You may have seen Avion Tequila highlighted on the HBO show 'Entourage', and hopefully by now you know that it is a real tequila. According to Creator Ken Austin, it was around before the TV show. It is a well made, delicious and pleasant tequila brand. You may know this now, but so many people did not know this a few years ago, and what looked like a blessed opportunity according to the brand, was anything but. Creator & Founder Ken Austin told me, Avion was launched in 2010 in New York and California 'before' it was on the TV show 'Entourage'. Austin says he started working on Avion in 2007, and after the launch on both US coasts, an unbelievable opportunity arose. According to him, he and original co-owner Kenny Dichter, both Long Island friends who knew Doug Ellin- the HBO creator of 'Entourage', were hanging out and relaxing in a hot tub when conversations arose about the show and the desire for some new story arcs. Ken said, they were asked if they wanted Avion highlighted in an upcoming story line, and of course they said yes. After all, who wouldn't want to be in a hit show for free? Austin says he asked if it could be delayed for a year, so Avion can continue to get off the ground in more cities, but HBO needed to go right away with the new story-line for the character 'turtle'. From seeming like a sure shot, it sort of backfired. Expecting a boom of unprecedented proportions once it aired, it did almost nothing for the brand, and they were all flabbergasted. According to Austin, the reason was because everyone thought Avion was a fake, 'made up brand' for the TV show. Avion was forced to make a decision, to convince everyone that it was real. They changed their slogan from "Taste Elevated" to "Yes, It’s Real."
Avion is made at Productos Finos de Agave (PFA)- NOM 1416 in Jesus Maria, in the highlands (Los Altos) region. Although there are some brands produced there that many of us question for their production methods and the overly sweet artificial tastes, and likely diffuser use, this does not appear to apply here. Avion is a cut above, and I've heard this from multiple people that have been there, watching the production procedure. Avion actually has their own separate and closed off work areas, doing 100% of their cooking in dedicated 24 ton hornos (ovens), as well as their own closed off fermentation rooms to cancel out the possibility of cross-fermentation from airborne yeast. Austin and others, say they also have separate aging areas in their own wing of the building. They only use the general area of PFA for the distillation process, where they have their own separate distillation procedure with dedicated smaller stills. These stills are for Avion only, with their emblems mounted on them. Austin told me that "Avion removes a significant amount in the cuts of the heads and tails, in a way that makes us use 30% more agave than any other product produced at PFA." This costs his brand more money, and many other brands simply don't do this, in order to save money.
Austin told me a number of times, that he spends more money because he wants the best product. We discussed how the Mexican CRT allows certain additives like caramel, oak extract etc and coloring, especially to aged tequilas, and that most brands utilize coloring, but he says he does not. He loves to say Avion does not add ANY additives. If you look at the light color of the Repo and the Anejo, they are lighter than most other brands, some aged for much shorter times. Although there can be other factors, no added coloring in Avion, has something to do with it. Ken Austin has been a tequila connoisseur for almost 25 years, and likes quality and pure tequila as I do. I had fun discussing other brands, and things I like and dislike with him. Avion's bottle shape was tweaked slightly, early on in order to please bartenders, and this bottle has great side grips making it so easy to hold with one hand. The Avion recipe has never changed, and Austin says it never will. As he puts it, "how many brands can you say that about?" Besides getting all this info from Ken Austin, who is amazingly open and honest, Avion frequently hosts experts from the industry to the distillery, to show this transparent process, and I have spoken to some. These are actual pictures of Avion's work areas taken from a recent visit, and these tequila specialists were very impressed, calling the distillery "gritty and an actual working factory and not a playland."
Avion may be housed at PFA, but is not made like the other brands there, and being separated in their own areas, is almost like having their own facility. Ken and Avion enjoy a fantastic relationship with the Lopez family, who own the distillery and grow some of the best, most desired agaves for generations. The family employs a very high percentage of the residents of Jesus Maria. I noticed if you do a taste test, blind or not, of Avion blanco, Clase Azul blanco (much more expensive) and Casamigos blanco, all from PFA, Avion will come out ahead with a more naturally sweet taste and of a higher quality. Avion is the best product made at Productos Finos de Agave (PFA)- NOM 1416 by a long shot. I am told that Avion gets the first pick at the agaves with the highest brix level. Ken Austin told me when I asked about the very sweet taste, that "Avion's hand picked agave from Jesus Maria is grown at about 7k feet, and we only use the agave with the highest natural sugar (brix) content. "We add nothing to Avion blanco, and it's 100% pure." He went on to say "our agave is sweeter, and our brix count is very high, and I'm happy to pay more". He told me "if you walked into the fermentation room for all the other tequilas at PFA, and then the Avion fermentation room, you would notice that the aroma is much stronger agave and sweetness. That is because our agave is naturally sweeter, and we only cook our agave pinas in Avion's exclusive brick ovens."
