ARTICLE / THE MAKING OF... SERIES
The making of...
Mexico has a long history of distilling. Tequila, mezcal and rum… but what about whisky? Yes? We didn’t know this either. After tasting Whisky Prieto one night, we had to find out more.
The making of... Series
Welcome to The making of... blog series. To start, can you give us a brief background into who you are and where you’ve come from?
Hello, my name is Txomin Alcorta, Co-founder of Whisky Prieto, a Mexican whisky made out of four variations of endemic corn from Oaxaca. I’m also from Basque Country. After studying wines and distillates in Bordeaux and before coming to Mexico, I worked in the cooperage industry for many years in Cognac. My business partner, Carlos Moreno started his mezcal brand (Koch El Mezcal) 15 years ago and nowadays he’s one of the most important figures in the Mezcal industry.
Txomin Alcorta, Co-founder of Whisky Prieto
There’s some great experience between the two of you. How did you come up with the idea of creating a Mexican Whisky?
Carlos knew about the agricultural resources that you can get in Oaxaca (corn, cane, exotic fruits, ..) and how to use these elements to create a distilled spirit. Thanks to my years working in France, I had experience and knowledge in cognac, ageing in casks and casks in general, so we thought it would be great to join forces to create our own proposal of a Mexican spirit.
There’s so much we’re learning today. We’ve just read about Oaxaca and how it’s known as the birthplace of mezcal. That's pretty cool. How did you arrive at what you've got now?
More than making a product for the market, we’ve been focused on making one that we love, one that makes us feel proud and one that really represents Mexico. We wanted the corn to be a part of it, earthy notes and the huitlacoche were also something we wanted to be present in the final product. It’s important to mention, the use of the casks (vanilla and cacao) was to add the notes that you’ll perceive in a traditional whisky and create a perfect balance between all of the components.
Now we know your collective backgrounds, we’d say that the bar would be set fairly high. So how did it go? Was the first iteration of your product up to scratch?
Whisky Prieto finds its base in native corn and Oaxaca has more than 35 variations of it, so at the beginning we distilled each corn based on its colour. Using these first runs as a reference, we decided to blend together four specific variations of the corn -these being white, yellow, purple and red- to find a balance between them. Once we liked the result, we made tests with different types of casks and woods, ultimately deciding to make a blend using three of them; French and American oak, and Mexican sherry wine barrels.
Most of the founders we’ve interviewed state that they’ve mostly bootstrapped their start-ups. What was your approach to funding?
15 years ago, Carlos started his mezcal brand with a couple of bottles of the product. Since then, the brand has grown to be one of the most important in Oaxaca with shelf presence in more than 25 countries. This growth represented an opportunity to invest in new distillates such as Whisky Prieto.
At Hunter, we’ve been working with alcoholic beverage brands since day-dot, so we understand how difficult it is to create a truly distinctive brand. Knowing how important branding is in the on-and-off premise can you tell us about your process and how you created the Whisky Prieto branding?
The name ‘Whisky Prieto’ pays tribute to the final colour of the whisky, the casks that are used in the maturing process and the land where the raw material is from. We worked with a Mexican agency called “Toro Pinto” to capture our vision and concept in the branding, they also helped us design the label that we had in mind, using the serigraphy process. We wanted the corn to be visible on the label because it communicates the identity of the product and reflects what we think is the essence of our whisky.
Creating the right branding is one thing, however, a lot of start-ups forget about the most difficult part of business and that’s scaling. How are you building awareness for Whisky Prieto?
Being a unique concept and having a solid and strong identity, helps the whisky stand out in the market. Carlos's experience on the mezcal market was also really helpful in opening doors, and working hand in hand with friends in the food industry has also helped us reach other potential customers. We also make use of social media to reach people all around the country and other parts of the world.
That makes sense. We first experienced your whisky via an independent wine store in Melbourne. What about your future challenges? What are you focusing on right now?
We are so grateful that Whisky Prieto is already present in different parts of Mexico and other countries, including France, Italy, Singapore and Australia, so right now, we are working really hard to increase our production while maintaining the quality and identity of our product at all times.
Thanks for sharing your story. We have one final question before we wrap things up… knowing what you know now, what advice would you give another entrepreneur who’s embarking on their own startup journey?
Whatever you do, do it with passion. Believe in what you do, people can feel it and that would make them want to support your idea because it'll feel genuine. Surround yourself with people who inspire you, people who bring something new to the table, and learn when to trust in others to do the things you can’t.