In this episode of “EOD Drinks,” VinePair’s editorial team sits down with Ken Austin, the co-founder of Proper No. Twelve Irish Whiskey and Teremana Tequila. Austin explains how he left behind a career as an accountant to enter the spirits world, and details his playbook for successful entrepreneurs. While some consumers have remained skeptical about celebrity spirits brands, Dwayne Johnson’s Teremana and Conor McGregor’s Proper No. Twelve have become two of the most competitive names in the game. Austin discusses what it’s been like to take on major players in the spirits world, and what he expects will happen within the current celebrity tequila “gold rush.”
More than anything, Austin emphasizes that the success of Proper No. Twelve and Teremana have come from the hard work of his celebrity partners. Conor McGregor and Dwayne Johnson are each listed as founders of their spirits, and they remain very involved in the brands. Proper No. Twelve is one of the first celebrity spirits to compete in the world Irish whiskey, but with Conor McGregor’s backing, the brand has seen tremendous results. Similarly, Teremana, founded and backed by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, has set records as one of the fastest new spirit launches — largely thanks to Johnson’s impressive social media following.
Here, Austin dives into the day-to-day of running these brands, and how Johnson and McGregor ensure that their values shine through. He also discusses what it was like to start his first spirit brand, Avión, and how Bob Odenkirk wound up portraying him on “Entourage.”
Or check out the conversation here
Adam: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, this is “End of Day Drinks,” where we sit down with the movers and shakers in the beverage industry. So pour yourself a glass, and listen along with us. Let’s start the show. On today’s episode of “EOD Drinks,” we’re talking with serial alcohol entrepreneur Ken Austin. We’ll start the conversation by learning about how he created Avión Tequila and how the hell it wound up as a central character on “Entourage.” We’ll then talk about Austin’s relationship with Conor McGregor and how the two created Proper No. Twelve Irish whiskey. And finally, we’ll talk about Teremana tequila, the tequila taking the alcohol world by storm that Austin created in collaboration with Dwayne Johnson, who most of us know is The Rock. All right Tim, take today’s conversation away.
Tim: Hi there, I’m Tim McKirdy, staff writer at VinePair, and welcome to the “End of the Drinks” podcast. Today, we are joined by Ken Austin, co-founder of Proper No. Twelve Irish Whiskey and Teremana Tequila. Hi, Ken.
Ken: Hey, how are you Tim?
T: Doing well, thank you. And as always, I am joined by VinePair co-founder and CEO Adam Teeter.
A: What’s up, Tim?
T: VinePair senior editor Cat Wolinski.
T: Hello and VinePair editorial associate Katie Brown. How’s it going?
Katie: Hey, Tim.
T: And before we kick things off, guys, obviously this is the “End of Day Drinks” podcast. Ken has sent some of his products to us to try very kindly. I wanted to find out what’s everyone enjoying as their end-of-day drink? Has it been one of those days? Are you having straight tequila and whiskey, or have you mixed up a cocktail? How’s everyone enjoying it? Adam, we’ll start with you.
T: Oh, very nice. How about you, Katie?
Ka: I’m having the Proper No. Twelve in a spiked hot cider, and it’s very delicious.
T: And very cold where you are as well. Cat what about yourself?
C: So I actually have two drinks in front of me. I made Hot Toddies, one with the Teremana and one with the Proper No. Twelve, and I got to say, I am favoring the Teremana Hot Toddy.
A: Interesting, you and Katie with the warm drinks. What about you, Tim? What are you drinking?
T: So I was trying to figure out a way, how can I incorporate both of these into one drink? And there’s not many whiskey and tequila cocktails out there. So I said, you know what, I’ll try and figure something out myself. Went with a classic, went with an Old Fashioned. So about equal parts Irish whiskey, tequila. I went with a little bit of simple syrup, some Angostura bitters, and I’m going to call this one the Stone-Cold Ken Austin. How about that one?
C: Oh, my God.
T: Sorry, that’s terribly cheesy. Ken, what’s your preference?
A: Super cheesy, Tim.
T: Super cheesy.
K: I love that.
C: What about “The Proper Rock”?.
