Tequila is a Mexican spirit through and through, but its influence is felt far and wide. Case in point: Nosotros Tequila & Mezcal, which makes tequila and mezcal backed by the Costa Rican ethos of its founder, Carlos Soto.
Born and raised in Costa Rica, Soto started Nosotros after being inspired by a college business project in the mid 2010s. Today, the brand has a line of award-winning blanco and reposados, tequilas with first-of-its-kind aging in wet cider barrels, and a mezcal.
I caught up with Soto to learn more about what it means to bring a Costa Rican viewpoint to the world of agave spirits.
Cool Material: Why was tequila chosen as the theoretical new business launch for that college assignment?
Carlos Soto: While I grew up exposed to Rum (Costa Rica is more of a rum country and I’ve never been much of a beer drinker), when I moved to California I really gravitated towards agave spirits. Culturally speaking, Mexico’s culinary scene is very present in California. As such, it was easy to learn and drink tequila, mezcal, raicilla, and other expressions in Los Angeles.
We got the assignment on a Friday, and I ended up going to a bar with some friends that night. Sitting at the bar I ordered some tequila on the rocks, and for the first time I noticed how many people were coming up to the bar and ordering tequila. Whether it was through shots, margaritas, palomas, or rocks, it was being poured and that caught my attention. The next day I looked into the industry and saw that the numbers had been growing consistently for a few years, yet it seemed there were only 3 main players in people’s heads (Don Julio, Patron and Herradura). After that I also learned there were a lot of environmental issues in the industry and saw an opportunity to pitch a brand that would focus more on sustainability, and with a more youthful approach to the category. That’s how the ideation for Nosotros came to be. Bare in mind, this was 2015, before every celebrity and their mother had a tequila brand!
Costa Rica is famous for its sustainability, but what other ways does the Costa Rican ethos run through the brand?
Our internal motto for our company is “Drink less, drink better.” The main idea with this concept stems directly from the lifestyle that CR brings to the table. The “Pura Vida” phrase encompasses a simple yet filling understanding of life. One that roots in company, nature, friends, and family. This entire concept builds the brand essence and marketing world for our brand. We try to avoid big sparkles at nightclubs, but we focus on a nice drink at sunset with some friends. We won’t promote shot taking, but more so sipping and enjoying the process and flavors behind our expressions. Lastly, I’d say our company culture is pretty different from most booze companies. We encourage our team to take care of their well-being from a physical and emotional standpoint with fitness being a key component of this.
Similar to our blend of agaves of highland and lowland, we believe in the ying and the yang of life where you can have fun but you also have to take care of yourself. This all stems from my life in Costa Rica and what that place instilled in me before coming to the U.S.
Tequila has gotten crowded in recent years with all of its growth. How do you make sure Nosotros stands out?
The above mentioned components of our brand are very different from our industry. The average consumer, however, doesn’t see many of these aspects. Our key differentiator will always be flavor. It is the reason people keep coming back to our brand both in tequila and mezcal. The blend of agaves we employ in our tequila is very unique in our category, and it yields a very balanced taste profile combining fruity flavors from the highland agave and peppery, earthy undertones from the lowland agave. With mezcal, we did an ensemble* of agaves that gives us one of the tastiest mezcales I’ve ever tried. The tobala fruity funk is super prominent, as we use 40 percent tobala, while premium grade espadin brings in some of the more pine notes you expect from mezcal.
*An ensemble is not a blend, as the agaves are cooked together. If they are cooked separate, and then mixed it is considered a blend. We believe that with an ensemble we get better and more complex tasting notes by combining the agaves from the cooking process.
The tequila and mezcal world are very different–what was the original thinking behind getting into mezcal as well?
There is so much that happens in the mezcal world, as there are tons of varieties of maguey that can be used to make mezcal. It’s not only the “smoky cousin” of tequila, but a spirit that is so complex and rich that it takes you on a journey. Our partnership with Grupo Yuubaal has been great from the start, and we’ve been able to develop what I think is one of the best mezcales in the market. We’re currently working with them to create some other expressions and continue building on the growth that Mezcal has had as of recent. There’s just so many flavors to sip on.
Overall, we’re agave spirit enthusiasts. We’ve also been looking into raicilla recently!
Experimenting seems to be at the core of Nosotros with the wet cider barrel aging. How do you go about deciding new ways to play with the spirit starting with the blanco base?
Absolutely. It’s a key pillar to our brand. We’ve always asked how we can do things differently than what people usually do. That’s why we don’t have an exact science for this. It’s a lot of trial and error with things we are passionate about. If we feel something could create interesting taste profiles, we give it a go, even if no one has done it before. We’re working on securing some great new barrels to run a test again. This next one will be a little tribute to some Costa Rican connections too!