Tequila used to bring back stomach-wrenching college memories for Bend native Andy Rose, co-founder and president of tequila-maker Luna Malvada, based in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“Tequila seems to be the one drink that people blame their erratic behavior on,” said Rose. “Do something crazy at a party, blame tequila.”
But when Michael Cardenas, co-founder of Luna Malvada, approached Rose in 2008 with the prospect of making tequila, they sealed the deal after one sip.
“I am intrigued with the different flavors,” said Cardenas. “I brought the tequila to Andy, and he was not a tequila drinker. He had those tequila experiences in college where you get sick, because it’s just such bad tequila.
“He tasted it and was so surprised. I said, ‘Dude, lets get started on it.”’
The accolades Luna Malvada’s premium tequila has received allowed the company to expand its distribution to bars and restaurants in Oregon, other states and a cruise line. It’s also led to a deal for a reality TV show that is scheduled to begin filming next month.
Rose graduated from Mountain View High School in 1983. He went on to attend Arizona State University, and started working as a bartender in Scottsdale. On a fluke, Rose invented a line of plant-care products and founded a company in 1997, called The Direct Root.
Cardenas, who grew agave on land he owns in Mexico, lived in Scottsdale and invested in Rose’s plant product business. The connection led them to start the tequila brand in 2011.
Many big-name tequilas, such as Jose Cuervo or Patròn, are very popular because they are well-known, according to Cardenas.
“Until you actually try it, you won’t know how good it is,” he said, referring to Luna Malvada’s tequilas. “I’d put our tequila up against anybody’s.”
Luna Malvada won bronze and gold medals for its plata and reposado tequilas at the 2011 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and the plata won first place at the 2011 Arizona Tequila Expo. It was also named Readers Choice Best Tequila on about.com in 2012.
The blue weber agave plant used in Luna Malvada comes from the dry forests in southwest Jalisco, Mexico. The agave is only harvested during the full moon, when the plant is supposed to be at its healthiest and full of vitality, setting Luna Malvada tequila apart, according to Rose.
“It’s part science, part myth, part legend and part mystery,” he said. “We figure, if they’ve been doing it that way for centuries, and it produces one of the world’s best tequilas, why mess with tradition?”
The tequila is now served in about 12 restaurants and bars in Central Oregon, including The Blacksmith Steakhouse, the five Hola! locations and Paulina Lake Lodge.
Nekol Smith, owner of The Blacksmith, was the first in Bend to sell Luna Malvada in house — at $9 per shot. Rose and a Luna Malvada representative went to the restaurant and helped develop a vanilla and orange margarita.
“It’s fresh oranges, vanilla and Luna Malvada reposado tequila. So good,” said Smith. “I went around after receiving the tequila and sampled three different tequilas to people sitting at our bar, seeing which one they would like the best. Nine times out of 10 it was almost always Luna Malvada.”
Currently, Luna Malvada makes plata, which sells in Oregon for $46.95 a bottle and received a 95-point rating, out of 100, from The Tasting Panel, a beverage industry publication. It also produces reposado, which costs $49.95 a bottle and received a 96-point rating.
The company plans on releasing several añejo tequilas, aged in oak barrels, this year.
The tequila market has substantially grown in the U.S. From 2002 to 2013, tequila imports increased 83 percent, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.
Luna Malvada originally started selling its tequila in Scottsdale, where Cardenas and Rose are based, with its distillery located in Jalisco, Mexico. The company gradually expanded to Oregon, and recently started selling in California, Nevada and Wyoming. The tequila will also be available on Princess Cruise lines starting in August.
“We don’t want to expand too quickly and outsell production and inventory, but obviously want to share our tequila with the world,” said Rose.
Rose is currently in the process of developing a reality show with Matt and Carlos Alvarez, producer and director for Coyote Point Productions.
The show will focus on Luna Malvada and the challenges a startup brand faces in the tequila industry. Rose and Cardenas will be featured in the show, as well as staff in Arizona and Mexico. Filming will begin next month, Rose said.
Rose has family and friends living in Bend, and he visits every few weeks to take his boat out on Paulina Lake. He’s also looking for a house in the area, which is why he focused on bringing his tequila to his hometown.
“I’m working on moving back there and want to be sure I can have good tequila when I’m there,” said Rose. “It is important for me to have the place that has my heart, have my baby, too.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0325