After mastering bourbon and rye, Duke Spirits is introducing tequila to its Grand Cru Reserve line. We chatted with co-founder Chris Radomski about the tequila’s journey across the country, its one-of-a-kind finishing process and how it pays homage to one of John Wayne’s great loves. Listen in.
You have seen great success with the Duke Spirits portfolio of bourbons and rye. What inspired you to bring Grand Cru Reserve Extra Añejo tequila into the fold? The driving force is really John Wayne’s connection to Mexico. In addition to being a connoisseur of bourbon, Wayne had a great love for tequila, and we found a lot of evidence of that within his personal archives. Most people don’t realize he made a lot of his movies in Durango, Mexico. He had a great love and affection for the country and people of Mexico. For me, it was a natural fit that once we found the right relationship we would start investigating what would make sense to honor that legacy properly.
Tell us about the process of making Extra Añejo—where is it crafted, and what sets it apart from other tequilas in terms of its flavor profile and ingredients? With the success and the flavor profiles we’ve been able to generate through Duke Spirits bourbon, I started to experiment by sending the same wine barrels I use to finish the bourbon in Kentucky to Jalisco, Mexico, to special-finish and age the tequila. We have this amazing trail of barrels that originate in historic forests in France; then they go to Napa Valley and have incredible cabernets resting in them before they’re sent to Kentucky, where they have amazing high-proof spirits resting in them; and then they go to Mexico. It’s all very consistent with the genesis of Duke bourbon and the Grand Cru Reserve line. People do finish tequilas in other barrels, but, to my knowledge, no one has done it at this type of level. It was important to experiment with not only a used, world-class wine barrel, but also that the barrel has touched our bourbons. It’s a logistical ordeal but it has been worth it, and I love the flavor profiles coming out of it. The release in April will be very limited, and the goal is to raise money and donate some of the proceeds to the John Wayne Cancer Foundation. It makes sense to give back to the foundation Wayne created while we pay homage to his love and respect for what Mexico gave to his career.
Incredible! How would you describe the flavor profile of the tequila? Due to its resting period within our bourbon whiskey barrels, the tequila takes on some of the bourbon’s notes. We haven’t formulated the exact tasting notes since it’s resting in barrels as we speak, but the aging gives the tequila a deep cinnamon, vanilla and oaky flavor. The wine that previously rested in the barrels before the bourbon rounds out the balance of the flavor profile as we’ll get notes of deep cherry, which is really incredible.
And when the release hits, how should we enjoy our first sip? Personally, I would do it in a big rocks glass with a large piece of ice, or neat. It’s a very fine sipping tequila, almost like drinking cognac or brandy.
And what about for those of us who shy away from a spirit that’s known for being bold? I would enjoy it the same way. A lot of vodka drinkers have been converted to tequila. I think it’s much more natural in its production. I would argue that it’s healthier, but some people might say, ‘You think drinking is healthy?’ But it’s how it is derived from the ground and how it’s farmed that is much healthier, in my opinion, compared to other clear spirits. It’s much more flavorful, especially the aged expressions. People are becoming more discerning about what they want to drink. Our tequila has an amazing profile; it doesn’t overwhelm and it’s very true to its agave roots.
John Wayne has been an integral part of the history and heritage of Orange County. How does this launch carry on that iconic legacy? We’re honoring two things Wayne was incredibly passionate about: his foundation and his love of Mexico. In today’s political climate, I think Wayne taught us that it’s very possible to be an amazing American and also have an immense amount of respect for other people. Having been around his family quite a bit, and hearing their stories, it’s apparent that Wayne truly believed in equality and fairness. He based his opinions of others on whether or not they had good integrity and worked hard. It didn’t matter who they were, what they were or where they came from, he respected them. Whether you swept the stages or were a leading actress or actor, Wayne treated people the same—that was his character, and it’s an example we can all learn from.
Photography by: Bruno Taverna