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Spirits

‘Entourage’ tequila still shaking up the premium spirits industry

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Ken Austin, the founder of Tequila Avión, with the cast of "Entourage." (Tequila Avión)

Breaking into the premium tequila market is no easy feat. Household names like Patron and Jose Cuervo dominate the market.

But that didn’t deter  the Tequila Avión founders from trying to break into the hyper competitive spirits space.

Today the spirit is renowned success. Avión is now the fastest growing ultra-premium tequila brand on the market has been named the “best tasting tequila” and “best un-aged white spirit” from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Ken Austin and his business partner Kenny Dichter may have had a great idea but it still took a pretty remarkable stroke of genius—and 30-plus years of friendship—to put Avión on the map.

 

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Fans of “Entourage” will remember the tequila as Turtle’s special business venture. And while the makers of the premium spirit didn’t have to pay a penny for the priceless publicity in their key demographic, it turned out just getting a product onto the television screens of millions of alcohol-onsuming adults wasn’t enough.

Before you head to see the “Entourage” movie this weekend, check out FoxNews.com’s interview with Avión founder Ken Austin to go behind the scenes of this award-winning brand.

FoxNews.com: What led you to get started in tequila?  

Ken Austin: In college I was very entrepreneurial  and paid my way through school by working at a bar. I made quite a bit of money promoting and bringing my friends in and I always enjoyed it After school I worked in the corporate world for awhile but wound up at Seagrams, before it was sold. I’ve always loved the drinks business, which is, really when you think about it, part of the entertainment industry.

I actually felt it was easy, even though I knew 99 percent of brands fail—in my mind, when you respect the customer, it’s easier to create a brand people love. When it came to an actual spirit, I’ve always loved tequila—can tell you if its highlands or lowlands, where it really came from—because I have a pretty keen palate.

When I looked into the space, it was very clear that one player dominated the premium market and we wondered why is that? After the money we made from Marquis [a private jet company] Kenny and I had funds to invest in something different and decided to go to Mexico to create an amazing tequila. Since we had money, we didn’t have to cut corners.

FoxNews.com: What’s so special about tequila?

Ken Austin: There are three main components that make tequila a great spirit. The shot occasion is never going away. People love to drink it at parties. Today, the margarita is the best selling cocktail in America and you need a great tequila to make it. Third, the boom in brown spirits has really escalated premium alcohol overall. You can make an old fashioned cocktail with an anejo tequila and it tastes phenomenal. People are now sipping tequila neat from a brandy sifter, it's just a really versatile spirit. 

FoxNews.com: Despite all this knowledge, you initially had trouble finding a distributor.

Ken Austin: Everybody said it couldn’t be done. No one wanted to take a chance on a new brand in a market that was so heavily dominated by a handful of players.

FoxNews.com: So how did the idea of involving “Entourage” with the brand come about?

Ken Austin: Doug [Ellin, the creator of the series] and Kenny grew up on Long Island like me. We all hit it off and we always provided a Marquis aircraft any time travel was written into the script.

One day, we were just literally talking about Doug’s story arc for Turtle. He [Ellin] said “Look, I think the show is ending in two seasons but I really want to see Turtle win. I want him to be like the NBA player that makes it big and the first thing he does is buy his mom a house.”

And we thought, “Well, you can use the tequila- just please don’t hurt us. No strippers, no cocaine!” After Doug said he could give us a storyline, I spent two days talking to their writing teams about the brand, our process for making the tequila and the spirits business.

Fast forward a year or so later, Doug had us over to screen the final cut and the characters kept saying it over and over and I was like “this can’t be real!” It was amazing. You know in “Jaws” when they say “We’re gonna need a bigger boat…” I called my president right away and said “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

FoxNews.com: Turtle introduced Tequila Avión on July 25, 2010 to HBO audiences around the country. But it wasn’t an immediate hit. What happened?

Ken Austin: So we were very excited by the storyline but it didn’t take off immediately and we were floored. We didn’t understand how but we started hearing that people didn’t believe it was real. At parties, people would see it and be like “Wow, Turtle’s brand is real?”

So we knew something had to change.

FoxNews.com: How did you re-introduce the brand?

Ken Austin: As a small company, we were able to be nimble and quickly turn on a dime. We started a simple campaign- changing the slogan from “Taste Elevated” to “Yes It’s Real.” We had flyers in Miami and a few bus posters but that was pretty much all it took. We answered the question everything was asking.  

Soon after, it started winning awards and bartenders began taking it seriously as a spirit.

FoxNews.com: Product placement has soared in the past few years. What advice would you give to someone who is looking to strike a deal now?

Ken Austin: Well it’s important to note that in this situation, no money was exchanged, we just had a fortunate friendship.

We still get opportunities all the time but my advice to new brands is that people are smart. They appreciate things a lot more when they know the real story. Consumers can tell if a storyline isn’t organic so don’t just put some money down and expect your product to be a hit.  Always ask to see script and see how you will be portrayed. 

Money is the easy part but it could be biggest mistake you make on the way to building success.  Money can buy you love in America but not the right type of love.

FoxNews.com: Can entourage fans expect to see Avión  in the upcoming film?

Ken Austin: It’s so funny because I actually had no control over the role of the tequila in the movie. It’s completely organic. And as I was watching it, was just like “Wow, this brand is just baked in,” as are other relevant companies like Uber.

Mark Cuban who plays an investor is wearing a red Avión shirt in the film. You don’t even hear it, you just see it. And I think that’s way more powerful.