Ka: Tim, what does tequila do to your Old Fashioned?
T: So actually it gives it this really incredible spice, and it works really well with the bitters. And I think, Irish whiskey being so approachable, the Irish whiskey also kind of gives it this foundation to build off and allows the tequila to shine. I tell you what, the name might not be brilliant, but this is a really nice cocktail.
T: Ken, before we dive into it, what’s your preference? Are you just a straight-up neat guy, or how do you enjoy these spirits?
K: First of all, I love all of the cocktails that you all made. I’m jealous, and I actually don’t discriminate. I drink spirits all different ways, from neat all the way through, just on the rocks or in a cocktail. I do agree, by the way, a Teremana Reposado Old Fashioned beats a whiskey Old Fashioned in my book any day. But what I will be partaking in as soon as we get done here — I actually probably will while we’re talking here, is typically I’ll drink spirits on a day like today, just either neat or on the rocks.
T: Nice. And obviously, I should point out that this is the afternoon. This is not 11:00 in the morning. So one thing that our listeners, I’m sure, will be aware of are the celebrity associations with Proper No. Twelve and Teremana. But before we dive into that, Ken, I was wondering if you can give us a real quick background on yourself, how you got into the business, and how it is that you end up with two incredibly successful spirits brands and celebrity spirits brands.
K: Thanks, Tim, and my story is very typical to people that are missing chromosomes or some kind of genes, and most people call them entrepreneurs. I really don’t. I think they are very sick people, but in a very good way. Well, my background is that I like to say that I grew up with very little, but it happens to be I had everything. Great family, great upbringing, great parents, great sisters. And that’s probably what led to some of the success that I’ve had today. And I grew up in a very, very humble background. And hopefully, that’s the way I am today and continue to be that way, despite having some success from a monetary perspective. But that said, from my background, I was schooled as an accountant, which is pretty bizarre, since I do know how to count. But I hated accounting. I did it because my father told me you have to do it, and back then, you actually listened to what your parents said, as opposed to today. But after I realized I could not be an accountant for more than a year for one of the — back then it was called the Big Eight accounting firms in the U.S., I went to work for the Gallo winery, where I learned a lot about wine, spirits, but most importantly, about consumers. Consumer behavior. How do they shop? Why do they buy? And really understanding, at the end of the day, the consumer. The customer is really the most important person, the person sitting on the other side of the bar or the person shopping in a liquor store that wants to take it home and create great moments for themselves and for the people around them. After that, I worked for the Seagram company when Seagram was owned by the Bronfman family, and that company was sold. And when it was sold, as a person who grew up in a family where your job was supposed to be womb to tomb, you start there and you die there, that’s the way the job market was. The company was sold, and it forced me — against my father’s best interest to stay there forever — forced me to decide what I was going to do next. And I was fortunate enough to go into the private aviation business at a time that it was a very good time to be in the private aviation business. And we built a brand, the consumer brand that was very successful, grinding, grinding, grinding, which is the key to the name of the game, working our asses off. And during that time, I had a love for spirits and wine and just beverages in general. And when things got good in the jet business, I told my partners I want to go to Mexico and I want to create a tequila because I love tequila. And I created a tequila brand called Avión and built that brand and ultimately sold it to Pernod Ricard, the second-biggest drinks company in the world in 2010. I started it. And my love for tequila really is how this whole thing really opened up. And fast forward, I met Conor McGregor and his manager, Audie Attar, and Conor was looking to do an Irish whiskey, and I was crazy enough to tell them that I think we should do it together. And Proper No. Twelve today is a rousing success, and I’m really glad you like the liquid and that you’re drinking it today in your Toddies or whatever it may be. And most recently, which you were talking about up front, we joined forces with Dwayne Johnson, The Rock, and his business partner, Dany Garcia, and my partner Jenna Fagnan. And we worked for quite a long time to create Teremana tequila, which is now in its 10th month. And the brand has set records like the industry has never seen before. And the product quality is where it all begins and where it all ends. A truly bespoke tequila made the right way — copper pots, brick ovens, the whole deal. But it’s been sort of a fairy tale in a way to doing business with people like Conor and his team and D.J., as we call him, The Rock and his team, which are really, just they are unicorns. And what we do is we really have provided the platform for them and the education for them to be able to lean in and play a role that no one else can play like them. And we try to think that we can play a role that no one else can play like us, if that makes sense. So that’s how I got here. And now we get celebrities calling us every day, “Hey, I want to be the next Dwayne Johnson, Conor McGregor, George Clooney, Ryan Reynolds.” And they don’t understand that it’s not “just add water” and you’re home free. It’s a very difficult, difficult business, as you folks know better than anyone.
