Business Entrepreneur

Tequila Tromba CEO, Eric Brass on Brand Authenticity and Solving the Tequila Problem

Named for the intense rainstorms of the rugged Jalisco highlands, we’d be selling Tequila Tromba way, way short to simply label the Canadian premium spirits brand one of the fastest growing (and successful) craft tequilas in North America, then just leave it at that.

For starters, you wouldn’t get to hear the prologue: How CEO Eric Brass and his fellow Tequila Tromba co-founders, James Sherry and Nick Reid, met in Guadalajara back in 2005. And how, between sips of tequila, they suddenly made a pact to no longer live conventional lives or work typical jobs. 

The plan instead? To drop their 9-to-5’s and set out to satisfy the tequila market with a new product that was moderately priced, yet decidedly extraordinary.

You’d also miss the part where, despite being short of money and long on naysayers, these three amigos endeavoured to travel from bar to bar to build the groundswell for their tequila; a tequila they were claiming had turned blue agave into bottled brilliance.

Being stocked throughout Ontario and maybe even one day across Canada was once nothing more than a pipe dream for Brass — a pipe dream that seems like fortune-telling now, considering Tromba is currently sold nationwide and in all significant metropolitan areas, not to mention a few major American cities.

But do you want to hear it from us? Or, do you want to hear it from Eric Brass himself?  — Here he talks the tequila stigma, what partnering with the original master distiller of Don Julio meant, and how to separate from competitors.

You’ve said one of your biggest challenges in first entering the tequila market was overcoming the large stigma for the spirit that people had. How have you and Tequila Tromba gone about conquering it?

My first experience with tequila likely resembles many other stories out there. The tequila arrives in a shot glass, with some limes and salt on the side. You knock it back as quickly as you can, then chase it to get rid of the bad taste in your mouth. The next day, it’s a pounding headache from the hangover.

That memory faded when I was in Mexico and I fell in love with tequila for the first time. I realized it wasn’t that terrible shot, at that horrible bar, at that seedy hour of the night. Rather, tequila was a fantastic spirit that could be sipped and savoured.

Upon returning to Canada, I quickly took notice of a gap in the market. There was nothing in the market that resonated with me or my demographic, and certainly nothing at an accessible price point with great Mexican pedigree behind it. Now, I don’t possess a Mexican pedigree, but as luck would have it, a friend of mine on the exchange was the son of Marco Cedano — the original master distiller of Don Julio. He not only became our master distiller, but is now a fellow owner and partner. The rest is history.

Just how critical was partnering with someone like Mr. Cedano?

Once in a lifetime, if you’re lucky, moments come around that shape the future. For me, meeting Marco was a pivotal moment in my life and career, and ultimately became the day Tromba was truly founded. It only took a few moments of listening to him speak and feeling the passion he had for his craft to know that my life was going to go in a very different direction. I’m not sure if he truly knows the impact that those first few encounters had in shaping the future for Tromba and shaping me.

Marco once told me that his name has been nearly erased from the previous big tequila brand he worked for. With a tear in his eye, he said, “there is no still named after me and no recognition of me in the company’s history, so this is my chance as much as it’s yours.” From that point on, I knew I had a great partner to build this company with.

As long as we’re still discussing Mr. Cedano, if you had to identify any one element of his production process that makes Tequila Tromba particularly singular, what would it be — and why?

Marco is one of the best in the world of tequila. Not only has he created a legacy as an original distiller of Don Julio, but he is also proudly an owner and partner of Tromba, which is rare to find in this industry. This means he’s not only making the product as a contractor, but for himself and his family legacy.

His son, Rodrigo, was effectively born on the agave fields and has been in the world of tequila all his life. Together, Marco and Rodrigo produce every batch of Tromba that we sell and bring a balance to the way we produce tequila. Marco is the old hand that says it has always been done this way, and Rodrigo is the new hand that says so what, why can’t we make changes to always improve. It’s a wonderful marriage traditional and modern craft which makes Tromba special.

Let’s chalk it up to a marriage of authenticity and pedigree, then.

Authenticity, especially. We embody our values and we live by them. From the techniques we use to craft our tequila, to our brand storytelling authenticity, this is what lives at the core of our brand. We started with a backpack and a few bottles of tequila, making deep connections with our customers by going door-to-door and hearing about what they really wanted in a tequila. We continue to do this today, investing our time and resources into the people who helped build our foundation.

What must a brand like Tequila Tromba do to establish itself from its competitors? Especially a new brand in such a crowded, competitive field?

Organic, strategic partnerships. We may not have the marketing budgets of the major leagues, but we know how to find and curate opportunities that are strategic and mutually beneficial. When your brand is organic and authentic, there’s a lot of synergies and promotions that don’t require large sums of financial investments. Rather, they are built on brand affinity, mutual benefit and long-term thinking.

A recent example is our partnership with American Express. We are currently working together on a limited offer at Toronto Pearson International Airport that will highlight our Artist Series Tequila. The bottle features a custom print designed by artist Daniel Mazzone and is a special blend of mix Blanco. It’s a unique campaign that we are thrilled to be introducing in the coming months.

That makes sense. It also raises a fair point that, for all Tequila Tromba has going for it, one thing it still arguably lacks is heritage. How do you compensate?

What’s interesting about Tromba is that the story is not a grandfather handing down to a father who hands down to a son, but rather a father and son building their legacy together. Marco has spent his whole life working for other people, and Tromba has allowed him to work for himself.

Our legacy ultimately is being a leader in the premium category, and having built it from the ground up. We plan to continue to be accessible to the drinker and progress the business with the same values we started with 10 years ago.