Writer Shannon Severson // Photography by Nicky Hedayatzadeh
In the Spanish language, “corrido” is the term for a traditional Mexican ballad whose lyrics tell the tale of a historical event. More than just any song, it is one from the heart and connotes inspiration, memory and purpose.
Scottsdale residents Brian Raab and Tony Boyle are two friends from different worlds — restaurants and law enforcement, respectively — who made it their mission to purchase and revive Tequila Corrido, a tequila brand founded by their late friend Brad Hoover. The label on each bottle still bears his initials as a tribute to his life and his dream.
As a result of the pair’s tenacity and partnership with entrepreneurial investor and Sunstate Equipment founder Mike Watts, Tequila Corrido has gone from the edge of extinction to an Arizona-based brand with skyrocketing demand.
Raab, who serves as president of Tequila Corrido and is also one of the owners of The Mission, Fat Ox and Zinc Bistro, first met Hoover as the brand was just starting off.
“I was laying tile in my restaurant and Brad walked in,” Raab recalls. “He was carrying a flavor wheel and aroma kit created by Ana María [Romera Mena] who is now our master distiller. Brad told me about the tequila brand he was starting and how he had won double gold in the San Francisco Spirits Awards and that she was on the panel. He supported me and I supported him by buying his product. I thought so highly of him and fell in love with the tequila.”
Raab never anticipated being part of the brand, but a phone call from Hoover’s widow changed that.
“She told me there was an opportunity to buy it out of bankruptcy,” he says. “She said, ‘There’s no one who I would rather see have it than you.’ I thought we would buy it and sell it in the restaurants; and we did that, but we knew we were getting down to the last bottles. That’s when Tony walked in.”
Boyle, a retired police sergeant who now serves as Tequila Corrido’s chief operating officer, had a second career in environmental biotechnology that often took him to Guadalajara.
“I fell in love with Mexico, with tequila, with the culture and art of making these amazing drinks and spirits,” Boyle says. “When I had the opportunity to talk to Brian over quite a few shots, we decided to become partners.”
One of the first people they knew they needed to contact was Romera Mena. When they finally got in touch — using some of Boyle’s detective skills — they traveled to Mexico and reminded her of the brand and Hoover. She heard their pitch and told them she believed in what they were doing and how they were going to do it.
“We felt blessed to get to work with Ana María,” Raab says. “She told us stories about Brad that none of us had heard. The passion behind that relationship evolved into a formula for the tequilas.”
With her revolutionary expertise in the field, it was a huge achievement to secure her as their master distiller.
“We were so small,” Boyle says. “We visited five or six distilleries and made the decision that night in Guadalajara. We said, ‘If we’re going to get involved, we’re going to do it right. We’re going to make our own, proprietary tequila and formula with Ana María. Here we are five years later and we have our first anejo [aged tequila]. We describe it as a cycle of panic and euphoria. We started in 2018 with 72 cases of tequila. This year, we will produce 40,000 cases.”
Process and Patience
The success of Tequila Corrido is a testament to the careful development of ingredients and a unique, proprietary barreling process that Hoover pioneered in Maker’s Mark and Jack Daniels whiskey barrels. Without a celebrity name and in an extremely competitive market, authenticity must be the loudest voice. Boyle and Raab say the tequila is aged to taste, not time.
“We wanted to be true to the original idea, but it had been a decade since the original bottling,” Boyle says. “The terroir had changed, the agave –– everything was different. We couldn’t replicate it, but we could be true to the spirit and culture of tequila of Mexico and Ana María helped us achieve that.”
Fewer than 2% of tequilas are certified as additive-free, but that was something Boyle and Raab were adamant about. Everything, from the taste of the finished product to labels, corks the Mexican-made recycled bottles and distinctive leather cording around the top of each bottle that holds a distinctive Argentinean mother-of-pearl guitar pick was carefully scrutinized to perfection.
The taste profiles and processes can be described in a way similar to how a sommelier would talk about wine.
Tequila Corrido Blanco is described as “agave-forward,” made from single-estate grown Los Altos agave in the volcanic soil of Jalisco, which is a higher altitude area of Mexico. The tequila rests for 30 days in open stainless steel tanks before it is bottled. The flavor is described as having an initial taste of fruit and tea that is sweet and floral with a hint of pepper. It’s a sipping tequila best enjoyed at room temperature, but can also be used in cocktails.
The aged tequilas — reposado and añejo — are made with a barreling process that involves what Raab calls “a symphony of whiskey barrels;” Hungarian oak, Missouri oak and Minnesota oak.
The reposado, which the two say is especially appealing to Scotch aficionados, spends its time aging in three separate whiskey barrels for six months, then a percentage of each is bottled for six more months of aging. Of course, that time can vary since the tequila is truly ready when Romero Mena’s expert tastebuds say it is.
There is no blending in of other aged tequilas, as is common in the industry. The result is a pale gold spirit with the taste of vanilla, fruits and spices, a silky mouthfeel and the lingering flavors of sweet caramel and agave.
The 18-month aged añejo follows a similar process, but the finish is a nod to Hoover’s niece, who is a sommelier. The tequila’s final eight months is spent in merlot barrels from Santo Tomas — one of the oldest wineries in Mexico.
“The añejo has this burnt, brown sugar, almost crème brûlée flavor,” Raab says. “It’s not sweet by any stretch of the imagination. It has a nice viscosity with kind of a truffle quality. The wine barrel softens things differently than just using whisky barrels. It’s a really unique and complex way of aging.”
The Future, for a Song
As Boyle, Raab and Watts look to the future of Tequila Corrido, they’re riding a wave of success after being the official tequila at the Life is Beautiful Music and Art Festival in Las Vegas. It was a huge boost for Tequila Corrido and for tequila in general. Tequila actually outsold vodka at the festival for the first time ever.
“The festival producers loved the synergy between Corrido, the name, and the art and expression of the festival,” Boyle says. “We beat out some very large household names. It was so cool to see 400 bartenders at all the different bars wearing Tequila Corrido-branded t-shirts. It was a thrill to see the brand everywhere.”
Now the phone is ringing off the hook. Boyle says it’s rewarding and humbling to renew Hoover’s legacy and, at the same time, see where their hard work is taking them. The brand is sold on shelves in six states and can be shipped to 38 states from their website.
Raab says that the momentum is exciting.
“It’s been awesome to stay true to our roots and what our beliefs are for tequila,” he explains. “Not being a celebrity brand is tough, but it’s been awesome to see the support we’ve gotten from all of our friends and people who love the taste and our brand.”
Even as Tequila Corrido expands nationally, there’s an awareness and pride in being an Arizona company. Their families are rooted in the community; and with Watts being a legendary Arizona success story, he has served as a role model and mentor for Boyle and Raab.
Boyle says that the way Watts conducts and handles business and the culture that he fosters and expects has certainly rubbed off on them.
“There’s a tremendous philanthropic component to what we do with a lot of different local charities,” Boyle adds. “We donate for dinners and tastings and we support other groups like the Hundred Club and a recent auction we did for March of Dimes.”
As Tequila Corrido spreads its wings as an ultra-premium brand, Hoover’s dream has taken flight and soared even higher with the attention to detail of the ownership team today and the support of a community that enthusiastically supports local businesses.
“People who knew Brad and knew the brand prior are elated to see it come back,” Raab says. “He was a larger-than-life character who we all fell in love with. Now we are taking that inspiration and legacy and trying to move it down the road. The future is what is so exciting for us.”