Chairman & Founder of Frontier Spirits, Pura Vida Tequila and Luckenbach Road Whiskey Distillery
Stewart Skloss was familiar with tequila from an early age thanks to growing up in Texas. Yet, the big Texan didn’t really know tequila until a fateful trip south of the border where he discovered just what good tequila is supposed to taste like. While studying in Guadalajara, Skloss got to know the finer points of tequila even more, and in 2009, launched Pura Vida Tequila to turn the world onto well-crafted tequila rather than the concoction made by the big boys of the beverage industry.
The small batch tequila brand has become a popular choice for drinkers since its inception. Thanks to producing delicious, finely aged tequila from well-sourced agave plants, Pura Vida crafts its drink in ways that the big brands do not. Although a small craft company, Pura Vida focuses its attention on making the best tequila possible for drinkers rather than focusing on the bottom dollar like so many other brands.
Now, with a new company — Luckenbach Road Whiskey Distillery — to run alongside Pura Vida, Skloss aims to educate and satisfy drinkers of both whiskey and tequila. Skloss sat down to speak with Totalprestige Magazine about the finer points of tequila, his career, and building the brand.
Stewart, Pura Vida can date its history back to 1923, but you successfully founded the brand in 2009. What led to the creation of Pura Vida?
As a world traveler, I’ve learned to appreciate many of the finer things from exotic lands all across the globe, but while I was studying in Guadalajara, Mexico, I was introduced to the subtle nuances of tequila. Of course, growing up in Austin, Texas, I was all too familiar with tequila in general, but it wasn’t until I actually lived in Mexico for a meaningful period that I developed a true appreciation for the complexities and depth only the finest blue agave tequila can provide.
One fateful day, my friend Alfred and I travelled to the town of Tequila for a sampling at one of the local distilleries. Well, one thing led to another, and another, and before we knew it, we traded Alfred’s Volkswagen for two donkeys, and what started as a simple tasting turned into a two-day fiesta sampling the best tequilas the heart of Mexico had to offer. So began my quest for “El Primero”, my dream to build a single brand that could capture the spirit and flavor of the finest tequilas known to man.
What drew you to tequila and why is it a liquor that so many celebrities gravitate towards?
As you know, I grew up in Texas, and spent many weekends south of the border, where I fell in love with the tradition of sampling tequila at an early age. It was no accident that I went to study in Guadalajara, I guess you could say my fate with tequila was sealed at an early age.
I suppose fine tequila attracts celebrities for the same reason it appeals to so many other discriminating palates. The sophisticated flavor profiles of the finest tequilas speak to some people more than others. I’ve spent decades enjoying the finer things in life, and eventually you tend to get a little numb to anything less than extraordinary. For celebrities, and those who can afford to enjoy the best of what the world has to offer, it’s no different. You yearn for something special to remind you how good life can be.
Looking back to those early days of the company, what challenges did you face in the liquor industry in the beginning?
You name it, we faced it, and then some. All the challenges any batch craft spirit faces, we had as well, but add the fact our product has to be grown and cultivated in a very specific part of Mexico, so you can imagine how difficult it can be. When we weren’t navigating U.S. and Texas liquor laws, we were trying not to piss off the Mexican drug cartels! But in my mind, some of the greatest challenges the tequila industry faces are yet to come, as 1,500 brands fight for the precious few perfect blue agave plants available. Fortunately, Pura Vida Tequila has a few aces in the hole that guarantee us a long and prosperous future producing the best damn tequila you ever tasted.
The world is currently engulfed in the Covid-19 pandemic. What is the situation like for both Pura Vida and Frontier Spirits? Do the companies face the same hardships as other liquor brands in the marketplace or as a small batch brand are the issues different?
Well it’s always been more challenging to navigate the world of food and beverage for craft brands versus the big boys, and in tough times, people reach for value over quality across all industries, and liquor is no exception. We may not have the resources of the massive brands, but what we lack in size we make up for in quality. The big brands are all about the bottom dollar, no matter what the advertising says, it’s just a fact of life. We have the luxury of focusing almost exclusively on our flavor profiles and our consumers, that’s what people who love Pura Vida Tequila expect and that’s what we deliver. It’s what sets us apart in a heavily competitive field.
One of the unique aspects of the Pura Vida website is the cocktail menu allowing tequila fans to mix some unique drinks. Were these personal cocktail recipes you have come to love? What is your favorite way to enjoy tequila?
One of the most interesting things about developing tequila in the United States has been educating consumers on the many different ways you can enjoy this marvelous creation. Fine tequila is typically offered in three basic expressions: Silver or Plata, which is very young and almost clear, making it perfect for mixing with cocktails. Gold or Reposado, which is rested and aged, giving it an amber color and considerably more flavor, so it can be enjoyed in your favorite cocktail, or simply served neat. And finally, Aged or Añejo, which is fully rested and aged longer, which gives it the darker color and even richer flavorings. This is usually sipped neat. Many newcomers to tequila think throw in a margarita and that’s all there is to it, but we’ve spent many years developing a variety of exciting and refreshing recipes for tequila that if you’ve never tried, will definitely make a believer out of you.
