Another day, another celebrity tequila. Thanks to the success of George Clooney’s Casamigos, which he sold in 2017 to liquor giant Diageo at a billion-dollar valuation, it feels like every celebrity on earth has announced their own agave-based spirit. This week, it was Matthew McConaughey and his wife Camila Alves, who are calling their brand Pantalones Organic Tequila, referring to it as “the best thing we’ve made with our pants on.” Gross.
In the press release announcing his latest venture McConaughey acknowledges that the world does not need another celebrity tequila, but swears up and down that his bottle of booze is the one that will give the industry a “kick in the pants.” He joins the ranks of stars like Michael Jordan, Kendall Jenner, George Strait, and Eva Longoria, all of whom own at least some stake in a tequila brand. Even lesser stars, like Real Housewives of Salt Lake City’s Lisa Barlow, have a seat at the tequila table.
This is a trend that has notably infuriated agave spirit enthusiasts, some of whom say the celebrity tequila boom is making the entire industry worse. Most agree that Casamigos is not nearly as high-quality as its massive share of the market would indicate, and there are real concerns about the ways in which celebrities are crowding out the stories of the tequila producers of Mexico, who have been distilling this spirit in traditional ways for generations. To even qualify as tequila in the first place, the spirit in question has to be made in Jalisco, or in one of the municipalities in the states of Nayarit, Tamaulipas, Michoacán, and Guanajuato, where these spirit-making traditions are thriving using agave tequilana Weber azul, or blue agave from the area. Mostly, though, it’s evident that these celebrity tequila ventures are a bald cash grab — an opportunity to pass off an average (or, in some cases, objectively bad) product as a luxury just because a celebrity is involved.
Perhaps the most curious example of this phenomenon is Almave, the new, and allegedly first-of-its-kind, nonalcoholic tequila made in collaboration with famed Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton. In an Instagram post announcing the launch of the agave-based beverage, Hamilton describes Almave thusly: “[It’s] for people like myself, who are always pushing the limits of what’s possible, who enjoy the taste of tequila but are focused on balance, longevity, and living fully.”
Even with this explanation, it’s unclear who exactly nonalcoholic tequila really is for, but here’s the bigger question: What the hell even is “nonalcoholic tequila?” Is it just the fresh juice from an agave plant that’s bottled without fermentation? According to a press release, the nonalcoholic distilled spirit boasts notes of “blue agave, sweet caramel, and toasted wood,” and is made in Jalisco in a process akin to making tequila, except it skips the “fermentation process where the liquid becomes alcohol.” Maybe I’m a rube here, but isn’t that fermentation process the most important part of making tequila?
And whether we’re talking about traditional, high-proof tequila or the newfangled non-alcoholic version, I’m still left wondering why in the world I would trust Matthew McConaughey or Lewis Hamilton to help me choose a beverage. There’s nothing about driving a race car or starring in the one good season of True Detective (to date — I am pumped for Jodie Foster’s upcoming turn on the series) that would make me think I should listen to either of them about what I should drink, much less when it comes to a heritage spirit that has been painstakingly made for centuries.
The celebrity tequila moment feels like such an obvious, inevitable culmination of social media culture and the constant deluge of brand collaborations and insipid products flying at us from every single direction. But it’s also a total bummer, one that has very real consequences for the people who love making — and drinking — tequila.