One can’t drive 55 while the other moves like Jagger. On paper, they’re an odd, if not impossible, pair to imagine: Sammy Hager, the wailing, mega-watt veteran frontman for hardcharging groups like Montrose, Van Halen and Chickenfoot; and Adam Levine, the smooth, classy-cool singer who, when he’s not leading multiplatinum poppers Maroon 5, holds hopeful newbies’ futures in his hands as a judge on TV’s The Voice.
What could these two wildly disparate personalities have in common? For one thing, there’s tequila. “I’ve always loved tequila,” says Levine. “It’s always been my absolute favorite spirit.”
As for Hagar, his affinity for tequila is already the stuff of modern legend. The musician was one of the first celebrities to put his stamp on the boutique spirit industry when he founded Cabo Wabo Tequila in 1996. In just a few short years, the brand became a monster, enabling him to eventually sell his stake in the company – in a pair of transactions ending in 2009 – to the Campari Group for a tidy sum of $100 million.
In recent years, Hagar launched the similarly successful Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum, but he was loath to get back into the tequila business. In his view, the market that he presciently jumpstarted has become flooded with new product. “It’s become a generic thing, like vodka,” he observes. “Do we really need another one?” But a fortuitous meeting with Levine blossomed into a full-blown friendship, and the downing of many drinks with his new pal caused him to rethink his plans – with a twist: The two started mixing tequila with mezcal – think Arnold Palmer combining iced tea and lemonade – and they realized that they were on to something. And the result was…mezquila.
Hagar enlisted the distillers behind Cabo Wabo Tequila to work with him and Levine on the new blend, and after a two-year trial-and-error process, they finally arrived at Santo Mezquila, a unique combination made from 100 percent Blue Variety Tequilana Weber agave and 100 percent Espadin agave of the Angustifolia variety.
“It’s got that sweet entrance and a little bittersweet finish, but there’s a few smoky notes,” Hagar enthuses. “God, it’s nice, man. You can drink as much as you want without getting overload.”
The two music titans launched the 80-proof product in 2017 and they’re both high on its prospects. “This process has been as much a creative exploration as a business decision,” says Levine. “It feels really good to be the first to do something, and to do it with a team as experienced as the Santo partners meant we had the knowledge and ability to do it right.”
Adds Hagar, “I’m really proud of it because we invented something, a mezquila. It’s like a whole new category. I know we’re going to start a trend.”
Let’s go back to the beginning. How did you two meet and become friends?
Sammy Hagar: The whole thing was so damn organic. This wasn’t a business plan. I was getting ready to do a TV show, and the lady doing my makeup said, “Oh, I do Adam Levine’s makeup. He just got married, and he’s down in Cabo for his honeymoon.” I said “Really?” I got a napkin and wrote down my phone number, and I said, “Have him call me. I’ll hook him up down there.”
So, Adam called me up and said, “Sammy Hagar, my hero! Growing up, all I listened to was Van Halen. I wanted to be you, man.”
Adam Levine: Of course, I was a fan. Who wasn’t? Sammy has always been an inspiring dude for me. He’s Sammy fuckin’ Hagar!
Sammy Hagar: And I’m going, “Holy shit, here we go! Here’s my buddy.” So, my wife and I went down there. We took Adam around. We had dinner and had drinks at the Cabo Wabo. We became instant friends, and our bond was right there. He said, “I love tequila.” And then he told me how all kinds of big companies had come and asked him to endorse a whiskey, a gin, this and that, and he said “I don’t want to endorse shit. I want to do it the way you did it.” I said, “Well, I know we’re just meeting, but maybe we’ll do something together down the road.”
So how did it go from just talking to actually creating a spirit together?
Sammy Hagar: We saw each other many times since then, but about a year later I said, “Hey, guess what? We have this idea to make mezcal…and so it went.”
Adam Levine: We were out together one night with a few of Sammy’s friends, and they kept pouring us shots of mezcal. I do enjoy mezcal in small amounts, but too much is overpowering, and Sammy agreed. We started adding in a bit of tequila to the mezcal, and we realized that it created a whole new taste experience, that was different than either – and really, really tasty.
