VIVIR Tequila Co-Founder Paul Hayes interview: My journey with tequila is actually quite a strange one…

Tuesday 29th Aug 2023 |

There’s no denying that tequila is having a bit of a moment in the UK right now, and we’re here for it. In recent years, several British-born brands have proved they can hold their own up against their Mexican counterparts, and the award-winning VIVIR is no exception.

Their premium 100% agave collection of fine-sipping tequilas has really taken off, with the likes of GQ, Vogue and The Guardian giving them the seal of approval. We caught up with VIVIR founder Paul, whose surprising introduction to the world of tequila meant that it’s a small miracle he ended up as the head of the now cult brand.

So, tequila is having a bit of a resurgence in the UK right now, but what are your earliest memories of drinking tequila and what turned you into a connoisseur? 

Tequila is definitely flying in the UK at the moment, which is great to see. In fact, the whole of the Agave category has grown so much in recent years.

My journey with Tequila is actually quite a strange one. Back in the day, I purposefully avoided all Tequila due to it actually being the one thing in the world I’m allergic to. I have subsequently found out it’s actually only poor-quality Tequilas made with underaged Agave sugars that I’m allergic to. I discovered this by accidentally drinking some Tequila on a trip to Mexico many years ago. It was a fantastic 100% Agave Tequila that tasted amazing and didn’t kill me, ideal! Ever since then, it has been my go-to drink and I’ve been fascinated with the category.

There have been some quality tequila brands to come out of the UK in the past few years- what was the inspiration behind VIVIR?

Ever since I discovered good-quality Tequila, it has been my drink of choice, be it on a night out or at home. However, back when we first thought of VIVIR, finding high-quality Tequila (I wasn’t actually allergic to) in the UK wasn’t that simple. Sure, if you went into a good cocktail bar or taqueria they’d have something, but most bars only had brands I know I can’t drink.

Because of this my business partner, Nav, and I started to understand why quality tequilas were quite rare in the UK. We kept getting told the same thing time and time again – there are no brands based here so the knowledge and education on the category is almost zero. People know it as a shot, and that’s it. We thought there was a huge opportunity to create a Tequila we knew would be of high quality, tasty and could show consumers that Tequila is so much more than a horrible shot that has to be washed down with salt and lime. Because of this, VIVIR was born.

What was the development process behind crafting VIVIR and creating the brand?

I had already been working with Agave for over 16 years and knew the industry well from launching Bircher Muesli in the UK. In 2016 we finally made the decision to change perceptions of Tequila in the UK and create our own line of premium 100% agave tequilas. It took us 3 years to develop and hundreds of iterations as we wanted to get it right and in 2019 finally introduced VIVIR Tequila to the UK.

So, as a long-term tequila lover myself, I take great pleasure in converting naysayers into fans- what’s your go-to mix or cocktail to convert gin or whiskey drinkers? 

I find the best way to convert people to Tequila is through education and long simple serves, such as Tequila and Tonic or Tequila and Ginger Ale. Also, many tonic brands are now experimenting with specific mixer flavours that pair perfectly with Tequila. This has been a game-changer for us.

What are VIVIR doing to promote sustainability within the industry?

We’re extremely focused on sustainability. I actually own a sustainability business as well so it is routed in everything we do. VIVIR is distilled in collaboration with the multi-award-winning Casa Maestri. It grows its own highland Weber Blue agave and the water comes from a natural volcanic spring in the grounds of the distillery. It adopts traditional techniques to preserve customs and take care of the local wildlife.  For example, we allow a certain percentage of our Agave to flower. It then can’t be used for Tequila production but it is only at this point the seeds can be cultivated for future generations of the plant. It is also when the Agave Bats will feed off the plant and they’re essential for the pollination of the entire area and wider biodiversity. They’re like our bees over here.

We’re one of only 4 distilleries that have our own volcanic water spring. This means we don’t use local reservoirs or lake water, which is essential for the wider crops, wild plants and livestock.

We also take pride in the fact that we’re operating with zero waste, all spent materials from production are composted, donated to local farmers for agriculture, and used to cultivate new agave crops. The bottles that we use to package our Tequila are also fully recyclable.

What’s your personal favourite tequila cocktail?

I love Tequila twists on classics. My personal favourite is a Tequila Negroni, or a ‘Tegroni’. Simply replace the gin for Tequila (obviously VIVIR), it’s a game changer.

One last question- what can we expect next from VIVIR- do you have any new variants in the pipeline? 

The future of VIVIR will be about establishing the core range, but we’re in the process of developing more expressions and experimenting with cask finishes. We’re going to export some Cognac casks and start ageing our Tequila in them to do some limited edition runs of specific vintage cognac cask-aged Reposados, which will be interesting.

I think we’ll also create some single-cask reserve Reposados and Añejos and release them as limited-edition batches. I just love how versatile Tequila is, there are so many opportunities!

The VIVIR Tequila range is available to purchase from retailers including: Waitrose, Ocado, Majestic, Amazon, Fortnum & Mason, Selfridges, Master of Malt, The Whisky Exchange

Interview by Fletch.