Cazadores Straight Up

Mexicos best tequila woos American hearts, livers from Seal Beach

Whatever the boys in marketing say, however the numbers from the focus groups skew, eventually every alcohol maker settles on this: a group of women gyrating and preening for the higher cause of booze. For Tequila Cazadores, this moment came in May, when a caravan of chicascalled Las Chicas Cazadores arrived at Anaheim nightclub JC Fandango one Saturday night. The salsa band stopped, the dancers stepped to the side, and the Chicas—nine of the hottest women who don't spend their nights at Sutra—strutted onto the dance floor and began the sexiest line dance ever.

The performance was more titillating than sales-inducing, but Las Chicas Cazadores represent a maturation of sorts for their parent company, the fifth-highest-selling tequila brand in the world. In Mexico and amongst Mexicans in the United States, Cazadores is religion, as integral to their Mexican identity as the tricolor and illegal immigration.

But Cazadores remains virtually unknown to Americans, who prefer their Cabo Wabo and Jose Cuervo Silver to something actually palatable. Cazadores wants to change that—and that's how the best tequila on the planet based its U.S. operations in the third story of a brown building in Seal Beach.

Tony Pujala has worked at Cazadores for about a year, but he's still amazed at the passion people have for his company. Wherever he identifies himself as a Cazadores worker, Pujala says, people thank him for the tequila and retell their Cazadores conversion—and not all happened while they were plastered. "They immediately want to share their passions and stories," Pujala says in an honestly humbled tone. "How they found out about it at a family reunion. Or on a date. One time, a couple told me they visited the Cazadores distillery in Arandas for their honeymoon!"

To best appreciate the Cazadores-Seal Beach oxymoron—think what people would say if Jim Beam were distilled in Hemet—you must know the Cazadores story and each chapter's significance in Mexican society. The tequila label, founded in 1973, is distilled in Arandas, Jalisco, a city of about 70,000 that's the main city in Los Altos de Jalisco (The Highlands of Jalisco). This region of agave plant farms, red-earth deserts and stunning mountains is reputed to be the birthplace of mariachi and tequila; its claim to the prettiest and whitest women in Mexico isn't challenged by anyone.

Over the past three decades, though, Arandas and Jalisco bled its population to the United States. In Orange County alone, there are easily more than 1,000 arandenses,with the majority living in Anaheim and Santa Ana. With the influx of jaliscensesto Orange County and their demand for tequila, local Latino bars began stocking Cazadores—which distinguishes itself from other tequila labels with its brutal-but-sweet slow crawl down your throat—during the 1990s. It wasn't enough: around the same time, many people (okay, my cousins and I) would make Cazadores runs to Tijuana, smuggling them in hidden trunks and tires to evade customs.

Cazadores' owners in Arandas took notice, so in 1994 they struck a deal with Bacardi, USA to be their American distributor. Sales didn't really take off, however, until 1998, when Cazadores opened its Seal Beach import office to better plan how to effectively overtake American livers. Since then, Cazadores sales in the United States have doubled from 100,000 cases in 2001 to an estimated 200,000 last year.

In order to bolster its American name recognition, Pujala says, Cazadores just hired a PR firm for the first time ever. They've also contracted the aforementioned Chicas Cazadores, whom a press release generously describes as "Mexican cultural experts and performers." Cazadores has also recently introduced two new products to boost its marquee reputation in addition to its classical Cazadores Reposado brand: Cazadores Blanco, a slightly bitter libation better suited for cocktails, and the exceedingly smooth Cazadores Añejo, a smoky, woody thing that will make the afternoon melt away quickly. All three of these tequilas come to the United States direct from Cazadores' colonial-style distillery in Arandas.

One would think that a tequila label would want to place its American operations in a heavily Latino area such as Los Angeles or Miami or even Santa Ana, but Pujala is unfazed about his employer's location. "In all honesty, most people who drink Cazadores don't focus on where the importing office is," he says, perhaps the truest statement about liquor ever. "Our distributor has a significant presence in Seal Beach. Seal Beach is just outside of Los Angeles, so we have easy access to the ports and all the major American Latino markets. California is one of the largest markets for tequila outside Mexico. Our retailers and distributors understand. If we were in Nebraska, thatwould raise some eyebrows."

GARELLANO@OCWEEKLY.COM

 
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