April 2008

Case History

By: Meridith May
Ed Brown is on top of the world. The Patrón Spirits Company has expanded outside of the tequila category.
 
Patrón embodies a peerless ultra-premium position, setting new sales records every year.
 
They say everyone answers to someone. But in its top-flight status as the world’s No.1-selling ultra-premium tequila brand, Patrón—a word that ironically translates as good boss in Spanish—has no superior.

Outselling its nearest competitor eight-to-one in the U.S. alone, the brand is as iconic as it gets in this business. Recognizable in its elegant, soft-shouldered bottle, or standing out on shelves in one of its neatly packaged, ultra-bright green, mango-gold or orange gift boxes, Patrón is unarguably the most requested tequila when it comes to the high-end call. Consumer loyalty persistently keeps the liquid flowing.
 
“Six years ago, we sold 100,000 cases,” Ed Brown, President and CEO of The Patrón Spirits Company, tells THE TASTING PANEL. Brown, a former Seagram’s executive, is the driving creative force behind the brand and its growing portfolio.

In 2007 the sales figures surged to 1.6 million cases, and this year Brown expects another milestone: the two-million case mark. “We’ve transcended every category,” Brown smiles, his excitement understated. It’s not that he is subdued, but in his warm, friendly manner he projects a genuineness, far from over -the -top. For a moment, I put myself in his place and try to imagine playing chess with winning brands, dreaming up new ideas for the legend that electrified the premium tequila category like a lightning bolt. And what a desirable position that is; no other brand has come close to catching up with Patrón.
 
Ed Brown works from a corner office in his super-sized Las Vegas warehouse several miles from the Vegas Strip. Framed John Elway jerseys dominate one wall, along with other sports paraphernalia, including Indy racing photos and knickknacks.

“What’s it like to be you?” I ask, not masking my curiosity about his unprecedented success in an industry where a new tequila brand lands on my desk every week.

“Well, it’s busy,” he laughs and I have to join in, the understatement an effective opening to a story that dates back to 1989 . . .
 
Shot in the Dark

“When I tell people I’m in the tequila business, they reminisce with me about their college days,” Brown notes. “To them, tequila existed as a shooter, a quick way to get drunk, and sadly, a memorable time of becoming ill the next day due to the effects of the additives in the less-than-quality spirit.”

Nineteen years ago, entrepreneur Martin Crowley and John Paul DeJoria, co-founder of hair-care empire Paul Mitchell Systems, were drinking a “not-so-great” tequila. “We could come out with something better than this,” Crowley insisted.

Crowley began his journey. In 1989. Crowley—who sadly passed away in 2003—was in the home construction business and had some dealings in Mexico, searching for rock and other building materials. While in Jalisco, he sampled various tequilas while visiting distilleries and happed upon a tequila he truly loved.

Ed Brown relates the story. “He came home and immediately got in touch with John Paul. Martin came up with the name Patrón, the look and shape of the bottle and the color schemes. The two went into business and decided to produce a thousand cases. That was a lot, but John Paul had a great attitude about it. He knew if it didn’t take off, they’d have gifts for Christmas, birthdays, Hanukkah, whatever, for the rest of their lives.”

When the largest distributor in the U.S., Southern Wine & Spirits, signed the first order, they were on their way.
Endorsement for Patrón also comes in the form of celebrity mentions on TV shows, in movies and in song lyrics. Clint Eastwood was the first to use it, in Patrón’s first year, in his feature film Line of Fire. “We’ve never paid for any product placement or testimonial since,” Brown points out.
 
Leader of the Pack
Unwittingly starting a trend that would change the tequila —and spirits branding—game forever, initial Patrón’s success was built on the Silver. And like all of the Patrón family to come, the tequila was made from 100% blue Weber agave. “In Mexico, tastes tend towards the reposado and añejo profiles. We decided, for the American palate, to bring in Patrón Silver first,” explains Brown.

 The light, clean taste of silver tequila was a great introduction and established a natural flow towards the introduction of the additional expressions. Consumer education about tequila grew in parallel with the Patrón brand, reinforcing its position in the market.

“We soon followed the Silver with the Reposado and Añejo, and many years down the road, we stepped up the process.” Brown leads me to the custom-built bar outside his office, a showcase for the portfolio. He points to a bottle of Patrón. “Patrón is double-distilled. We do not cut corners on its production. Our master distiller, our new factory in Jalisco—it’s all a meticulous process.”

Patrón Silver’s initial success would be the inspiration for Ed Brown’s next brilliant stroke—developing the most luxurious silver sipping tequila to date:  Gran Patrón Platinum, a triple-distilled, hand-selected high-end silver tequila housed in a lead-free crystal decanter.

The bottle of Gran Patrón Platinum stands tall, a handsome jewel of lead-free glass with whisper white-silver lettering. “Here, we pick the cream-of-the-crop agave, triple-distill the silver tequila  and lay part of the batch on wood. That’s unusual for a silver, but we leave it there with a short amount of time, just enough to mellow the flavor [and texture]. We blend it back to the batch and it makes the smoothest sipping tequila in the world.”

Brown entered Patrón in the ring of super-deluxe extra-añejo with Gran Patrón Burdeos, a $500 triple-distilled tequila made from the Platinum expression, matured in a combination of American and French oak barrels for a minimum of 12 months. The aged tequila is racked in vintage Bordeaux barrels, a time-consuming step that layers complexity into this nutty, vanilla and raisin-spiced sipper. Gran Patrón Burdeos brings tequila a stature akin to cognac.
 
Patrón, the Catalyst
Our nation’s own quadrennial circus is in full spin, and forerunners are predicted; Patrón, were it in the race, would already be claimed the victor. Wiithout the help of spin doctors, but instead by its established presence and fortuitous timing, Patrón has not only been catapulted far ahead in the race of luxury spirits, but has even stimulated the growth of other spirits categories.

“Not everyone can afford a million-dollar home, a Ferrari or a Gucci watch,” Brown says. “But they can afford a $40 bottle of tequila. With Patrón, consumers can portray themselves in any lifestyle they want. Some luxury brands are affordable,” he reiterates. “Patrón is that positive force. And there’s never been a luxury brand in the history of the liquor industry in our price category to sell a million cases, much less two million.”

Brown is the first to admit he has a great job. “I tell John Paul [DeJoria] that every day I can’t wait to get into the office. I call the brands my children, and I love taking care of them.  I’m not a big sleeper, so I write down ideas in the middle of the night—I’m always ready to push the limit. We’ve got a $500 bottle of Patrón, and we sell every one of the 3,000 bottles we make. Maybe there’s a $5,000 bottle in the near future. And we’ll sell it if it’s something we think our consumers will enjoy.”


 

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