Stewart Skloss Lives and Breathes
La Pura Vida!
By Michele Elyzabeth
It all began in 1923 with the Vivanco brothers who, at the time, were working the agave fields in Jalisco, the finest agave producing region in Mexico. Renowned for its exceptional quality, the blue agave of Los Altos is rich in flavor and sugar, which makes the core of tequila. It was here that Pura Vida Tequila was born in the company of 4th generation Agaveros.
With an undeniable attraction for Mexico, Texan born Stewart Skloss is the mastermind behind the Pura Vida Empire. Traveling extensively with friends, it was while visiting the town of Tequila during a sampling tour at one of the local distilleries that he decided to follow his dream of one day making the finest tequila in the world.
He spent years trying to create the ultimate tequila, “El Primero Uno.” He learned how important the purest and cleanest water is to the process of making the finest spirit. After acquiring knowledge and experience, he eventually joined forces with the Vivanco’s and together they developed the flavor for the first three expressions of Ultra-Premium Pura Vida Tequila.
Returning to the States, Stewart met up with longtime friend, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and tequila aficionado, Billy F. Gibbons of ZZ Top. Stewart knew that Billy shared his dream of “El Primero Uno” and when Stewart approached Billy with the tequila he created, he told Stewart that he would give him his honest opinion. The following day Billy came on board as a partner.
I was privileged to attend the launch of Pura Vida in California at the famous “El Coyote” restaurant where I chatted with Stewart.
How did Pura Vida Tequila come about?
It was during a dinner with a partner of mine in another business, John Paul DeJoria, who told me that he just sold twenty percent of Patrón. After revealing the figure he had gotten for it, I was flabbergasted. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
He asked, “Didn’t you have a tequila company when you were 20? You should’ve stuck with it.”
He said, “Why don’t you do it again?” to which I replied that I couldn’t afford it. JP remarked, “If you wait until you can afford it, you’ll never do it.” So that was almost five years ago. I went down to Mexico to visit 20 tequila distilleries.
JP and I talk about once a month, and he’s kind of a mentor for me and Tito from Tito’s Vodka who is a great friend of mine. I had started my first tequila company when I was 20; however, having the attention span of a Mexican jumping bean, I was off to do something else. But when I had dinner with JP, an idea went off in my head and I decided that was what I was going to do for the rest of my life. So I went down to Mexico, I visited the Sierra team, which is a tequila and asked what their top 10 places were, and they gave me a list. I visited all these places, and I narrowed it down to 10 on my own. Then I invited tequila aficionados, bartenders, waiters — anybody who could come. They tasted it, and we narrowed it down to three. From those three, I said this is the profile I want to choose, and I want to see which ones I can work with, so we chose a small shop to lease a production space from. Mexicans love spice and bite, but with Americans, the ethnicities are Latin, Asian, African and so we wanted something that had a lot of traditional flavor, but without the spice at the bottom.
Who distributes you?
Here in California, we are now with Epic. They’re a great group. We also have an orange liqueur that is sold only in Mexico. We ended up buying the company after they went through a law suit and never had a desire to bring the liqueur to the U.S. So now our liqueur is the exact same orange “Naranja” liqueur.
So why did you go with Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top?
Billy’s a friend of mine. We don’t have any paid sponsors. What we decided to do was six degrees of separation grown by six degrees of separation, and you make a great product. I didn’t have $10 million dollars so I contacted friends; we’ve got philanthropists, doctors, lawyers…
How did you get everyone together?
I’m 49 years old, but when I started this, I was 44. I was very social, and so I was always out and about. We’ve put together a great group; the football players, athletes, actors, musicians – because they all have “six degrees of separation.” So we’re growing that way. The original plan was, once you hit 400 investors you basically have to declare yourself a public company. And so we wanted to have 399 investors. Our youngest investor was 24, and our oldest was 91. It’s a lot of fun and we had everybody invest enough where they felt obligated to the brand.
And everyone is part owner.
Yes, we even have Chester Pitts, who played for the Texans. He doesn’t drink at all during any of our events but he’s a big philanthropist. He always makes sure that Pura Vida is at all of them.
It’s a nice bottle.
Thank you. This is what a blue agave looks like underground. I had the handle made so that a man or woman bartender could grab it. When they pour it, the way the bottle is, it pours evenly. It’s very heavy, so I had the glass made twice as thick, so when a bartender drops it, it traditionally doesn’t break. I don’t think we should test it right now, but I’ve dropped it before, and it’s bounced! I remember walking out of our office, I dropped a bottle and it bounced, and I was able to catch it! Bartenders have to pay for it when it breaks.
What’s your goal?
My goal? World domination. (laughs) No, but do I ever want to sell it? No. But I have a fiduciary responsibility to my investors to take what offers we’ve already had. There are offers from Constellation Brands, which owns Corona, Modelo and Victoria. We were under contract with them, but we just couldn’t come to terms. It was a little too early for it. Great group. So the goal is to sell enough of the business that we get put in the pipeline of the Pernod Ricard, Moet Hennessy — the big boys. Once you get in that pipeline, you’re everywhere. Right now fighting for that bar space back there is tough, and you have to do it through bartenders, through waiters, servers and the press. However, we’re very fortunate that we have some good people involved.
I can attest to the fact that Pura Vida is excellent. It will delight the palettes of all tequila connoisseurs. A must try.