SaloonBox Behind The Scenes: Tanteo Tequila
We're going crazy over Tanteo jalapeño infused tequila, currently featured in our May SaloonBox. The taste blew us away....it tastes like good tequila and fresh jalapeños, including the spice you'd expect from jalapeños. Tanteo is growing fast and we're starting to see it in a lot more locations, so we had some questions for Tanteo CEO, Neil Grosscup. Like, how does Tanteo take a premium, handcrafted product and start producing it at a larger scale? And what kind of challenges is he currently facing? Read on....
When did Tanteo launch? Did you start the company? What was the inspiration behind Tanteo?
Tanteo sold its first bottle in November 2008 in New York City. I did not found the company, but was hired by Tanteo’s late founder Jonathan Rojewski in 2009. Originally hired as an Intern, I quickly rose up the ranks at the company, and started going down to make Tanteo in 2011. After Jonathan’s death I became the company’s CEO in 2014.
Tanteo’s inspiration comes from the craft cocktail scene. We saw a lot of bars making their own house-infused spicy tequilas, which were wildly inconsistent, due to variance in each pepper’s piquancy. Our inspiration was to make a spicy tequila down in Mexico so it would be easy for bartenders of all skill levels to make best in class spicy cocktails simply and consistently.
What was your background leading up to Tanteo?
My original life plan was to become a Catholic Priest. I was a Theology major in college and planned to enter the jesuits after graduation. My senior year of college I decided the priesthood was not for me and moved up to New York. I was always passionate about Hospitality, and just like a church can be hospitable to the local community, I thought running a bar could do the same. I worked in nightlife and ran a nightclub for my first professional job, though I eventually found my true calling in Tanteo.
Tanteo is handcrafted. Can you walk us through that process?
Our goal at Tanteo is to make the best spicy tequila in the world, and we do that by focusing on the details. It starts with the agaves we use. Our distillery is a cooperative of 90 different families of agave growers, which give us access to the sweetest agaves in their crops. Using extra ripe agaves allows us to get a very flavorful base tequila, without the impurities of over-extraction. From there we infuse overproof blanco tequila with fresh peppers from local farms, making macerates of various flavor and heat intensities. We blend these macerates together to make a consistent final product, and then bottle by hand to produce our final product.
When we tasted Tanteo, we loved the real jalapeño taste. How do you describe it when talking to people who haven’t tried it before? Are there any tips to home infusion enthusiasts out there that want to capture real flavors?
Tanteo’s balance of green pepper vegetal notes, fruit notes of the agave, minerality of our spring water, and piquency of the peppers is the product of a secret blending process of macerates of various heat intensities. Making Tanteo requires a lot of tasting and testing different batches. I would not recommend trying to infuse at home with any type of peppers.
Who are the people behind the production process?
It takes a village to make a bottle of Tanteo. Laura Begley Bloom at Forbes wrote a great article about the people of Juanacatlan Mexico that make Tanteo. We are a diverse hardworking team that works hard each day to produce the best spicy tequila in the world.
*Note: We highly recommend checking out the Forbes article. Very cool to hear how Tanteo is benefiting the local community where their tequila is produced.
What sets Tanteo apart from other tequilas on the market, aside from the Jalapeño?
We are solely focused on making the best spicy tequila in the world, which in turn makes the best spicy margaritas. While there are other great tequilas on the market, we give a special attention to the cocktail applications of our great tequilas.
How about the name? What does it mean?
The verb is Tantear which means to “test out” or “approximate”. There is a lot of testing out every time we make a new batch of tequila.
We hear you have a salt, too. Can you tell us more about that?
Given that most of our tequila is consumed in Margaritas. We started selling a Jalapeno Salt late last year as the perfect salt for your spicy margarita. It is a mixture of Mexican sea salt, dehydrated lime juice, crushed lime leaf, and powdered jalapeno. You can purchase at our website Tanteotequila.com, as well as find it at some of our top bars and restaurants across the US
As CEO, what are some of the biggest challenges you face?
Right now we are in the middle of an agave shortage so it is becoming more difficult to find extra ripe agaves that meet our high standards. Our brand is growing fast and I am spending more of time time focused on production to meet rising demand.
Have there been any moments that stand out as the most exciting for Tanteo?
We do a yearly trip for the company down to the distillery, and I love seeing new employees of the company go down for the first time - it is a magical place that is very different than what they expect.
What’s your vision for the brand?
We think the Spicy Margarita is the next great American cocktail, and nobody makes it better than we do. With the continued popularity of this drink - we see Tanteo as a staple at restaurant and home bars across the country. If we can achieve that, We can continue to be a great company to work for, and a great member of the larger community.
And, finally, what’s your favorite way to drink Tanteo?
Tanteo Jalapeno on the rocks with no garnish.