T: So I’d love to dive into that in a minute. But I wanted to ask you something briefly, kind of taking it back to the beginning before you started working with celebrities. You had a bit of a star turn with Avión and being featured kind of famously on”Entourage.” I’m not sure whether our listeners are aware of that. That’s something I turned to again during the pandemic, but, you know, apart from launching Bob Odenkirk’s career — who played you in the episode, for those who haven’t seen it — I was wondering, so before working with celebrities, how do you get your tequila brand in a show, and not just like placed in a show, you have like two, three episodes revolving around your brand. How does that happen?
K: You have to have like a horseshoe up your rear end. It’s so funny, I have a tangent for a second. You talk about Bob Odenkirk who played me, Ken Austin, in “Entourage,” because Doug said to me — Doug Ellin, the creator, is a friend. So that’s really how it happened. And I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version of that so I don’t bore you. Doug called me up, and he goes, Ken, I want to have this story about Avión to be really true to you. And I want you to come in and play yourself in the show. And I said, Doug, I’m not doing that. You know, I’m married. My wife doesn’t want anybody to ever look at me. And I have a face for radio, as they say, or for podcasts. But Doug said to me, I’m going to get somebody to play you. Who should I get? And I go, well, probably Brad Pitt is probably the closest thing. And Doug laughed. And he picked, obviously, an incredible comedic genius, Bob Odenkirk. But the way it really happened was that Doug is a friend of mine and my partner, Kenny Dichter from Marquis Jet. Doug grew up with Kenny and we became really good friends. Doug was looking for the storyline for Turtle, and he said, “I want Turtle to be like an NBA player, where he can be successful and buy his mom a house like an NBA player.” And I said to him and Kenny, my partner Kenny, said, why don’t you just do our tequila? And Doug was like, what do you mean? And I said, “well, why don’t you say he did like 50 Cent and Vitamin Water or something, do a real life story. A celebrity actually tagging on to a brand and making that brand huge.” Which at the time that really wasn’t happening in the real world of celebrities and wine, which is massive with celebrities and spirits. And Doug said, “I love it. Will you give me the brand unencumbered? I can do anything I want?” And we said, “Yeah, you’re our friend. Just, no prostitutes, no drugs, none of that kind of stuff.” Of course, he did. Or sorry, Sasha Grey is not a prostitute, but a porn star. And so it was almost like a trifecta box. Everything we said we didn’t want, he did. And it was out of the gate. You want to talk about rocket fuel? The brand became a household name, and nobody thought it was real. People thought it was a fake tequila. But that’s how it happened.
A: I did. I thought it was fake.
K: Yeah. Everyone, our ad campaign actually changed very quickly. We said, “What are we going to do?” And we started flying planes down South Beach and in New York and in California that said, “Avión. Yes, it’s real.” To answer the question. But people were discovering it and saying, “Holy s***, this is real tequila.” And it then sort of had a little bit of a “hangover” because people said, “Oh, it must be like Bubba Gump Shrimp. It’s not really a good tequila because it was on TV.” And didn’t realize it was a great, phenomenal product, won best in the world. But people thought it couldn’t be good because it was featured on a TV show. So that’s a different set of circumstances. I’ll tell you that story another day when I lay on the couch and tell you my problems. It was really, really phenomenal. And what it did for us was it gave us the ability to raise money one time and one time only and gave us enough runway and we did enough business that we actually didn’t do what most new spirit brands do, which is blow your money and go out of business. So it was that runway, that speed, that velocity, that momentum to then be able to manage a business based on the cash flow and not basically be in the red every day.
