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Meet the brand: El Rayo

Meet the brand: El Rayo

A bottle of El Rayo tequilla on a table with a glass of tequilla and tonic next to it

One evening in 2017, childhood friends Tom Bishop and Jack Vereker opened a bottle of Añejo tequila brought back from travels to Mexico, and their lives were changed forever. The pair became obsessed with agave and quickly realised it had more to offer than the traditional spirit.

After a year of research in Jalisco, and inspired by the vibrant contemporary culture of modern Mexico that they experienced, they teamed up with Maestro Tequilero, Oscar Garcia, to develop El Rayo. In Summer 2019, the pair launched the brand. A contemporary, premium, 100% agave tequila distilled using a unique blend of highland and lowland agave.

We recently caught up with Tom and Jack to tell us the full story behind El Rayo and how they plan on taking the tequila market by storm. Without any further ado, let’s Meet the Brand.

TM: We’re all about championing brands we love here at The MALESTROM, why don’t you tell our readers a bit about El Rayo and how the business came about?

Well actually it all started in Peckham with a bottle of Siete Leguas Anejo brought back from Mexico by my brother. I’ll be honest, he gave it to me and I put it on the shelf. A few weeks later Jack and I came back one Thursday night and decided to give it a go.

We had never tasted tequila like that before and it lit a spark, from then we started drinking as much as we could get our hands on. The more we started understanding what brands were out there and the category landscape the more we felt slightly disillusioned as two new consumers to the category.

We didn’t feel that there was a brand we could truly engage with. You had two ends of the spectrum; the cheap end that relied on lots of intent and basically getting as drunk as possible as quickly as possible, then towards the more premium end the offering was aloof and exclusive and about sipping tequila in armchairs and you weren’t really sure if you were allowed to do it etc.

We wanted to create something that was going to invite people into the category, to be the tequila to get you drinking tequila.

El Rayo founders Tom Bishop and Jack Vereker stand in a walled courtyard holding agarve plants

TM: What does ‘El Rayo’ mean? How did you come to the decision on the name?

The name El Rayo means the lightning. It is a celebration of the origins of tequila. Mexican folklore tells of El Rayo striking the blue agave. The myth describes how a local campesino (farmer) witnessed this moment and followed the burning glow in the distance. The cooked agave plant was discovered; tequila was born.

I wish I could say it was the first thing we came up with but it wasn’t, we had a fairly bleak process to get to El Rayo – but it was worth the wait! It actually came from a book that Jack’s brother gave to him!

Lightning fits in with our brand world – we want to be a bold and exciting presence and it will be a key asset for the brand moving forward.

TM: What are some of the pitfalls you’ve faced along the way?

Ha ha how long have you got? Well, the week after we quit our jobs there was articles in most leading publications that the world was running out of margaritas due to the drastic shortage of agave in Mexico – not exactly a confidence filling start.

Other than that the logistical element of dealing with various Mexican suppliers and needing to understand the import/export process in Mexico was a slight challenge – all while speaking pretty minimal spanish.

Also, there is a huge amount of regulation surrounding tequila in Mexico which stems from the fact it is a DOP product. This is overseen by the CRT – which is a governing body that controls all elements of Tequila production.

There is a fairly lengthy process you need to go through to become registered as a tequila brand including getting relevant trademarks, having a contract with your distillery approved and having the label design signed off by them – which was all fun and games.

El Rayo founder stands hands at sides on an agarve farm

TM: What is your ethos? And how important is it to the brand?

Our ethos as a brand is to provide a different tequila experience that is more in line with what younger, contemporary, discerning consumers want. We want to bring good taste to tequila by championing modern Mexico and its allure as a culture full of vibrancy and colourful creativity.

Crucially we want the tequila occasion to be different and this is wrapped around the way tequila is served. Our key push as a brand is to make the Tequila & Tonic a thing – it’s crisp, refreshing and enhances the flavour of agave.

The opposite to lime/salt/shots. We want to make the tequila experience more sophisticated and show people that there is another way to drink tequila – the T&T.

TM: Tell us more about your products? 

We have two expressions of 100% agave premium tequila within our range of products, a Plata which is unaged and a Reposado which has been aged in American white oak whiskey barrels (ex Jack Daniels) for between 6-7 months.

We use a combination of agaves from the two different growing regions (highlands/lowlands) to create a truly unique flavour.

The agaves are cooked together in autoclave ovens for 12 hours at a temperature of 100-105c and are then left to rest. The cooked agave is then shredded using a tandem mechanical shredder which extracts the agave juices. These juices are then fermented for 72 hours in aerobic form.

The fermented juice is then twice distilled through copper stills for approximately 5 hours and at 90-95c each distillation. The final liquid comes out of the stills at 55 proof. Water is then added to bring the liquid down to 40 proof.

In terms of flavours – for the Plata think pepper and pineapple. The Reposado – silky like salted caramel.

El Rayo tequila on a table with a glass of tequilla and tonic next to it
Credit: Liam Simmons

TM: You’ve just launched, but do you have a favourite of the tequilas?

I mean the Siete Leguas Anejo that started the whole journey off has got to be up there! Outside of that there are many tequilas we admire. To name one would probably be Tequila Fortaleza, they have some fantastic products and are committed to a very traditional method of production which is admirable and in turn produces them fantastic liquid.

We are also big Mezcal fans, Tequila’s naughty little cousin. Pensador and Corte Vetusto are two outstanding examples of what a mezcal should be alongside some more quirky innovations such as Dangerous Don’s Café Mezcal (coffee infused mezcal) – strange but delicious.

TM: What does the future have in store? What are your aims?

To make people fall in love with tequila, just like we did.

We only got our first bottles in the UK last week so the next few months will be about establishing a distribution network in London, we have some listings lined up already so we will be working closely with them to build brand awareness.

We have just launched e-commerce through our own website so interacting directly with consumers through online platforms will be a key push for the brand moving forward and is at the heart of our strategy to bring tequila to a wider audience.

Oh – and serving tequila and tonics all summer long!

TM: What advice would you have for anyone thinking of starting their independent business?

Trust your own instincts. You will get a lot of information from a lot of different people who have all been successful but just because they were successful doing it their way doesn’t mean you won’t be successful doing it your own way. You need to take advice on board for sure but also forge your own path.

Another thing is don’t be too proud, accept when something isn’t working or has failed and rectify it. Everyone makes mistakes – it’s how you react and how quickly you react to them which is important.

Tom Bishop and Jack Vereker the brains behind El Rayo sit at a table with two bottles of tequila in front of them
Credit: Liam Simmons

TM: How important is it to engage with other like-minded brands?

Hugely important, particularly when you are in the early stages of activating your brand as the right partnerships give a clear indication to consumers of your brand positioning. You have to have an idea of who your consumer is and who they engage with outside of drinks. Collaborating with like minded brands will be a big part of what we do moving forward so watch this space!

TM: What’s your favourite independent brand? Who would you nominate for us to feature next?

I have a few friends who have set up their own thing in the last couple of years who I admire and have been a huge help to us, so they would probs be my favourites and they all have a very unique story to tell. Brands such as The Wardrobe Workshop, Dash Water, Monc and Nemo Travel to name a few.

TM: How can people track you down?

Online! Our products are now available to purchase through our own website so we will be doing a lot of work on social media to draw attention to that.

Outside of the online sphere, you can find us in some leading cocktail bars in London.

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