Under the leadership of Eduardo “Lalo” Gonzalez, the grandson of Don Julio, and seasoned tequila marketing professional David R. Carballido, LALO has taken the tequila lovers’ world by storm. The agaves are sourced from the highlands, an area with iron-rich red soil known for its fruity and minerally flavor profile. The agaves are cooked in a brick oven adding more earthiness, crushed with a roller mill, and fermented with champagne yeast (fancy!). It is distilled in a copper pot and bottled to a beautifully balanced, complex, unaged, and additive-free Blanco.
We sat down with the co-owners to learn more about the brand, its origins, events, and what to look forward to next from LALO Tequila.
2 Main Ingredients: Love and Passion for Agave
The Gonzalez family history is nothing minor in the tequila world. Lalo’s father started Don Julio, one of the most-sold tequila brands in history, to honor his father (Lalo’s grandfather).
I asked Lalo about his family’s dedication to the tequila industry and what inspired him to create a brand of his own.
To avoid diluting his story I’ve transcribed Lalo’s answers for you. There is no reason to shorten or summarize his responses… Every part of it is great:
Lalo: My grandfather started working as a janitor at a Tequila Distillery when he was seven. And then years later, when he turned 17, he bought his first distillery with a loan and started making some tequila in 1942.
Tequila was not developed at all, you know. It was not what is right now. So I feel really proud of my family and my grandfather for being one of the pioneers in creating what tequila is right now or starting to develop the category.
Fast forward to 1942, 11 years later, he created his first very first brand of tequila. But then in 1987, my father had kind of like this idea of changing the perception of the consumer. Back in the 1980s, tequila was a cheap, very, very cheap spirit. And people used to see tequila as just a spirit to get drunk and to do shots and to put into margaritas. If you don’t have enough money to pay for cognacs or whiskeys or expensive wines, well, there’s tequila, right? So my father at that time, he was like, I really think that tequila belongs where the expensive whiskeys are or expensive cognacs are.
At the 45th-anniversary dinner party of my grandfather’s tequila career – that was back in 1987 – my father came up with the idea of creating a special edition brand exclusively for this party and that tequila was Don Julio, which right now is a huge brand. (Note: While the party was in 1987, Don Julio Tequila wasn’t officially launched until two years later in 1989)
So I’ve been living and experiencing the world of not only tequila but premium tequila since I was born. And it was just natural for me. And, you never stop learning even in this industry. My father had this love and passion for storytelling and for building a brand representing Mexico, and then my grandfather had a love for the agave fields and a love for the people and the hands behind the product.
I think that when I decided to do LALO, it was important that these are the two main ingredients – the love and passion of agave from my grandfather and the passion of my father to create something special, disruptive, and to create a premium experience in tequila. We sold Don Julio in 2003, so Don Julio is no longer part of my family. But the reality is that my inspiration of why I’m here comes from this beautiful story of my grandfather and my father.
Of course, other lessons on business values were taught to Lalo at a young age by his father and grandfather too. I asked him what parts of the Don Julio he aimed to replicate in LALO:
LALO: Humility, love for the agave, be friends with the people that interact with your brand, and take care of the people that work on the brand.
For example, my grandfather had a program at the distillery with a small in-house school so that people that were working there could go to school at the same time. So they could have a degree as well.
I learned to always tell my story from my father. He would even tell the border crossing agents at the bridges when we would walk across that he was coming to the US for business, not because he was going for business, but as a chance to share his story and change someone’s mind on tequila. That’s something that stayed with me and any time I have the opportunity to tell this story, I will.
My father also told me that you have to be friends with the people who are in front of the consumer since they are selling for you. Like we have to take care of them.
“I will honor my family by honoring the agave.”
If you know LALO Tequila, you know the brand only makes Blanco tequila. They’ve been clear that they have no intention of expanding. This is super unique in this field and in comparison to other tequila brands, who quickly expand to selling one of every class.
So of course, I had to ask for more information on why they solely created Blanco…
LALO: I will honor my family by honoring the agave. That’s kind of the statement and the main purpose of the LALO brand. Right. How are we honoring the agave? By only doing a Blanco. That’s kind of like the approach of the brand. The tequila industry doesn’t need more noise, you know, like it just needs passion and purpose. There’s a lot of great brands that have aged expressions and barrel aging. Ex- whatever barrel aged expressions, but we are focused on Blanco and we will keep it that way. So that’s how we are different on the product side, but also on the experience side.
We want to showcase Mexico, we want to showcase traditional Mexico, our Mexico. We want to also showcase the beauty of Mexico, apart from tequila, like we can do great things. The Mexican architecture is beautiful, the Mexican food is delicious, Mexican destinations are amazing, and Mexican art is great and Mexican fashion is great. So with LALO, we want to open doors or like a portal of, of Mother Mexico.
Honoring Mexican culture shines through on the bottle design as well:
DAVID: We’re really grateful that we get a chance to show Mexico through LALO tequila. The blue and gold representing the Guadalajara flag colors for example or the elements on the bottle like the outline of the Church. The Church is the gathering spot of a town so that’s how we saw the bottle being in the middle of the table. Or on our social media, we get the best stylists and designers and locations and tag all of it so you can discover more. So that we are showcasing more from Mexico.
Unique marketing: A sip of celebration
David R. Carballido, LALO’s marketing guru and co-owner, worked in a PR agency at 17 years old doing database entry and answering the phone. He was the youngest person and fit the demographic of many of the company’s accounts. When his company began working on a tequila, David was used as a resource for marketing strategy because of his similarity in age to the target market (even though he hadn’t even tried tequila before).
