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From Disney’s Jungle Cruise to the latest Netflix hit, Red Notice, it’s been a busy year at the movies for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. But the actor and entrepreneur has also found success with his other passion: tequila.
Launched last March (just at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic), Johnson’s Teremana Tequila brand has quickly become one of the most popular — and sought-after — celebrity spirits in the market. After launching with a Blanco and Reposado expression, the brand hits store shelves and online delivery sites this month with an Añejo.
The Rock’s Teremana Añejo arrives just in time for the holidays, as the latest offering from the premium, small-batch tequila maker. Produced in limited quantities using traditional production methods, the new expression features notes of vanilla and roasted agave, balanced with rich, warm oak, and a smooth finish. Roasted in brick ovens, distilled in copper pot stills and then aged in oak barrels for a minimum of one to two years, the finished product is a full-bodied tequila that’s at once sweet and complex. A finishing flourish: every bottle of Teremana Añejo is dipped by hand in black wax before being hand-packaged at the brand’s distillery in the small highland town of Jesus Maria, Jalisco.
After a challenging year in which both production and promotion was affected by quarantine, Johnson says he’s grateful to be able to release a third Teremana expression out into the marketplace (together with the brand’s co-owners Ken Austin, Jenna Fagnan and Dany Garcia). The new launch is also somewhat of a validation for the actor’s instincts, at least when it comes to making — and selling — tequila.
We spoke to Johnson about breaking into the crowded tequila market, the silver lining of launching during a pandemic, and why he thinks fans are so connected to him — and as a result, to the products he launches too.
What were your initial hopes and expectations when you first launched Teremana?
My hope was to make a tequila that people loved. My family and I have been consumers of tequila for many years and the hopes and expectations initially were just to make a tequila that people enjoyed. That was the bottom line; that was always my north star. I can speak confidently for our entire team that that’s what it really distilled down to – to create and deliver a tequila, that hopefully, fingers crossed, people would really love and enjoy.
Did you feel any pressure or push back as a celebrity getting into the crowded tequila space?
While this was my first foray into the spirits industry, I was well aware that it was an incredibly competitive market with a lot of tequila brands out there that people love and enjoy. Tequila has always been a big part of my family so there were brands out there that I did enjoy, and I still do, though not as much as Teremana. It was also really important to me to go into the spirits industry with my hat in hand, and to respectfully approach the entire process with reverence. To come with an attitude and energy knowing it was my first day on the job recognizing I had so much to learn.
What did you have to learn?
The truth is, I had a shit ton to learn, and I still do, as we roll on down the line. So, it would be to create a tequila that people love, go into the industry with respect and reverence. There is such a rich history and tradition culturally in tequila making. It was important to me to work with an incredibly respected and credentialed family in the world of tequila. I met with the Lopez family in Jesus Maria, Mexico and we asked them to be our partners and direct owners in Teremana. I planted my boots on the ground in Mexico to really understand the tequila making process 360 degrees as much as I could. I was a sponge and worked to absorb the entire industry.
Has the brand’s success surprised you? Or was this exactly what you had envisioned?
Has the brand success surprised me? Yes! To this degree, yes. We launched in March of 2020 when all of us around the world were shutting down and we were getting hit by Covid. I kept my expectations very managed as I was well aware based on the other businesses that I have been in, that when hard times hit people, consumers want what they are comfortable with. People want what they are familiar with and want what they love. And when hard times hit, there are not a lot of people who want to try new things. We were the new tequila in the market so again I was aware of that consumer behavior.
Was it exactly what I envisioned? It was much more than I envisioned.
You mentioned launching Teremana right when the pandemic hit – were there ever any plans to push back the launch or change anything about the launch plan?
Again, I kept my expectations very managed, and we actually pivoted in the beginning. What I mean by that is that we had a big campaign ready to go that felt great, it felt robust, but then in the 11th hour, I felt that it was important to pivot [away] from a campaign that felt like it had real production value or any kind of gloss to it. I didn’t want it to feel commercial in any way, and I just felt like at that time, that’s not what consumers and our world wanted.
So we rolled the dice and we shelved our marketing plans and I took my iPhone out and we at Teremana created something that was called Teremana Tuesday and every Tuesday I would encourage people, if they wanted to, [to] try a new tequila, try Teremana Tequila, and let’s break open a bottle together. I started to do Instagram live videos where I would eat my French toast cheat meals and break open a bottle of tequila and I’d have a toast with people. It became popular, it was nice and intimate, at a time when certainly I needed it and I know that there were a few people out there who needed it too. It was just an opportunity and an outlet to have a drink and talk about things and share what we felt were silver linings; trying to find things that we were grateful for during this time, when a pandemic was really rocking us and kickin’ our asses.
Was it exactly what I envisioned? It was much more than I envisioned.
How is the new Añejo expression different from the first release?
