- By Arianna Auber American-Statesman Staff
Two entrepreneurs who transformed the spirits industry with their flavored vodkas and turned their business, Deep Eddy Vodka, into the fastest growing spirits brand in the country are at it again.
This time, Eric Dopkins and Chad Auler are introducing a line of flavored tequilas. Through their latest company, Milestone Brands, they purchased the Austin-based Dulce Vida Tequila earlier this spring and have now launched multiple new products. (Milestone also recently bought American Born Moonshine, keeping all employees of both companies.)
Dulce Vida, which made waves in the tequila industry by producing well-made, 100-proof tequilas since 2009, is releasing a blanco, reposado and añejo at a lower 80 proof, to invite a wider range of drinkers to the organic products. But most notable is Dulce Vida’s two new fruit-infused blanco tequilas: one made with lime, the other with grapefruit, two of the most common flavors in tequila cocktails.
Flavored tequila has never taken off as a spirits category before, but Milestone CEO Dopkins and Milestone president Auler — who sold Deep Eddy Vodka last year to a Kentucky company, with the itch to start something new — aim to change that. Longtime veterans of the beverage industry, they believe they know what consumers want.
“Obviously, with our experience at Deep Eddy using real fruit and doing things differently, our mission was to reinvent flavored spirits,” Dopkins said. “We feel that can also be applied to other categories, not just vodka. … This is really a breakthrough, a disrupter. As cocktail-ready tequila, it’s very good straight, good on the rocks, good with simple mixers.”
Although the Mexican government lays out strict guidelines dictating what tequila can be, they don’t forbid the infusion of fresh fruit, something that Dulce Vida is very clear about. Both of the spirits are still considered tequila, “not a prepared cocktail or liqueur,” Dopkins said.
The flavored tequilas are also, as a result of Mexico’s regulations, surprisingly low-calorie.
“Tequila is so regulated that you can’t just add whatever ingredients you want,” he said. “They limit you with sugar content and what you can put in it to still call it tequila. Because of that, there are not a lot of additives here. The net result is a lower carb, lower calorie tequila: 66 calories. That’s lower than a Michelob Ultra.”
The decreased amount of sugar in the Dulce Vida Lime and Dulce Vida Grapefruit serves as a boon to the taste because the tequilas incorporate the fruity flavors without being overly sweet. They also maintain the flavor of Dulce Vida’s Los Altos highlands agave, which is slightly floral and fruity itself and complements lime and grapefruit so well in margaritas and palomas.
Those two cocktails are the main reasons that Dopkins and Auler, in charge of product development, chose lime and grapefruit to start with. They’ve got another flavor in the works but aren’t ready to reveal it yet.
“Not too often can you drink tequila straight out of the bottle and get that balance,” Dopkins said. “Usually you’re going to get that pucker, that harshness. Here, you’re getting a nice balance, fruit in the front, and a nice finish. That’s part of our whole concept, to break people into the tequila category and show consumers you can have fruit-infused tequila. It can really change how you drink tequila.”
He would know: Dopkins has spent 24 years in the spirits industry, beginning with the powerhouse multinational company Diageo.
“They owned, during the nearly 16 years I was with them, about 58 percent of all tequila,” he said. “At that time, it was all Jose Cuervo, Tradicional, Don Julio. I spent many years going to Mexico, taking people on educational trips to the distilleries, launching a lot of great products. But nothing had ever worked in the flavored tequila space.”
Dulce Vida is taking a chance on this nascent category because of how easy it is for people to make drinks at home with the lime and grapefruit tequila.
“We’ve got a product where you can add a little lemon-lime soda, muddle a jalapeño, and you have an unbelievable cocktail,” Dopkins said.
The other new line of Dulce Vida Tequila, at 80 proof, is similarly important to the brand. And for fans of the original 100-proof options, don’t worry — those aren’t going away. The 80-proof tequilas are meant to supplement the existing ones, drawing in more tequila converts. They are also cheaper.
“That’s our whole mission, to make the brand much more affordable and approachable. We think we’re over-delivering on quality,” he said.
He and Auler sold Deep Eddy Vodka last year to Kentucky’s Heaven Hill brands for an undisclosed sum. As a multi-million-dollar business with five different kinds of flavored vodka, Deep Eddy has proven the entrepreneurs’ capability — they know how to strike liquid gold.