The original partners had been discussing doing a mezcal, yes, but after that night when Sammy brought me in, we all agreed that the new flavor profile we had come up with was so incredible that we had to follow it through.
Sammy Hagar: That’s when we said, “Let’s put some professionals on it.” But the thing I want to stress is, it was organic. We became friends first. I mean, everyone goes – “Oh, you’re a genius to get a younger guy and a younger demographic with such a hot celebrity right now.” I’m going, “Fuck you. I did not think that way. This guy’s my buddy.” We became friends and did this out of love.
How exactly did you proceed?
Sammy Hagar: I got a hold of my Cabo Wabo team, which is Marco Monroy and Jack Daniels from Wilson Daniels, and we had El Viejito in Mexico. El Viejito was making our tequila. I don’t know if I should give this away, but they found a way to mix mezcal and tequila and have it be smooth as silk. It’s like chemistry.
How long did the tasting process last – and how many iterations of the blend did you go through?
Adam Levine: It was two and a half years of testing until we finally came to this premium blend.
Sammy Hagar: When we first started to mix the two, the process was really weird. You know, you do 10 percent of this, 20 percent of that, 30 and 40 percent… We shook it up and tasted it, and it was horrible. The taste profile didn’t work when you just tried to put the two together. I wouldn’t call it oil and water, but it wasn’t far from it.
Adam Levine: I wanted it to reflect the perfect balance between the two, and a lot of people went through a lot of tastings to make the balance right. I could never drink as much tequila or mezcal myself to get it there; Sammy would come to me only when he felt happy with a new mix.
Sammy Hagar: Finally, the master distiller said, “Well, let’s redistill it, instead of just trying to blend it and stir it up and drink it.” We had to put it together and distill it again, and then it became mezquila. That’s what they called it when they sent it to me. And it was so… I got goosebumps on my arms when I tasted it.[Laughs] We all did.
We went freakin’ crazy – “There it is!” Now it doesn’t taste like tequila, and it doesn’t taste like mezcal. It doesn’t taste like somebody just poured a shot of tequila and poured mezcal together. This tastes like something high-bred, a higher spirit. It’s brand new. It’s different and memorable. I challenge anyone to a blind test. You put our mezquila in a glass, and you put any other tequila or any other mezcal you want next to it. I will smell it and know what it is – I won’t even have to taste it. I will pick mezquila instantly, and you will, too, once you taste it a few times.
Are you saying it’s more of a sipping tequila than a shot? Is that how you would recommend to take it?
Sammy Hagar: I think every tequila’s a sipping tequila. But I like it with lime and salt, and I like it with chili salt, when you mix the dried smoked chilies and salt. It’s salty and hot. That’s the way I drink tequila anyway. I don’t use it to do a shot. Most people do shots either to get drunk fast or because it’s so nasty they just want to get it down. But this isn’t like that. This is like fine tequila or any kind of a fine spirit. It’s really savory. You’ll want to drink it and enjoy it.
Adam Levine: We definitely recommend sipping it straight to get the lingering, slightly sweet and smoky full body. But it’s also great on the rocks with a twist of lemon, and it holds up beautifully in a classic margarita.
Sammy Hagar: It makes a badass margarita.
How did the name come about?
Adam Levine: Well, Sammy’s dog and our unofficial mascot is named Santo. What’s better than that?
Sammy Hagar: Names are funny things. We always throw different names around. I mean, look, Cabo Wabo was a stupid name, but it was memorable.
Sammy Hagar: So, I’m sitting around with my man Marco, and he just said, “Santo,” as in “Saint Tequila.” I thought, “Wow, there you go.” I mean, saint anything is good. So, then I start going “Santo Sambo,” “Santo Sammy” – saint everything. If it’s great and you think it’s great, you put the “saint” – Santo – in front of it.
I just thought it was a great name. I came up with “mezquila” after Adam and I decided what we were going to do by blending it. So “Santo” came from Marco. It just sounded right.
What about the shape of the bottle?