T: So Ken, I guess obviously now you have Teremana tequila, and that’s clearly an industry that you know well. But then your next move after Avión was moving into the Irish whiskey business. I wonder, what are some of the things that you took from working in tequila that you could really just easily make a carbon copy or a playbook? And then what were some of the things that you have to learn? Because it’s a completely different market. And it’s also, let’s be honest, it’s a market that even now to most extents, has been dominated by this one brand. I mean, it’s a real tough proposition.
K: Yeah, Tim, it’s a great, great question, and I think that the playbook is always the same in certain ways when you are an “entrepreneur.” And the playbook is hard work, never give up, breathe your own vapor sometimes. You got to believe. Everyone around you is going to tell you why it won’t work. And you have to dismiss it all and say, “I am going to will this to happen,” and put people around you that believe the same thing. So that’s part of the playbook, and it’s very, very hard to keep negativity out of doing new things. I can see the end zone, but the people around you sometimes don’t. And your job is to convince them that the end zone is there and to also not allow that negativity to create a situation where you’re lying in bed at night and you’re sucking your thumb and you’re calling mama. And it’s really, really hard. So that part of the playbook, every one of your listeners here and also you, what you guys have created with what you’re doing, the podcast, how many people said there were so many, it won’t work? How do you cut through? You will your way. And you don’t have to have a 4.0 average. I was a below-average student. If I got an F in one class and A in the other, my mom yelled at me. The next semester I got an F in the class I got the A in, and I got an A in the class I got the F in. I just reversed the grades just to stay afloat. So it’s really about driving it. So that part of the playbook is the same. The part of the playbook that was also similar with Proper No. Twelve and Avión was that when Avión launched, that was 2010, and there were not 500 tequilas. Now every young person is drinking tequila, and frankly, every person, 40s and 50s, is drinking tequila. Right? So that was not happening in 2010, so everyone said, “Oh, my God.” At the time it was only Patron. It was only Cuervo, right? Cuervo at the price point, let’s call it $20 Patron at the price point $40. No clear No. in either one of those categories, consumer price points. And people said to me, you’re crazy. You’ll never be able to take on Patron. So similarly with Proper No. Twelve, people said the same thing. You’re never going to be able to take on Jameson. They’re the 800 pound gorilla. It’s not a category of many. It’s a category of one, just like tequila was a category and ultra-premium of one. So today, you can name on all your fingers and toes the number of ultra-premium tequilas there are. And eventually, in Irish whiskey, I’m not sure if it’ll be the same thing, but we have broken through with Proper No. Twelve in a place that people felt you couldn’t break through because of this David-and-Goliath kind of situation with Jameson and everyone else. So that’s where the playbook is different. But that’s where the playbook is: You have to believe that you can break through and you have to be innovative. You have to be disruptive. You have to believe that you can actually get the market share and you can take down a monster of a brand and you can put a dent in their business, which we have done, and they are still a monster. But talk to Conor McGregor. He will tell you we will be No. 1 eventually. And if you believe that, that is a big component of the formula for success in a space that very few brands become successful.
Ka: So cool.
A: So Ken, what’s it been like to work with Conor and with Dwayne? What are they like as people? Are they both super invested in this, or are you really more dealing with their people when it comes to the spirits? And what made you decide that these were the two people you wanted to work with? As you said, you’ve been approached by tons of different celebrities. Why them?
