Photo by Anthony Mair
Inspired by their heritage, these Las Vegas-based tequila makers are using their brands to give back to the community. July 24 being National Tequila Day, now would be a great time to stock up on some of your hometown spirits.
Jose Luis Davalos is a relative newcomer to the tequila game, but his family has a long history with the land that produces it. A third-generation agave-grower, Davalos makes tequila from just a portion of the land he, his father and his grandfather have owned in the iron-rich highlands of Jalisco for the last 50 years. His family still works the land around Zapotlanejo, and, yes, that’s a photo of little Jose Luis in his father’s arms on horseback on the website.
Arriving here in 2002, Davalos chose the architectural field over the agave fields, but a few years ago, he started experimenting with his family’s agave, most of which is harvested anywhere from five to seven years of age and sold to large tequila houses. In 2011 he launched Davalos with a blanco and an añejo, both sold exclusively in Las Vegas. No reposado, you might ask? No, he hates it. Reposado spends anywhere from 3 to 9 months—or legally up to one day shy of one year—in a barrel.
“That’s not enough time to really get the properties from the wood,” Davalos says. “I’m more of a purist. My añejo [ages] 18 months, and that’s enough time to get the properties from the barrel. My añejo is my pride and joy.” Local mixologist Jason Hughes is working on a portfolio of branded tequila cocktails, while Davalos works on his next project, a limited-edition extra añejo.
The idea, he says, is to bring his family history full circle, and to offer “affordable luxury.” Indeed, his product is less expensive than much of what’s on the market. Davalos has goals of expansion, but he keeps his local charitable endeavors close to home, benefiting New Vista Community, Nevada Public Radio and breast cancer research.
What does dad think of all this? “He’s still a cowboy,” Davalos says. “I tried the cowboy hat, but my head’s too big.”
Try it: Davalos margarita, $13 at the Barrymore.
Buy it: $30 blanco, $35 añejo, Lee’s Discount Liquor; DavalosTequila.com.
Launching a tequila brand was a logical next step for George Harris and Mingo Collaso. The two were partners in restaurant La Madonna from 2007-09 before opening Mundo at the Las Vegas Design Center and—slated for the end of August—Mingo Kitchen & Lounge at Art Square in the Arts District. Mexican heritage runs deeply through all of their projects, but it was Harris’ military experience, interviewing people who claim to have had close encounters with aliens, that planted the seed.
In 2003, Harris opened the Alien Research Center museum and gift shop in Hiko, the closest private property to Area 51. He previously participated in the renaming of the Extraterrestrial Highway. Inspired by that area’s desolate surrounding landscape, the pair founded Alien tequila, launching Halloween 2008. Today, their Integradora San Agustin distillery produces Alien as well as El Tesoro di Mi Tierra, Isa and soon FUBAR, targeting the military consumer.
Of their portfolio, Harris prefers the reposado, which he says “is like making love.” His description of the distillation process even sounds like a bodice-ripper: “You take a large 90-kilo piña, you quarter it, pack it into a brick room, steam it for 48 hours and fire it for 24 hours. Then you macerate it, getting this thick, wonderful amber syrup that you distill.” Collaso prefers the añejo, sipping it neat for its hints of licorice, vanilla and honeysuckle. And again: “It’s like liquid love,” Harris says. Those two and the silver are on the lighter side, summery with notes of stone fruit and orange zest.
Although initially told they would never get their product into a Strip casino, you can spot the distinctive bottle—taken from a drawing Harris jotted down on a napkin—in more than seven resorts. Alien is sold in 15 states, but Harris and Collaso keep their focus on Las Vegas, giving back to the community by donating product to Aid for AIDS of Nevada and the March of Dimes. Eventually, they aim to fund an orphanage in Guadalajara.
When asked if he, too, believes in aliens, Collaso is quick to answer: “I do actually. This place is too big for there not to be … something.”
Try it: Alien margarita, $9 at Mundo.
Buy it: $40 silver, $50 reposado, $55 añejo and $100 extra añejo at Lee’s Discount Liquors; AlienTequila.com.