First of all, our Añejo is aged in American whiskey barrels. Teremana has a bespoke production process which creates a very unique delicious taste. We take our time with our tequila at Teremana; The Blanco, the Reposado and certainly our Añejo spends months and months aging.
Our Añejo is aged longer and we focus on a very clean and pure tequila. We let the aging and the entire process do all the work, resulting a great deliverable to the people. I’m really, really happy with the final taste of our Añejo. It’s oak-y, it’s smokey, it’s sexy and it’s delicious. I can’t wait for people who are reading this to try it.
How do you suggest drinking it?
On the rocks, on a rock, neat, chilled, in a glass of warm tea (which I do almost nightly), it’s up to you! I always tell people “Find your way with our tequila, there are no rules.” I just want people to enjoy ‘Mana however they want — I leave it always up to the people.
The fan response to Teremana has been incredibly passionate — why do you think people connect with the brand so much?
I think people are responding because of the taste. People are also responding because of the price point, and the price point was extremely important as we went into this and as we looked at the market, I would say 4-5 years ago, when we were putting this Teremana Tequila venture together. We looked at the white board and saw a white space;” I wanted to create the “Tequila of the People.”
What does “Tequila of the People” mean to you?
I had that term in mind early. What does that mean? Well to me, and to our Teremana team, it means that we have to create quality, we have to create amazing taste, we have to create something that the people can afford – all people, ALL people. And that’s what we did and that’s what people are responding to; the taste of Teremana, the price point of Teremana and finally the reason I believe that people are responding so favorably to Teremana is because of the personal connection and the story.
This is a brand that is incredibly personal to me. At the bottom, for example, of every bottle of Teremana is an embossed word, and that embossed word in the glass, it’s a little Easter egg: it says TiJaSi: T-i, J-a, S-i and that’s the first two letters of my three daughters’ first names – Tiana, Jasmine and Simone.
You’re a huge inspiration when it comes to fitness and working out – what are some misconceptions people have about drinking tequila and staying fit? Is it possible to do both?
That’s a great question. I always lead with the word “moderation;” we have to be smart, or as smart as we can be. It’s like the pot calling the kettle black with me sometimes over the years, saying “You gotta be smart” and meanwhile two bottles later… (laughs).I think moderation is important and we have to find that balance that is never easy: balance with life, balance with health and fitness, relationships, personal growth, etc. But when it comes to the additives of spirits, more specifically tequila, let’s be real, I love to train hard and work my fucking ass off and there are a lot of people out there around the world who feel the exact same way and who train their asses off and then enjoy their Teremana Tequila or they enjoy a glass of wine, they enjoy a beer or their favorite spirit.
When it comes to Teremana, I went to great lengths with my domestic Teremana team and my co-founders and our Teremana team down in Mexico to create a tequila that was ultra clean and paired with your fitness and health regimen very well. If you wanted to have a little cocktail throughout the week, it was not going to hamper or impede your fitness goals and your health goals.
Again, fitness, health and wellbeing, are all very important elements to me, so I did want to create a tequila where I knew what was in it. When you look across the board in the spirits industry there is no label on the back letting you know the calorie count, the carb count, the sugar count, whether it’s gluten-free and so on. I used to drink tequilas over the years and go, “There’s a shit ton of sugar in this tequila,” I can taste it and I can feel it in my body the next day, and I would be hungover a lot of times. I could tell how my body would absorb that kind of sugar, that amount of sugar.
So, the label was a very important element for us, to be the first ones to put a nutritional label on the back of every bottle of Teremana, because I wanted the consumer to know exactly what they were drinking and being completely open with them was really important. So let’s raise that glass of Teremana and then go crush it in the gym!
A lot of other celebs have launched their own tequila brands over the last few years – how does Teremana stand out in the crowded marketplace?
I am personally connected to this brand, and it means something to me. It wasn’t driven by money [though] there is a lot of money to be made in this category and in the spirits business if you do it right, that’s obvious. But it’s more than that [to me]. It means something to me and when I break open my bottle of Teremana and I’m doing a Teremana toast with millions of people, I’m doing it, and I created our Teremana Tequila for what I like to say, are “the good times, the not so good times, and everything in between,” and that’s what people are responding to.
That dance and that song has got to be fucking amazing or we ain’t dancing again.
You must know you’re highly influential though…
I always like to say that I have the ability and the influence to bring people to the dance, and I can get people to dance one song.
The reason I use that analogy is because I can connect people with something that I’m passionate about, and when you look holistically, you see that in my Teremana brand, my Zoa energy brand [and] our Project Rock brand which is our partnership with Under Armor. In everything that I do that I’m passionate about, I can get people to try it once.
But then, the quality, the design, the taste, the feel, the experience, that all has to be A+ for the consumer to come back to the dance and dance again. I’m aware that I have that connection and that influence with people, but after that man, that dance and that song has got to be fucking amazing, or we ain’t dancing again.