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Desert Companion

THE DISH: Back to the land

Jose Davalos distilled family heritage and do-it-yourself drive into a new tequila brand

“I want my tequila to speak for itself,” Jose Davalos says. He says this after he talks for a couple of hours about the history of his family and how they came to be creators and purveyors of the liquor that bears their name.

But that history is crucial. Davalos Tequila may be new to the market, but it’s also the culmination of generations of family commitment, currently led by this soft-voiced, unassuming Las Vegan who has a day job with Klai Juba Architects.

“I had a whole list of possible names when we were developing our tequila,” Jose says. “But a friend told me that my family name would mean so much more than any brand I could make up.”

The short version of the Davalos Tequila saga begins in Mexico, in the highlands of the state of Jalisco, where Jose’s grandparents bequeathed parcels of land to Jose’s father and uncles. They soon parlayed those parcels into bustling haciendas that, among other things, grew agave as a cash crop.

“My father and my uncles made a name for themselves for their hard work and dedication,” Jose says. “I’ve been to neighboring towns where people find out I’m the son of one of the Davalos brothers, and I get welcomed with open arms.”

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Smooth idea

But even the most enterprising of ranchers is still hostage to the ups and downs of the marketplace. As the commodity price of raw agave fell, Jose and his family cast about for ways to keep their haciendas in the black.

“We realized that we were experts at growing the agave, and we had great relationships with local processors and distillers,” Jose says. “So, in 2007, we decided to develop our own tequila.”

By then, Jose’s own personal career path, which included graduating from college and become a U.S. citizen, had brought him to Las Vegas, which he feels is the perfect launching pad for his tequila.

“This city hosts millions of people from all over the world every year, all looking for the best way to enjoy themselves,” Jose says. “What better place to introduce them all to the affordable luxury of Davalos Tequila?”

Issa Khoury, of Khoury’s Fine Wine & Spirits, agrees that “affordable luxury” — salesy as it sounds — is an apt catchphrase for Davalos Tequila.

“It has a taste that is smoother and more flavorful than more well-known tequilas,” Khoury says. “And Jose has set its price point below that of established brands like Patrón. That combination makes it easy to recommend.”

Chef Beni Velázquez of Bar+Bistro in the Arts Factory concurs, so much so that Velázquez recently hosted a “Tequila Pairing Dinner” that featured the liquor as an ingredient in every course, from the appetizer (Carpachio Scallops Tepache) to the dessert (Davalos Tequila Flamed Smores).

“Because it doesn’t have the harshness that most people associate with tequila, Davalos lends itself to a wide variety of combinations,” Velázquez says.

(My taste test results: They’re right. Both varieties of Davalos Tequila are indeed smooth, settling warmly on the tongue and having virtually none of that back-of-the-throat, ethanol burn you associate with hard liquor. The Blanco variety offers an initial, bright flash of flavor with notes of citrus, but I prefer the Añejo variety, aged in oak bourbon barrels for 16 months. This aging makes the Añejo deeper and darker, with a flavor that carries tones of pepper and smoke.)

 

Hold your drinks

“I’ve been accused of adding sugar to the tequila to reduce its edge,” Jose says. “But the fact is, since we control every step of the process, from growing the agave to processing it to distilling it to bottling and distributing it, my family can ensure the quality of the product that bears our name.”

This focus on quality control is one of the main reasons that Davalos Tequila is currently not being carried by one of the large local liquor distributors. Instead, Jose Davalos went through the grueling and expensive process of becoming an independent distributor himself.

“I couldn’t be sure that a large distributor would do anything more than just put our tequila on a crowded shelf next to the dozens of other tequilas that they sell,” he says. “And I don’t want to spend a lot of money on marketing, trying to become the next trendy drink.”

Indeed, Jose Davalos seems content to ply his family’s signature product himself, going from store to store in the only city where Davalos Tequila is sold, getting individual operators and drinkers to taste his tequila and decide for themselves whether or not to carry it.

“We’re building our brand organically, one relationship at a time,” Jose says. It’s an approach as personal as the origin of the tequila itself. 

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