I have spent a lot of time talking with Ken Austin, and he is a stand up guy, honest and transparent, and luckily a tequila connoisseur himself. He was enjoyable and knowledgeable to speak with, just like when I talk with my tequila aficionado friends. Being a classy guy, he wouldn't bad mouth any other brands, or say why they may use colorings, additives or worse. He made it clear that he and Avion have strict procedures, and regardless what others may or may not do, Avion is made in a high quality way. I enjoy Avion blanco and always have, and their aged expressions are well made and tasty as well, but my favorites here are the bookends....the Silver Blanco and the Reserva 44 Extra Anejo. Austin feels strongly about his "base" blanco juice, which he is very proud of. He says "it's like mama's gravy- it all starts there". Once you mention Avion Reserva 44 extra anejo, his voice lights up again, and I see why. He says "Reserva 44 is "quite special and very sophisticated, a true extra anejo that's complex but not a vanilla bomb". I totally agree with that, and although aged for 44 months in two oak barrels, it has a balanced, delicious agave finish. I absolutely love Reserva 44 Extra Anejo- I can drink this stuff all day long. It is not overpowered by the usual suspects- vanilla and caramel. It is so delicious and balanced. This is superior juice. I have tried a lot of great extra anejos, and this one is right up there with the best of them.
After Avion's campaign started to work and people realized that it was for real, Avion started realizing they needed to find a distribution network to help sell the stuff. Ken had been exploring new ideas and was being courted by other spirits corporations. He had an idea, and he sent an email to someone he did not know at Pernod Richard, as he calls it... a "blind email". He knew Pernod had a major gap in their tequila portfolio, so he was hoping to engage with Pernod Richard USA. I'm sure this email 'reminded' Pernod, that they may want to check this brand out fast, as emails must be flying all around. Apparently this strategy worked, and they got a call back from Pernod Richard, and in 2011 a deal was struck, and Avion sold 20% to Pernod Richard. In 2014 Ken told me "they came to me and asked to buy more, as they loved the brand, and they even bought out all of my investors, which was a good thing for Pernod and my investors." He said "the great part is they handle sales and distribution now, and I focus on the tequila making." He seems very happy with this arrangement.
I asked Ken what his position is now, and he told me "besides being the founder, I am now the active Executive Chairman of Avion". His name is on every bottle neck of Avion tequila, now and forever, and I can tell how proud he is of that. He said "I spend at least 1-2 weeks every month in Jesus Maria, and other parts of Mexico. I still retain a large stake and I must approve budget, brand vision, and all production." He said he still has the same team in Mexico that he started with, and is very active, as this is pretty much all I do, and want to do. He insists that it has been really good having a big company as his partner. He explained to me that the distribution side is really hard, and Pernod Richard has great resources, 'boots on ground', as he calls it, that I could not. Austin told me "Pernod owning us is a good thing, not bad". "They have very strict quality standards as I do." Pernod has now gone on to become the majority shareholder of Avion, and Austin holds a major role as the creator and executive, and is always working on the brand, improving the facility and coming up with new ideas for the future. Besides working on several other amazing innovations that he hopes to release over the next 2-3 years, Ken is busy building an Avion visitor center, that should be completed by the beginning of next year.
I don't normally get excited about awards, most are just BS and slogans like "World’s Best Tasting Tequila” doesn't usually get my attention. But I do take notice, and respect The San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and it's got to mean something that Avion Blanco was crowned "World's Best White Spirit", out of over 1400 spirit brands and "World’s Best Tasting Tequila" at the 2012 SF competition, by 33 renowned spirits experts in a blind taste test. Austin told me "when we were awarded this, none of the judges had any idea what brand it was. As Ken Austin always says, "it all begins with our Silver, and it's the base." This award really turned the tide for Avion, and now everyone knew that Avion.... was very real.
PRODUCTION- Accordingly to Ken Austin, only the most ripe and sweetest hand selected (high brix level) agaves are used. Grown at PFA by the Lopez family who have been agave growers for 3 generations, the area's weather, altitude, soil and brix level create a sweeter tequila. Avion has a special arrangement, according to Ken Austin, and gets the first pick of the agaves, and pays more to do so. The Reposado, Anejo and Extra Anejo are aged in used American oak Jack Daniels whiskey barrels, and slightly charred. Slow roasted cooking occurs for 72 hrs in hornos followed by shredder/roller. Fermentation is done in stainless steel open air tanks using proprietary yeast, not commercial yeast. Distillation is done in dedicated, small stainless steel pot stills with copper coils, placed on the opposite side from the other brands stills. Two 3,500 liter copper coil small stills are used for the first distillation (ordinario), followed by the exact same size stills in another part of the area, for the second distillation. After distillation, Avion uses a special procedure which elevates the taste profile by culminating in a proprietary filtration method coined "ultra slow filtration." The tequila is filtered very slowly through activated carbon, to remove all trace particulate matter, enabling the smoothest tasting tequila. During this process the flavors become firmly set to Tequila Avion's specification, and at that time, they call it the "moment of elevation." This process takes approximately 10 times longer than traditional filtration, and although I tried, Austin will not divulge any more information. All he will say is "we slow filter and don't divulge how slowly, it's an all natural process." Avion is double distilled to 40% abv.
