“Over my career I’ve teamed up with a lot of high-profile people,” says veteran Marin rocker Sammy Hagar. “It’s kind of like what you do with a band.”Mergers are Mr. Hagar’s forte these days. From rock supergroups like the Circle and Chickenfoot, to liquor company partnerships including heartthrob/rocker Rick Springfield (in his Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum) and TV celebrity chef Guy Fieri in Santo Tequila.
“Sometimes when you go on tour, you bring another big band with you and you put together what they call a package. You sell 5 times the tickets and you play at big stadiums. That’s kind of the way I’m trying to do it with the liquor industry because everyone is now making spirits or liquor and getting involved, especially in the tequila market,” he says.
Hagar’s first tequila brand Cabo Wabo (imported into the U.S. beginning in 1999) was an enormous success. Hagar later sold that tequila brand to Gruppo Campari in 2007 for a reported $80 million.
Santo, Hagar’s new tequila brand began by making a “Mezquila” in 2017, which is neither mezcal, nor tequila, as both are internationally legally protected names, and because producing tequila would have been a violation of his non-compete clause with Cabo Wabo.
“But when I got down to Oaxaca and tasted all these mezcals and went around to the distilleries to see how it’s really made, I decided that I don’t really like it that much. It’s rustic, it’s smokey as hell, if you try to age it, it gets sweet, it does funny things – it’s not typical.”
Hagar, who admits he only began liking tequila in 1988, and only after tasting premium 100% agave tequila, decided that he was going to instead try and make a blend of tequila and mezcal.
“The guys in Oaxaca said, ‘No you can’t even bring tequila into this area’ and then a tequila guy said, ‘No you can’t bring mezcal into the Jalisco area, this is where we make tequila.’ So, I got some guys to bring truckloads of already made Espadin mezcal into Jalisco and Juan Eduardo Nuñez (the former distiller for Cabo Wabo) got into it and started trying to blend it. It took us about a year to find the right blend and then finally I came up with the product and the name Mezquila.”
When Hagar’s non-compete clause ran out in 2018, he brought in Guy Fieri and Santo began producing tequila beginning with a Blanco in 2019, and have just released a reposado.
Recently we caught up with the “Red Rocker” to get his take on mas tequila.
IJ) Everyone knows Cabo Wabo tequila. How is Santo different?
SH)I’m much more involved in the actual production of Santo. Guy Fieri and I go down and taste all the samples before it’s put into the bottles. The difference is we cook it twice instead of once. We let it rest and cook it again, so it’s caramelized. That’s a big deal, that’s like letting a steak rest so the juices go back in it. The agaves are hand chosen, it’s not just a dump truck full of agave chopped up and thrown into the oven. We go through it and get the elders – the bigger, juicier agaves. Agave is expensive now and there is a shortage so everyone is using younger, greener agaves. We don’t do that.
IJ) You’ve now brought in Guy Fieri as a partner at Santo. How did that come about?
SH)Guy was one of the first fans I met in the restaurant business way back when I started Cabo Wabo. We held a contest, whoever sold the most tequila in their restaurant got to meet me backstage when I was on tour in their area and win a signed guitar. So of course, Guy won the contest by putting a premium tequila in his well.
When I sold Cabo Wabo he said, “If you ever do that again, dude, I want to make tequila with you.” So, when I started making tequila, he called me up and said “Hey? What? Did you forget about me?” I said come on. We shook hands and he joined the team and he’s the best partner anyone could ever have.
IJ) You have recently released a reposado. How long is Santo Reposado “rested”? And what qualities does this imbue?
SH) Our reposado is aged four months and everyone asks why we didn’t come out with all three sku’s at the same time – a Reposado, Blanco, and Anejo. That’s impossible. The people that do that, are just putting their name on someone else’s product that was already made. They walk into the distillery, make a deal with them, somebody designs a bottle and a case, and they put it out. We are making our tequila from scratch. Guy and I designed the Blanco to be what it is, to taste like it tastes. There are no preservatives, no chemicals, no agave syrups, and no glycerin to make it smoother on the palette, none of that crap. It’s the best tequila in the world, and when we decided the Blanco was good enough, we put it into barrels. It’s clean and pure and has no weird aftertaste.
IJ) Are there plans to make a Anejo?
SH) We don’t have an Anejo yet because we are going to age it for a year, and maybe more, and taste it in October. If it’s ready, we’ll take it out and put it in bottles. We use the newer barrels and once used bourbon whiskey barrels, and that’s why it’s better than everybody else’s. I’ve been doing spirits since 1988 and I know what good tequila is. Guy and I decided that we wanted to make the best tequila in the world, not necessarily the biggest production – same concept I had with Cabo Wabo. I’ve learned a lot since then and I can make tequila even better now. If you don’t believe me – taste it!
IJ) Tequila is a well-known rock and roll accessory (necessity?) What is your favorite tequila drink?
SH) Without a doubt, I think the best cocktail on the planet is a margarita.
COCONUT MARGARITA (recipe contributed by Guy Fieri)
2 oz Santo Reposado Tequila
½ oz Cointreau
1 oz Coconut Cream
¾ oz fresh squeezed lime juice
½ ounce simple syrup
1 dehydrated lime wheel
In a cocktail shaker filled with ice add, tequila, Cointreau, coconut cream, lime juice and simple syrup. Shake for 30 seconds. Strain into a glass filled with ice. Garnish with lime wheel.
For more info on Santo products, or for online ordering, go here: santospirit.com