K: Yeah, that’s an awesome question. And part of it, I would say, is it’s a lie to say that it’s luck. The lucky part is that when you talk to these people, being a guy like Conor and Audie his manager, or D.J. and Dany, his partner, the lucky part is that you connect. The connectivity and the values and the chemistry is really the most important thing. But to your question about these two people, as different as they are, Conor is in his early 30s, D.J. is in his 40s, his mid- to later 40s. As different as they are, they’re very similar. And the similarity is that they are both grinders. They both came from difficult childhoods, financially. Conor was on welfare, social welfare, probably seven years ago. D.J. was evicted out of his home in Hawaii with his mom and his family when he was 14 or 15 years old. And by the way, there’s a pattern here when you think about successful people that are not multi-generational wealth, but people who are first- or second- generation wealth and success. But if you think about the two of them, the interesting thing is they’re both incredible athletes. They’re very gifted. And athletes, people with that mindset are very, very disciplined. And Conor trains every day. D.J. is in the gym every day. So when you think about the personality profile of these “unicorns,” these celebrities, they’re much, much different than — I’ll call it a celebrity that is a celebrity who is just an actor. Right? And they’re geniuses at their craft and their discipline is there. But these two athletes that we’ve been able to link up with are also uber, uber competitive. So in their own ways — by the way. Conor, much more visible, his competitive spirit. D.J. is the most humble person I’ve ever met. He’s the most recognized American in the world. And No. 1 social media guy in America. Two hundred and five million people follow him on Instagram. I mean, I have 60,000 of which I think 59,000 are bots. And the other people are my mother and her friends and my friends from college and whatever. But it’s pretty amazing the similarities and the way we got together. Well, you ask the question are they invested in this thing? Conor is the founder of Proper No. Twelve, and D.J. is the founder of Teremana. That’s not Hollywood bulls***. They truly are the founders, from brand name, to package, to liquid, to the look in the field, to the voice of the brands. Look at those two brands. Proper No. Twelve a little more bada** and very, very much what you think Irish whiskey should be. Teremana a bit more, I’ll call it precise and elegant, from its label to the process that D.J. wanted for the brand. So they very much fit their personalities. But you want to talk about involvement before this call that we’re having right now? I had a call with The Rock and the team, I don’t want to call him The Rock because he’s not The Rock to me, and he’s too mature to call him The Rock anymore. We had a call today with D.J., we’re having a call next week, the 2021 planning meeting. Him and Dany are on every board call. Same thing with Conor. Conor is every day up my rear end every day. Why this? Why that? Where are the numbers? What’s the Nielsen? How are the customers performing? So these two humans are very similar. They are totally, totally leaning in. And that’s respectfully to other “celebrity brands.” A lot of it is Hollywood. These are true stories and the authenticity of both of these people, and when I think about Teremana, it is the authenticity of D.J. You see it in everything that he does because his audience comes first and that’s the key. And other celebrities that come to us that want to be the next Dwayne Johnson, Conor McGregor, George Clooney, Ryan Reynolds, what they don’t really understand is the way you need to lean in and the way you need to work. And I try to scare the hell out of them. And most of them run for the hills when you tell them you’ve got to put in the time, you’ve got to see people, you’ve got to engage. And they’re like, you know what? I’d rather just spend time on my craft, whether it be music, acting, or former athletes, whatever it may be. But it’s not a business for the weary because it’s a door-to-door sales process. This is not technology. This is not putting it into a Target and from Saturday morning, you go into Target, it’s in every single store. This is hand-to-hand combat, not to mention what’s going on with the bars and restaurants, that is a devastation of an industry that, if you don’t cry from it, there’s something mentally wrong with you. And how do we actually create some more momentum when that industry can come back? And D.J. is talking about restaurants and bars and what do we do to help them when they come back? That’s how “in” these two people are. And again, the similarity. But we’re very lucky. And when we turn down other celebrities, we don’t turn them down in an arrogant way. We turn them down and say, “look, this probably isn’t right for you and this is why. And we don’t want you to fail.” Because these people should not fail. They’re so successful. You don’t want them to fail. So long answer as usual from me.
A: Good answer, though.
C: So are there any charitable aspects of either of these brands in the works currently?