BLANCO (Silver)- approx $40, this is an unaged, clean and bright, crystal clear blanco. A solid well made blanco, with a lot of natural sweetness. It has some peppery and spicy notes, along with a buttery, citrus and fruity taste. The nose shows lime, floral, citrus and sweet creamy agave notes. It's silky smooth and has a definite sweetness, but more natural than many other blancos. It is very easy to drink.
NOSE- strong cooked agave sweetness, buttery with some mint, lime, citrus and fruity (grapefruit, pineapple), along with pepper, a pinch of alcohol and slight smoke.
TASTE- light to medium oils, buttery, sweet cooked agave and black pepper. Some mint with a citrusy and fruity taste and a pinch of anise (licorice) and smoke. It's crisp, silky and has a smooth mouthfeel. It is very smooth and very naturally sweet, with a nice mild burn.
FINISH- sweet agave, citrusy and peppery with a mild alcohol bite, along with a pinch of smoke and anise. A nice buttery sweet medium exit.
REPOSADO- approx $44.99 Avion Reposado is aged 6 months, but light in color (no colorings). It is also light in nose and taste, with a roasted agave and oak presence, slight notes of cherry, and spice, with a floral taste including fruit, and hints of caramel and vanilla. It is extremely well balanced, light, and tasty to drink.
NOSE- light oak and caramel, with vanilla. Roasted sweet agave, a touch of alcohol, flowers, smoke, some black pepper, cherry, fruit, and some spice.
TASTE- light to medium oils, a light caramel, and vanilla taste. Cherry, floral and mild oak notes, with a mild alcohol bite. It has that nice agave natural sweetness.
FINISH- a medium exit of sweetness, mild oak, slight numbing, and mild caramel.
ANEJO- approx $47.99 it's aged 2 years, with notes of vanilla and caramel, with a very bright and sharp aroma of sweet roasted agave, cherry and fruity aromas. It is well balanced and fairly rich. Aromas of whiskey/oak, some smoke, and spice. I like this anejo more so than the Reposado. The nose is delightful here, and although the nose has tons of strong agave sweetness, the taste is not overly sweet. It's a nice tasty anejo.
NOSE- whiskey oak notes, a pinch of alcohol, a sweet zesty agave aroma, fruit (pinch of cherry), caramel and vanilla, some floral and chocolate notes. Some slight smoke and a nice citrus aroma.
TASTE- medium oil, oak, soft and very smooth and silky, with some vanilla and nice caramel, and creamy agave sweetness, with some heat. There's some smoke and mild fruit, along with some spice. The taste is nice and balanced.
FINISH-slight heat, light caramel, sweet and smokey notes, all ending in a nice smooth and medium finish.
RESERVA '44' EXTRA ANEJO- approx $129.99 and made from the base of Avion blanco (Silver), Reserva 44 is matured in used oak barrels for 43 months, and then spends an additional 30 days in petite oak barrels, which are rotated each day, for a total aging period of 44 months. This gem is offered in stunning packaging, and in a beautiful crystal, hand-numbered bottle, which is individually signed by founder and chairman Ken Austin. It is not a vanilla or caramel bomb, but a delicious, rich and balanced treat. It has cherry, honey, fruit, chocolate and agave notes throughout. This comes in very limited runs. This is absolutely unbelievable.
NOSE- a cognac/whiskey oak aroma, buttery with nice cherry aromas, fruit and caramel. Some mild cinnamon, and still some agave sweetness, spice, mild heat, and honey, with mild vanilla and a cream soda/butterscotch like, leathery and smokey aroma. This is a delightful nose.
TASTE- medium oils, whiskey/oak, some chocolate and nuts, a touch of heat, creamy mild caramel, butterscotch, vanilla and fruit. Smooth balanced mouthfeel and even at this level, the sweet agave flavors comes through.
FINISH- sweet and balanced with cherry, honey and mild caramel and vanilla. Fruity and light spice with some mild heat turning to a smooth tasty fairly long finish.
Austin says he pays more for the sweetest agaves, and for the extra agaves needed in the distillation cuts, to become a naturally sweet tequila. Apparently the sweetness comes this way, unlike other brands where you can taste the obvious sweeteners. All the expressions are tasty and very easy to drink. Ken Austin is proud that his name is on each bottle, and he really cares about his product and knows this is his legacy. I must say, that the blanco is clean, agave forward, pure and sweet. Newcomers to tequila or anyone looking for a silky smooth, easy to drink and tasty tequila, will love Avion. The aged expressions are very tasty and well made, but the Reserva 44 is another animal altogether. It is without a doubt, exceptional and superior, and in my opinion a World Class Tequila. I have always liked Avion, and you will too. The Avion logo is a 'flying agave' and trust me when I say .... it can fly it's way to my house anytime.