Sammy Hagar: We designed our own bottle. In my warehouse, I’ve got 30 different bottles that I can show you. You’d laugh at some of them. It was like, “Hey, Adam, this one is kind of cool… ” He liked one, and I said, “No, Adam. That’s the one that the samples came in.” But he liked it – said it looks authentic. We were having that much fun with it.
Adam Levine: I have to say, the team did such an incredible job of research, and they knew the market and competitors so well. I had a lot of faith they’d create great branding.
Where do you see this going in the next few years?
Sammy Hagar: In the next year we want to come up with another skew. We want to age it. This is a blanco mezcal and blanco tequila. It’s re-distilled, so it’s really smooth and sweet. I’m not a big over-distilling guy – I like my tequila distilled two, maybe three times. But we’re going to age it and see what happens. It’s in barrels right now; it’s been in there about four months. We keep tasting it. It’s getting sweeter and it’s getting more color – that’s what wood does. The wood and smoke are really working for me.
We can’t make the mezquila fast enough. We’re making 1,000 cases, six-packs, a week. Every two weeks, we ship 2,000 cases to a different state. We’re in about seven states right now. Once the fans get wind of it, they just go buy it. They don’t fuck around. They buy a case of it. They say, “How many bottles you got in that store?” “We got four bottles.” “I’ll take all four. I’ll be right down.” That’s what I’ve been hearing from retailers around the country.
It’s in all of my bars, all of the Sammy’s Beachfront Grills and Cabo Wabos, and my restaurant here in Mill Valley called El Paseo. It’s a little hard to find, I must say. I wish we could make it faster and get it spread out more, but it’s handmade artisanal stuff, and it takes that extra process of going and getting the mezcal from a region and driving it in containers in a truck to Jalisco, to El Viejito. And then they’ve got to blend it, redistill it and bottle it. That’s a little extra link in the process.
I understand you two got tattoos of the logo.
Sammy Hagar: That’s right. I’m just so proud of this. I got a tattoo before we had our first bottle. When we had our logo, I went out and got the tattoo on my forearm. Adam’s going, “Man, I’ve got no room for another tattoo,” and I’m like, “Put it on your dick, man!” [Laughs]
Adam Levine: I don’t know yet how I’m going to work that one in. I’m still thinking about it.
I’m curious – do you guys have any common ground musically?
Adam Levine: Sammy and I are very different, but we also share a ton of common ground musically.
Sammy Hagar: Not the music we make, but when we talk about other people, we talk about Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, the Police – Sting’s voice. We have the same taste in other people’s music, and that was so apparent when I was the mentor on The Voice with him last season.
And we have the same cars! It’s so fucking crazy. He collects cars, and so I do. I go to see his car collection: “Oh, I’ve got one of those. I’ve got one of those. I’ve got one of those… “We’re going. “Holy shit. We’re brothers from a different mother!”
It sounds like this is a lasting friendship.
Adam Levine: Sammy is a true rarity in our world. Regardless of genre itself, I think there’s a lot of poisonous pitfalls in this business. Anyone who knows Sammy knows that he is the genuine article. And above all else, he has managed to find some true happiness in devoting himself to his family. And to me, that is the truest measure of a man.
Sammy Hagar: He’s a great partner. He’s such a soulful guy. That’s the last thing I’ll say about our friendship and our partnership. We are friends first and foremost. Just like Marco Monroy, my Mexican partner who’s been with me with Cabo from the beginning – Adam’s my friend. I love the guy. I love his wife, I love his little girl, Dusty Rose, and I’m just so happy that I met him because we hit it off so well. He gives me all the respect of an elder, and I give him all the respect of a young, high-energy guy at the top of his game.
He is so big. Look at this guy: He’s got one of the biggest TV shows ever, he’s in one of the biggest groups in the world, and now he’s got the hottest spirit brand on the planet. The guy’s on fire. He’s so talented, and it’s just an honor to work with a guy like that. He’s out kicking everybody’s ass, and I get to step back and say, “Go get ‘em, Adam!” It’s really a cool relationship.