K: Yeah, totally. So that’s really important to me and Jenna, as spirits beverage people that you do give back. And I think we’ve always been raised that way from both of our childhoods. And Jenna Fagnan, who’s my partner since Avión started, I begged her to come and run the company and she left LVMH running a big business for them to come join me and take this ride. But on Proper No. Twelve, $5 for every case that we sell goes to first responders. That was something that Conor when we sat and we were having meetings, and this one happened in New York. Actually we’re having dinner in a restaurant called Philippe Chow. And downstairs in the cellar, if you come to New York, you’ve got to go there when this craziness ends. And we were down there, we were talking about the brand, and Conor said, “You know, I really want to do some good with this brand, too. It’s not just about money.” And we started talking about first responders and firefighters and front-line people. At the time, we weren’t talking about front-line workers like nurses and all the people that we’ve seen during the pandemic that have been so, so incredible. And we made a decision to give $5 for every case we sell of Proper No. Twelve to first responders. We’ve done that all over the world. In the U.S, last year, our first year, we gave a million dollars to Tunnel to Towers, which you got to look up. It’s an organization that gives families that lose a first responder, firefighter, police, or EMS worker who dies in the line of duty and has children under the age of 16. They work to pay off their mortgage, so they don’t have the burden of the mortgage. During the pandemic, we’ve raised so far an additional $200,000+ for Tunnel to Towers. We created a T-shirt that we sold, and all the proceeds, not the profits, all the proceeds went to front-line workers that Tunnel to Towers was giving to. So we gave up $1.2 million in our first year. And this year, based on sales, we’ll give another million dollars, we’ll also give $300,000 around the world to front-line and first responders as well. In the case of Teremana, D.J. and Dany are very much about giving back. I mean, they’re incredible humans, and they do a lot of things with Make a Wish and other charities. In fact, their ice cream called Salt and Straw that they are investors in, we just did a Teremana ice cream.
C: Yeah, we wrote about that.
K: I saw that. And it blew out, by the way, it sold out. D.J. was thinking about the sell-out last night. But a dollar for every pint was given by Salt and Straw and D.J. and Dany, and Teremana also matched that dollar for every pint that went to, I’m at a loss right now, but to an organization helping the restaurant and the food industry.
Ka: I was wondering, I think it’d be kind of ignoring an elephant in the room if we didn’t address the fact that we’re in the midst of Covid-19. And I was curious, especially starting a new brand this year. Teremana is relatively new. I was wondering, how that’s been? How is it to start a new tequila brand in the midst of all this craziness and unprecedented closures of bars and everything? So what was your first year like in relation to your expectations?
K: Yeah, and look, this whole thing, I mean, I read today one out of six restaurants and bars are permanently closed. And I’m like, “holy s***.” I mean, I get choked up just thinking about it. Think about your local restaurant, the people that are always just good to you. And your friends that are bartenders and servers and all the s***. It’s just mind-blowing. But for us, we launched in March, so literally, as the world was shutting down, we’re launching a new brand. And it was really, really hard on the on-premise side, the bars and restaurants, we never really got in. So we didn’t experience that. On the liquor store, the off-premise side, I think we all know in America, that part of the business has been massive growth of 20, 30 percent. If you own a liquor store, whether you’re the big guy like a BevMo! or a Total Wine, Spec’s, all the big guys, or a Safeway, Albertsons that sell alcohol in supermarkets across the country, it’s been a boom for them because people have been home, and we’ve been consuming more because we don’t go out and consume. But I think we would have done more business if the restaurants and bars were open. And I really wish they were. And I know we really feel, I can’t express enough how badly, we’ll come back and we’ll help as much as we can. But the first year for Teremana, the one thing that happened was consumers went to liquor stores, and the brands that really suffered were the brands that people didn’t know. Because if you went into a liquor store or you went on to “Mini Bar” or these other apps that you can go on to have delivery, and you would buy the things that you knew, that you trusted, brands you trusted. So the more expensive brands, too, also suffered because a lot of people lost their jobs or were concerned about losing their jobs. So they weren’t buying bourbons that were $60 to $80 the way they were before the pandemic. So the brands that really won were the brands that we all know, that you trust and that are priced reasonably. And so Proper No. Twelve through the roof, and the brand has been around for years, over two years or so, and very well known in that short period of time. Teremana being new, the thing that we did have is the credibility of Mr. Johnson and the fact that people trust him. And his social media, he talked about it and actually created an environment for people where he did Teremana Tuesdays and he made cocktails. He did things that he didn’t plan on doing because his goal was to create an environment, to bring people together and share our isolation together. Whether you had it in a home with a family of four or five, or how many friends I have that were alone in their apartments in a big city, and talk about loneliness. And D.J.’s goal was to sort of make it fun and bring people together and make cocktails together, and share on Teremana Tuesdays other people’s user-generated cocktails at home, to try to make the silver lining of what we were going through, a togetherness. So the brand blew up, truly blew up, and I think a lot of that is attributable to him and his DNA and his positivity and his humility and his message to “let’s all get through this together.” And Teremana became sort of like a clutch for people to say it’s all going to be OK. And as he says, he drinks tequila in good times, bad times, and everything in between. And this was sort of one of those, I’ll call it “in between/bad times.” And we’re still living through that right now. So, again, a long answer from a guy like me, but pretty remarkable. Most new brands during this time, you can’t get off of home plate, because how does anybody discover you? There’s no way.