He began to develop a lifestyle marketing campaign for Jose Cuervo Tradicional that focused on traditional aspects of Guadalajara. From there, he expanded to events, color design, and other consumer lifestyle strategy work for Don Julio 70 in Mexico City. It was then he was working on Don Julio 70, Maestro Dobel, and Cuervo that he reached out to his old friend Lalo to learn more about his family’s history, not knowing it was leading to creating their own brand.
Here is how the two recall it:
LALO: David and I have been friends since we were like 14, 15 years old. And he called me years later back in 2015, 2014. He calls me and he tells me like, Lalo, guess which company I work for? Don Julio and I want to talk to you to know more about your father and family. That’s how we started talking about tequila.
DAVID: We made this really great bond about it. I love how he was talking about his father and about the passion of his grandfather. He was telling me about his passion for tequila like me. I told my company, Don Julio, that they should look to invest in LALO and that it would be the young version of Don Julio. That it should be additive-free and only a Blanco. Don Julio said they already had a blanco. They said we should do it and I said, ‘’with what money?’ So we kept the idea in mind. So, Lalo and I being in our mid-20s started like a go-fund me style having friends and family pay for their bottles in advance. We were driving around all of Guadalajara delivering bottles.
LALO: Many friends, they were like, Okay, yeah, I love it. I would love to have it at my wedding or on this special occasion. David said, I want the experience [with LALO] to start as a celebration. Like, if you attach the experience as a celebration, then when you think about the brand, you will remember all these fun moments, you know? So that’s why we started showcasing the brand in private events, weddings, and dinners.
We were at a big wedding and it was our first big big event and that’s when I met Jim McDermott. He’s from Austin. He was like Lalo, like with your story, with the tequila, with the bottle, and with the experience. Like, guys, you have something really special here. Let’s just see if this will work in the market, but let’s keep it small, let’s keep it focused. And that’s why we launched online in the beginning.
What we’re really proud of is that the growth of LALOhas been very organic to be honest. Like we’re avoiding to do what many other brands are doing. All these billboard ads or like these huge marketing campaigns. I mean, we will have a marketing budget, but you know, I travel a lot. I tell my story, I try to give people like revelations. And then when people try it, they like it. So it’s kind of like the way we’re building these brands. I mean, so far, like people are really excited about it.”
They’ve expanded this grassroots, experiential marketing that really launched the brand into their current branding ventures as well.
DAVID: Like having Mexican heritage, there’s not much formality about it. So we’re like how do we bring that to the US? How do we keep the authenticity of [LALO] being a friends and family tequila? So the idea of that is like creating a mexican lunch or a mexican dinner, you know.
We bring everything to the dinner authentically from Mexico like the tablecloths and dishware. Someone will host it at their house and we ask them to just invite a group of like 30-50 influential friends and family. We don’t even want the guests to know it’s for a tequila brand.
And when I mean influential, I just mean influential in their space like a beverage manager at a bar or something. We had a fashion influencer with like 1 million followers who wanted dinner but their videos were all unboxing makeup. Like, that’s not real, you know. We want real people because we are real.
The people that come to these events, like, we want to become friends with them because that’s the way we have grown this brand with friends and family. We want them to know our story and live the experience.
The distillery is hopefully opening for tours and events this year  in Arandas as well where we hope to create the same kind of experience.
Playing a part in the process
The brand changed distilleries last year and a few decisions went into the move. LALO’s intentions were clear though: their team needed to be involved in all parts of the process to ensure quality meets their standards.
LALO: Tequila is a natural product. So, just like us, the tequila will be impacted (by a distillery change). The most important thing for me was harvesting and harvesting exclusively mature agaves from the Highlands.
When we first started sourcing, I was reintroduced to a guy from the highlands that used to sell to my grandfather a long time ago. I was a little kid when I first met him. I didn’t remember him at first but he was like, I can not only help you with the agave, but I can help you with the distillery. He was part owner of a distillery in the highlands and he said we could start out our production there.
But he said they had plans of building a new one. So as soon as the new one is done, we can move there. I was so confident about the brand and everything that I thought it was perfect because we will eventually need the increased capacity. So I said, Yes, this all sounds great, but I want to be involved in every part of the production process. Down to being involved in the cortes on the distillation. And, he said yes.
Like you probably already know about contract distilleries, but if you go to a contract distillery, they give you 5 or 10 different tequilas and you choose the one you like and that’s it. As a brand owner, you don’t get involved in everything in the process. So the way we did it, it was very different because I was really involved in what we wanted to achieve.
So, we started in this small distillery and as we started to grow and grow, he was building a larger distillery and we were helping bring profits to build a new distillery. I like that we were helping each other.
In April 2022, we moved to the new distillery. Almost everything is still the same like brick ovens, and open-air fermentation, but now we have 100% copper pot stills. It gives the tequila more minerality on the front, but the fruity flavor is still there. It’s still a balance of minerality and fruity floral that is unique. So we have more capacity and some other new tools like Tahona to experiment with.
We are also a socially responsible company and give to a non-profit in Arandas that provides physical, emotional, and nutrition therapy to people in Arandas. We support them with events and donate products to these events. Sometimes for events, especially events in the US, we ask people to directly pay the non-profit instead of paying us when we want to give back. This is one of the few nonprofits of this kind in Arandas.
LALO is currently available in AZ, CA, CO, FL, LA, MA, MT, NJ, NM, NY, OK, TX, UT, WY, ST. BARTS, and sold online at Cask & Barrel.
What are the next states for expansion? July 1 -WA, OH,MI, & OR.