My personal favorite is a little thing we like to call “Ranch Water” back in Texas. It’s as simple as it is delicious, and extremely low on calories, which I especially appreciate since I traded my “six-pack” in for a pony keg long ago! Basically, you mix three-parts Pura Vida Tequila with one-part Topo Chico (sparkling mineral water), squeeze in a fresh lemon wedge and a fresh lime wedge, stir and enjoy. Some like to add a splash of Agave syrup, but I like it straight.
In June, Pura Vida launched a new website with “Shop N Go options”. Can you tell us about the new features and how customers can benefit from them?
We wanted our customers to have many different ways to buy our tequila. We especially wanted to increase the ease of getting our tequila delivered to your home during this time where people are staying in and stocking up. For that reason, we partnered with the ReserveBar platform, which ships alcohol directly to your front door. We also have same-day delivery options, through revolutionary apps like Instacart and Drizly. In addition to home delivery, we implemented a map that lets you type in your zip code and will show you all the closest liquor stores and bars/restaurants that carry our Tequila.
Stewart, in your opinion, who are the typical drinkers of Pura Vida tequila?
Well, there’s nothing “Typical” about those who drink Pura Vida Tequila, but if there’s a defining characteristic it’s probably a love of the extraordinary. For those who love to live life as if every day was your last. Not unlike the people who enjoy Totalprestige, Pura Vida drinkers have a certain sophistication and worldliness to them. They understand the value of quality and they have a certain lust for life. The name “Pura Vida” roughly translates into Pure Life, or the Good Life, and for people who quest for the most they can get from this life, Pura Vida is a natural choice.
You also were the driving force behind Frontier Spirits, which integrates Luckenbach Road Whiskey Distillery. What influenced your work in the whiskey realm?
There’s an old saying that goes, “Tequila drinkers are whiskey drinkers, they just don’t know it yet. And vice versa!” Both spirits evolved from craftsmen aging their creations in charred oak casks. Both spirits have devout followings. And both spirits defy the conventions of normal spirits drinkers. I guess you could say, they’re like brothers from another mother, and they refuse to be anything other than exceptional, which I can appreciate. I think our loyal consumers do, too.
As a seventh generation Texan, I’ve got whiskey and tequila in my veins. My great, great, great grandfather made whiskey himself, and I’ve taken the best of that family recipe and poured it into the Luckenbach Road Whiskey Distillery for those who appreciate the finer things. I guess you could say spirits are in my blood, and after more than a decade of making the finest tequila on Earth, I’ve rekindled the family fire for Texas whiskey.
After 10 years of being in business, how do you foresee Pura Vida growing further in the years to come?
My vision for Pura Vida Tequila has always been to offer discriminating consumers the best damn tequila they’ve ever tasted. At first, it was on a small scale, then we grew up and began to make believers out of tequila aficionados all over the world. Now, I’d like to reach out and open the minds of those discriminating palates who don’t yet know how good tequila can be. Every time I introduce someone who thought they didn’t like tequila to one of my expressions, it’s a point of pride for me. I love to open people’s eyes to the good life, the pure life, Pura Vida!
Stewart, what is a day in your life like?
As my father always said, if you want to soar with the eagles, you gotta rise with the chickens. Even when we’re traveling the country in the Pura Vida Tequila tour bus as a family, I try to get in 45 minutes of exercise, shower and dress in time to greet our daughter as she wakes to start her day. Once I get my family hugs and kisses in to last me through the day, it’s off to a 7AM breakfast with business associates, customers or team members at one of the local eateries that supports our brand. Whether I’m cold calling an account to keep my fingers on the pulse of our distribution network, or navigating the myriad of daily tasks that come with managing a batch craft brand, every day brings something new, never a dull moment. With a beautiful wife and baby at home, and another on the way, I try to leave the office by the time the sun goes down. I can’t tell you how much it means to me to see their smiling faces every evening when I get home.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
Well, I didn’t meet the right lady till a little bit later in life than most and we still plan to have five children, which will most likely put me close to 60 when the last one joins us, but nothing will bring us more pleasure than the big happy family we both always knew we’d have.
What makes you smile?
Easy, my wife and daughter, nothing in the world is as good as waking up to their smiles each morning, perfect way to start and end my day.
What scares you?
Bad tequila or bad whiskey for that matter! Those two things scare the hell out of me.
If you had the power to change just one thing in the world what would it be?
I’d probably drop the world temperature about 10 degrees across the board. At 6’4” and 250lbs, I much prefer a cool autumn breeze over a hot summer day.
Stewart, is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?
Just that it’s been a pleasure to do this interview with you, and I’d be surprised if your readers, viewers, and friends don’t share the same sense of appreciation that I, and the many devoted fans of Pura Vida Tequila, have for enjoying the good life, the pure life! Pura Vida, mi amigo, Pura Vida!