A: Well, so Ken, I gotta ask you a question, because we’ve got you here and we’ve had this conversation a bunch at the VinePair offices. So what do you think it is about tequila, in general, that is attracting so many celebrities right now? So you don’t see a lot of celebrity bourbon brands. We have a few celebrity gin brands. But really, the most famous is Ryan Reynolds, right? There’s not a ton of vodka anymore. Really, this is the only Irish whiskey. Like, what is it about tequila? Is it just that L.A. drinks so much of it that they all want to make it? And why do you think they all are getting into it? You think if they’re all competitive, they would see there’s so many people in the space now, that there’s going to be a shakeout. So I’m curious what you think is drawing everyone to this one liquid?
K: Yeah. Talk about saturation. And I look at the other spaces and I’m like, “OK.” Look, first authenticity matters. So I assume that these other celebrities getting into the tequila business are truly tequila drinkers. I can tell you one thing, that’s what D.J. drinks. By the way, he likes that, and he also, by the way, drinks whiskey on occasion. Not much anymore now that we’ve launched this brand. He’s madly in love with Teremana. And we are working on some innovation with and for him that’s going to be pretty amazing. But that said, I think that you said it very well when you talked about there’s going to be a shake out. There’s a gold rush. You know, we talk about gold rushes, whether it’s technology back in the day that everybody was jumping in and creating a “dot com” the dot com boom, and then it busted. This tequila space is really hot, and it’s growing. Tequila is the new vodka, in a way, with young people. So I had a party recently at my house. My daughter was engaged. It was as socially distanced as you could get, which means that’s code for we were not good. And I had Teremana, and of course, I had to have vodka there as well. And it was about a ratio of about 30 to one tequila over vodka with a bunch of people that were all in their mid-20s. That tells you something, right? So, you see lightning striking. And I would hope that these other celebrities getting into it are drinking tequila and they’re also business people and they’re saying, “Hey, I’m really famous. Why don’t I get into the tequila business?” Bourbon is tougher, although I think there’s a massive opportunity for authentic celebrities that, again, they must be authentic to what they’re doing, and they must be willing to work and be real. And there are very few of them, by the way. I’ve met with a lot of them. So that’s one reason. I think the other reason is, the fact of somebody like Clooney, or in the case of my guy, Johnson, these people, you know, the celebrities look at them and say, “Man, I want to be the next billionaire, and why can’t I do that?” What they’re going to learn is that’s really hard. And you see there are some celebrities that I will not name that are in the tequila space, and it is an uphill battle, because they either lack authenticity or they lack the star power that they may think they have to actually make the cash register ring outside of their core gift that God gave them — whether that’s music, or acting, or athletics. So it’s a tough one, but I’m never going to judge, because I don’t have a crystal ball. But there’s a gold rush right now. And eventually, there’ll be a shakeout, and there will be some form of consumer fatigue as well, which we’re going to see in celebrity. Authenticity is so important. And also lean-in. You can’t come in and do this thing for three months and then expect it to happen. D.J. knows, and Conor knows, this is a lifelong thing. D.J. wants this to be legacy, Conor wants to do Proper No. Twelve forever. And while we may sell parts of it over time, because there’s nothing wrong with making money, D.J. is like “this is for my children.” The bottom of every bottle of Teremana, there are initials on every bottle. There’s a word that is strange if you ever look at it, if you have it there, look at it, you won’t know what it means. But it’s very personal to D.J. because it’s the first two initials of each one of his three daughters. That is part of his soul, the brand.
