We met at the Avion Embassy, a townhouse in Midtown Manhattan where Young Jeezy had just thrown his Super Bowl Party.
Ken Austin, Marquis Jet CEO and founder of the tequila that’s about to change the way you drink — Avion — played host along with Avion President Jenna Fagnan.
It was time to taste.
Let me preface this by saying I am not a tequila drinker. I drink gin. That gin is served up and with a twist. But after tasting Avion, I know it isn’t your normal Spring Break-lime-and-salt-Cinco-de-Mayo tequila. You want to taste it. When you taste it, you enjoy it. You do not make the — “oh-my-God-I’m-too-old-for-this-crap-face.”
I don’t know how else to describe it.
Besides, who can resist an invitation from a smiley CEO who decided to chase his dream of making tequila after getting Warren Buffett’s blessing over a game of poker in Vegas?
It was at an execs-only kind of bash, and “the only guy in the room without a bodyguard was Buffett. He was just wearing a Hawaiian shirt and smiling,” said Austin.
Buffett bought Marquis jet in 2010, so the two men had worked together closely. Austin told Buffett there was no number two tequila in the world, and Buffett agreed that that was an opportunity. The next day Austin was calling distilleries in Mexico. The day after that he was on a plane to Mexico.
Eventually, Austin found a spot where he would make the tequila he had dreamed of at a high altitude where the roots of the agave plant (that’s what tequila is made of) would have to work to go deep into the ground and survive. It makes for a lighter flavour, he says.
You’ll understand that when you try Avion, a liquor on which no expense has been spared. For example, the “heads and tails” (top and bottom) of the agave are cut off before the plant is turned into liquor. That’s part of what takes away the “I-need-to-squint-my-eyes” feeling you get after drinking most tequila.
But of course, that means there’s less tequila.
“Our yield sucks, but I’m good with that,” says Austin. For the record it’s hard to believe the New York native wouldn’t be good with just about anything these days. He’s rocking the established, but relaxed executive look — think suede driving loafers and cashmere sweaters.
Not that Avion is a play-project for Austin. He has real investors like AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, YouTube founder and CEO Chad Hurley, and Coach CEO Lew Frankfort. Businessmen like that want real returns.
So Austin put together a really fierce team, helmed by Avion President Jenna Fagnan. When Austin came knocking, she was making her way to the top of French luxury brand LVMH where she worked as a VP-marketing and sales for LVMH’s TAG Heuer.
“This was the greatest coup ever,” Fagnan said of Austin’s approach.
At first, after discussing the project over lunch, Fagnan planned to simply live vicariously through Austin and stay at LVMH.
Then one day Austin invited Fagnan to Marquis’s office where he had about 30 shots of tequila lined up. It was time to taste.
About a third of the way through Fagnan got the picture.
“I thought, holy cow, this is going to be the next big lifestyle brand,” says Fagnan, a frank-talking brunette who grew up in an Alaskan fishing village.
With that, she quit her job and joined the team.
Together, Fagnan and Austin have created 4 different Avion tequilas — a Silver, a Reposado (aged for 6 months in Jack Daniel’s casks), an Anejo (aged for two years), and the Reserva 44 (aged for 44 months and then put in a crystal bottle signed by Austin himself).
Yup, every bottle is signed.
“Are you going to complain about it again,” Fagnan asked.
“It sucks,” Austin said with a smile that clearly said ‘yes, but I love it.’
Pernod Ricard, the French liquor giant, loves it too. The company signed its first ever joint venture deal in order to distribute Avion.
Austin says it’s like being the little guy trash talking at a bar while his huge friends stand waiting behind him, daring anyone to take a swing.
Seems like a solid way to take over the world, especially when you can back it up with taste.