About Time You Met: Paul Hayes, Co-founder of VIVIR TequilaBy Angelica Malin
VIVIR Tequila was born from the love of the agave-based spirit that two good friends Paul Hayes and Navindh Grewal shared. A number of years ago they started to question why it was so difficult to find quality 100% agave tequila in the UK without going to a specialist bar or retailer. In 2016 they finally made the decision to change perceptions of tequila in the UK and create their own line of premium 100% agave tequilas. It took them 3 years to develop as they wanted to get it right and in 2019 they finally introduced VIVIR Tequila to the UK. We chatted to Paul about how VIVIR Tequila is changing the perception of tequila across the UK and beyond, the business’ zero waste ethos and his expertise and experience of working with agave:
Tequila is having a bit of a resurgence in the UK right now – but what turned you into a tequila connoisseur and how did you get into the industry?
My journey with tequila is actually quite a strange one. Back in the day, I purposefully avoided all tequila due to it actually being the one thing in the world I’m allergic to. I have subsequently found out it’s actually only poor-quality tequilas made with underaged agave sugars that I’m allergic to. I discovered this by accidentally drinking some tequila on a trip to Mexico many years ago. It was a fantastic 100% agave tequila that tasted amazing and didn’t kill me – ideal! Ever since then, it has been my go-to drink and I’ve been fascinated with the category.
I had already been working with agave for over 16 years and knew the industry well from launching bircher muesli in the UK. In 2016 we finally made the decision to change perceptions of tequila in the UK and create our own line of premium 100% agave tequilas. It took us 3 years to develop and hundreds of iterations as we wanted to get it right and in 2019 finally introduced VIVIR Tequila to the UK.
There have been many tequila brands to come out of the UK in the past few years even from celebrities – what was the inspiration behind VIVIR?
Ever since I discovered good-quality tequila, it has been my drink of choice, be it on a night out or at home. However, back when we first thought of VIVIR, finding high-quality tequila (I wasn’t actually allergic to) in the UK wasn’t that simple. Sure, if you went into a good cocktail bar or taqueria they’d have something, but most bars only had brands I know I can’t drink.
Because of this my business partner, Nav, and I started to understand why quality tequilas were quite rare in the UK. We kept getting told the same thing time and time again – there are no brands based here so the knowledge and education on the category is almost zero. People know it as a shot, and that’s it. We thought there was a huge opportunity to create a tequila we knew would be of high quality, tasty and could show consumers that tequila is so much more than a horrible shot that has to be washed down with salt and lime. Because of this, VIVIR was born.
Which tequila from the VIVIR Tequila range is your best-selling tequila?
Our best-selling tequila is the VIVIR Tequila Añejo, it always sells out in seconds on our website. The VIVIR Tequila Reposado is a close second – people go mad for it in Waitrose!
What are your predictions for the tequila market for 2024 and what new trends do you think we will see?
I think we will see more tequila cocktails being created, this year was all about the Spicy Margarita and the Paloma. Next year I think we will see more tequila twists on classic cocktails, as well as people experimenting with different cask finishes.
How are the tequilas in the VIVIR Tequila range created and what is the process?
The VIVIR Tequila range is produced from the finest Weber Blue Agave, which is grown for nine years in our own fields in the highlands of Jalisco, Mexico. The agave is grown to full maturity at nine years to ensure crop levels can be sustained and the local wildlife ecosystems are conserved. We use Hornos (clay ovens) to cook the agave, mixed with volcanic spring water from a naturally occurring well at the distillery. The end result is a natural, fresh and flavour-filled spirit that stays true to its agave routes.
All of our tequila is produced in partnership with Casa Maestri, a fifth-generation distillery built on the rich red soils of Jalisco, Mexico, the birthplace of tequila, which allows us to produce the smoothest and most character-filled tequila you will ever drink.
We are anti-diffuser in our tequila production, which means that we don’t use any acids or chemicals when we produce the tequila and we very much champion the use of hornos (traditional clay ovens) to extract agave sugars and only ever from mature crops. VIVIR Tequila’s aged tequilas are rested in bourbon barrels before being ready to drink: Tequila Reposado is rested for 6 months and Tequila Añejo is aged for 18 months.
Tell us about the VIVIR Café VS – can it be used as part of a cocktail?
VIVIR Café VS is our first tequila-based liqueur, which is made with our award-winning VIVIR Tequila Blanco and flavoured with Mexican coffee beans sourced locally to the distillery. A little sweetness comes from piloncillo, a natural Mexican cane sugar. We recommend that it’s delicious savoured by itself but also absolutely superb in classic coffee cocktails, including an Espresso Martini! People have also experimented by making an indulgent ‘Mexican Coffee’, by adding the Café VS to an Americano or Espresso with a dash of cream.
What was the development process behind crafting VIVIR and creating the brand?
I had already been working with agave for over 16 years and knew the industry well from launching bircher muesli in the UK. In 2016 we finally made the decision to change perceptions of Tequila in the UK and create our own line of premium 100% agave tequilas. It took us 3 years to develop and hundreds of iterations as we wanted to get it right and in 2019 finally introduced VIVIR Tequila to the UK.
What is VIVIR doing to promote sustainability within the industry?
We’re extremely focused on sustainability. I actually own a sustainability business as well so it is rooted in everything we do. VIVIR is distilled in collaboration with the multi-award-winning Casa Maestri. It grows its own highland Weber Blue agave and the water comes from a natural volcanic spring in the grounds of the distillery. It adopts traditional techniques to preserve customs and take care of the local wildlife. For example, we allow a certain percentage of our agave to flower. It then can’t be used for tequila production, but it is only at this point the seeds can be cultivated for future generations of the plant. It is also when the agave bats will feed off the plant and they’re essential for the pollination of the entire area and wider biodiversity. They’re like our bees over here.
We’re one of only four distilleries that also have our own volcanic water spring. This means we don’t use local reservoirs or lake water, which is essential for the wider crops, wild plants and livestock.
We also take pride in the fact that we’re operating with zero waste, all spent materials from production are composted, donated to local farmers for agriculture, and used to cultivate new agave crops. The bottles that we use to package our tequila in are also fully recyclable.
What’s your favourite way to drink tequila?
I love tequila twists on classic cocktails. My personal favourite is a Tequila Negroni, or a ‘Tegroni’. Simply replace the gin for Tequila (obviously VIVIR), it’s a game changer.
What can we expect next from VIVIR?
The future of VIVIR will be about establishing the core range, but we’re in the process of developing more expressions and experimenting with cask finishes. We’re going to export some Cognac casks and start ageing our Tequila in them to do some limited edition runs of specific vintage cognac cask-aged Reposados, which will be interesting.
I think we’ll also create some single-cask reserve Reposados and Añejos and release them as limited-edition batches. I just love how versatile tequila is, there are so many opportunities! We also have some exciting new partnerships coming up to add to our current on-trade listings, so hopefully as well as drinking VIVIR Tequila at home, people will be able to try it in bars and restaurants more readily too.
For more information on VIVIR Tequila, see here.