light.
He finally made the leap in 2008, partnering with Fernando del Toro and the Rivesca distillery (NOM 1531) to officially start making his brand – Toro de Lidia. Working with the distillery and pulling from his previous tests and trials, he was able to get the flavor he wanted by oxygenating the tequila. This is accomplished by running it through a water pump before chilling it to 4º centigrade. Once chilled, it gets active carbon filtered and bottled. The interesting thing about this process is that the reduced temperature forces some of the natural oils to coagulate, allowing them to be easily removed during the filtering process. Julio claims that this makes for a cleaner and more refreshing taste, more reminiscent of the natural agave sap.
All four expressions of Toro de Lidia go through this same process just before being bottled. That includes the añejo and extra añejo, which are interesting in themselves. The añejo is aged 1-5 years and the extra añejo anywhere from 6-12 years. That’s a pretty wide spread and if you’re doing the math, you know these had to have been barreled before Toro de Lidia had become a company. Julio was very up-front about this and told me those first batches were indeed processed and barreled before he came along. He did, however, put his mark on the proceedings by running both expressions through his oxygenation and cold-filter process prior to bottling, resulting in the flavor profile he desired. In addition, the recipe used to make those expressions is now his.
The sourced agaves are estate grown from pesticide-free highland fields that also have no run-off from other fields in the area. This was important to Julio because it keeps pesticide and fertilizer residue from neighboring fields from ending up on his plants. The agaves are then cooked in traditional stone ovens and distilled in stainless pot stills. The first bottles began hitting shelves in September of 2009 and the line includes a blanco, reposado (6-12 months), añejo (1-5 years), and extra añejo (6-12 years), with all of the aged expressions coming from uncharred new White American Oak. What makes these tequilas even more interesting is the price. The blanco can be found for under $20 while at the other end of the spectrum, the extra añejo comes in at $30. (Yes, $30!) Julio’s goal is to make a wonderfully light and refreshing line of tequilas that are affordable to all. There’s no secret to how he keeps costs down either – no overhead. The company has three employees, counting Julio himself. Once the tequila is bottled and ready to ship, he drives the trailer truck to the company’s main office in Laredo, TX, where it is then loaded into a smaller trailer pulled by a Hummer, for delivery to each account. Minimal advertising and simple, clean packaging also help to keep costs down. To Julio, it’s all about the juice inside. To that end, he’s hit the mark. The blanco has the sweet agave flavors one would expect and while smooth, still has enough bite to make you take notice. The reposado is light and approachable and carries the sweet tones of the blanco through a medium length finish. The añejo is equally approachable with hints of licorice on the nose, stronger wood notes and again, a sweetness that carries into a nice, slightly spicy finish. But the star of this lineup is the extra añejo and easily my favorite of the bunch. It comes across with a slightly thick and warm mouth feel without being too oily and its time in oak has added a nice complexity and balance to it. To me, the quality of these tequilas match or surpass many brands at twice the price.
While the majority of his time and focus has shifted to running this new tequila company, Julio still makes time for his musical interests. His passion as a musician is what helped make him successful in that field and it’s that same passion for the agave that has made Toro de Lidia an affordable and tasty choice for tequila drinkers. There’s no doubt that tequilas will continue to roll out with celebrity owners and spokesman, but I doubt that many will have as interesting of a story about how they got there.
Currently available in Texas, New York, Nevada and Colorado, with Arkansas in the works. Expansion will be slow and based on demand and production capabilities.
Tequilas reviewed for this post were purchased.