When In Doubt, Make Tequila

When things get tough, the tough are supposed to get going. Some of them make tequila instead.

You don’t need to be a fan of high-priced electric cars to realize that Elon Musk has had a rocky time recently. During the Thailand cave rescue—undoubtedly the feel-good story of the year—he muddied the waters by calling one of the rescue divers a pedophile. That diver, Vernon Unsworth, is now suing him.

More recently, he tweeted his intention to take Tesla private, which resulted in a huge surge in the value of the stock. Musk was investigated by the SEC, found guilty of fraud, and slapped with a $20 million fine. He was also forced to step down as Tesla’s Chairman, although he remains as CEO.

His latest escapade grew out of an April Fool’s tweet that depicted Musk passed out on a Tesla Model 3, surrounded by bottles of Teslaquila, “the tracks of dried tears still visible on his cheeks.” At the time, most people interpreted the photo as a good-natured attempt by Musk to poke fun at himself. Now we learn that the company has filed for a trademark on Teslaquila, which Musk contends is “coming soon.”

Can he/will he do it? Why not? It’s entirely possible for any well-heeled person to start a spirits business. Say you want to launch your own bourbon. On the surface, this would seem like an impossible enterprise: the competition is deep and well-established, and the whiskey needs to be aged between two and five years in American oak barrels before putting it on the market. It turns out to be easy, thanks to a company called MGP (Midwestern Grain Products). MGP operates a massive distillery and warehouse in Indiana and sells dozens of finished expressions of bourbon and rye. You simply pick one, design the packaging, invest huge chunks of money in marketing, and you’re in business. Just don’t pretend that it’s someone’s long-lost Prohibition recipe, or you’ll get sued faster than you can say Templeton Rye.

Making tequila is just as simple. You don’t need to own agave fields, wait seven years for the plants to mature, and engage in a complex process of distillation. Just find a tequila house willing to make booze to your specifications and you can go directly to the process of branding and marketing. Is there money in it? You bet. George Clooney and two friends founded Casamigos in 2013 and sold the company to Diageo four years later for a billion dollars—$700 million up front, plus another $300 million based on the brand’s future performance.

$1 billion doesn’t go as far as it used to, but it will still take a lot of people to Mars.


Mark Spivak is an award-winning writer specializing in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He has written several books on distilled spirits and the cocktail culture. His first novel, Friend of the Devil, is available on amazon.com; his second novel, a political thriller set during the invasion of Iraq, is due out in Spring 2019.

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