C: Oh, my God, I’m looking at it now.
K: Yeah it says “Tijasi,” and those are his three daughters. So he wanted that there because this is legacy. So the gold rush can happen. Some people may get lucky, but luck doesn’t really happen in the spirits business. It’s all hard work. And of course, having a quality product, which I like to think Proper No. Twelve, for its price point, pound for pound against another Irish whiskey blend, you’re not going to find better. And Teremana, the crazy part about Teremana, is it’s ultra-premium tequila, copper-pot distilled, brick oven only, highest-quality process by hand, and it’s 30 bucks. It’s not $40 to $45 a bottle because D.J. wanted it to be accessible to all people. You want to talk about a perfect storm? The best tequila, then paired with a price point that rich people can afford and not so rich people can afford, is really what D.J. wanted. So that’s part of the recipe, and it doesn’t happen by accident.
T: Well, Ken I just wanted to say that it’s been so interesting to hear about this, and I think for me personally, but I’m sure for all of our listeners as well, just hearing about the involvement of guys like D.J., as you call him, and Conor, just because I think there is probably for most folks, there’s a natural assumption that maybe it’s a name or something. But I think hearing some of the stories behind it here shows how kind of personal that is. So really thank you for your time today to telling us about that. And I wanted to say congratulations on the sales of Teremana as well. Anyone can go out and Google it. We’ve covered it at VinePair. It’s one of the fastest launches of any celebrity spirit of all time. Proper No. Twelve in the longer run as well, incredible sales numbers. So, yeah, congrats on that, and I’m excited to see some of those innovations next year, as you mentioned. I’m sure it’s going to be an exciting one for, well, I guess many reasons.
K: I want to say Tim, Cat, Adam, Katie, it was a pleasure talking to you today. And I would just tell you to stay tuned. More to come. We’ll have some more brands down the road, I hope. Maybe with some iconic people, maybe not. And also what I wanted to say to your listeners is that if a guy like me, with the IQ that I have, can make it the way I have so far, anyone listening can. And it’s very cliché, but I really, really mean that. So you’ve got to will it to happen. And that’s what it’s all about. So happy holidays to everyone, and I hope to speak to you again soon.
A: Thanks, Ken.
T: And I’ll say one thing as well. If I see my cocktail on Instagram, D.J.’s Instagram, he better be tagging me, right? If I see the Stone-Cold Ken Austin on the rocks.
A: I knew you were going to say that, Tim. Oh, my gosh, you’re so cheesy.
K: Tim, I got to tell you, besides the fact that that was cheesy, I love it. So post it, make sure I get it, and I will guarantee you. Guarantee you. I know a guy who knows a guy who can get to D.J. I will get him to post that. I promise.
T: OK, well, this is on record. So if this doesn’t happen, you know, we’re calling you out, Ken.
K: Look, D.J. is probably going to kick my a** for saying that. But it’s OK. He’s kicked my a** for a lot worse.
T: Well, thanks again, everyone. And we’ll see you all next week.
Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of EOD Drinks. If you’ve enjoyed this program, please leave us a rating or a review wherever you get your podcasts, it really helps other people discover the show. And tell your friends.
We want as many people as possible listening to this amazing program. And now for the credits and “End of Day Drinks” is recorded live in New York City at VinePair’s headquarters and it is produced, edited, and engineered by VinePair’s tastings director, yes he wears a lot of hats, Keith Beavers. I also want to give a special thanks to VinePair’s co-founder, Josh Malin, to the executive editor Joanna Sciarrino, to our senior editor Cat Wolinski, senior staff writer Tim McKirdy, and our associate editor Katie Brown. And a special shout-out to Danielle Grinberg, VinePair’s art director, who designed the sick logo for this program. The music for “End of Day Drinks” was produced, written, and recorded by Darby Cicci. I’m VinePair co-founder Adam Teeter, and we’ll see you next week. Thanks a lot.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.
Published: January 22, 2021