Local craft distiller gets the gold at the L.A. International Spirits Competition
By Angela Covo
Last May, local entrepreneurs Trey and Kimberly Azar hit a milestone when their Cinco Vodka took top honors at the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition, the Academy Awards of cocktails. Getting the gold medal for best vodka validated the enormous effort and extra expense they undertook to create a premium American vodka.
The Azars co-founded the company and Mrs. Azar is director of public relations. From the beginning of the journey, Mr. Azar said the goal was to make “the highest quality vodka in the world.”
During a tour of the pristine Azar Distillery, just 10 minutes southeast of downtown San Antonio, the 42-year-old craft distiller shared some background about the industry.
“About 60 million cases of vodka are sold every year and consumption is growing at 3 percent annually – one in every three bottles of liquor sold is vodka,” Mr. Azar said.
Together, the Azars launched Cinco Five Star Vodka a little more than two years ago at Fiesta 2011. For almost 10 years before they founded the company, Mr. Azar worked in the oil and gas industry. He explained moving back to the liquor business was a natural next step for him.
“I grew up in the industry. My grandfather started with Coors in El Paso – he was the first Coors distributor in Texas,” Mr. Azar explained.
The Baylor grad started out on the sales side of the liquor industry, mostly selling wine and in 2000, switched to oil and gas investments. On a business trip in July 2009, he found himself sitting alone at a hotel bar in Oklahoma City.
“There was a horse show in town and the bar was full. People were taking shots and I realized how much I missed the business,” the entrepreneur said.
He was just sitting there, watching the crowd and doodling on a napkin.
“I just wrote down Cinco,” he explained. “I knew I wanted to make something and I loved the beverage business, so we trademarked it.”
Ultimately, the Azars decided to get into the liquor market by creating a brand of American premium handcrafted vodka to fill a void in the market.
“Most of the premium vodkas sold today are European,” he said.
They discovered premium vodkas are mostly wheat-based while most American vodka is corn or corn-ethanol based. So they sought the best ingredients to start out with and started working with winter wheat – an amber wheat grown in Idaho.
“We’re not made like other spirits,” he explained. “Slow and steady wins the race. We want to make the highest quality vodka in the world – and we do something that 99 percent of the other vodkas don’t do. People are naturally starting to ask questions: What is it made from? How is it made? Those questions make our vodka stand out.”
But finding exactly the right ingredient to distill their vodka from was just half the battle. They knew the equipment would also make a big difference in the quality of their product.
When it was time to build the distillery, the Azars turned to experts they believed made the finest products, which took them to Germany and Hungary.
“Betty is essentially a giant pressure cooker,” he explained.
The stunning giant kettle looms high above mere mortals and looks like it would be as comfortable in the halls of the McNay as it is in the distillery. Betty was carefully hand-hammered and hand-welded from copper in Germany. It took several artisans working every day for five months to build the 528-gallon still and three huge crates to deliver it to the U.S.
“Copper is the best conduit for distilling to clean distillate,” Mr. Azar said. “It’s the ultra-clean distillate we get that makes Cinco shine.” Betty, named in deference to Mr. Azar’s alma mater, has her own personality. “But the flavor we achieve with Betty is consistent, batch after batch,” he said.
THE FIVE STAR VODKA
Not only is Cinco the Five Star Vodka, it’s also distilled five times before being blended with Edwards Aquifer water, San Antonio’s delicious water naturally filtered through the Cordova Crème limestone far below the city’s surface.
The number five is certainly a theme in the Azars’ adventure: the five children, Nathan, 16, Sloane, 15, Tucker, 14, Grey, 12 and Carli, 9 no doubt underscore the power of its significance.
“I think we ended up with Cinco because Kimberly and I have five children between us,” he said.
AZAR DISTILLERY COULD BECOME A SAN ANTONIO DESTINATION
A law enacted by the 83rd Texas Legislature could have a positive impact on Azar Distillery and other Texas distilleries. The new law, Senate Bill 905, now allows distillers to sell up to 3000 gallons of spirits a year.
The Azars will be adding tours, tastings and Cinco cocktails to the mix sometime in 2014. The entrepreneurs looks forward to implementing the new plan so people can learn more about how Cinco Vodka is made.
“The new legislation is great for us and for all Texas distillers,” Mr. Azar added.
While it might be a nice benefit for the Azar Distillery, after having tasted the smooth, almost creamy and definitely velvety quality of the finely handcrafted Cinco Vodka, we can say the new law will be great for connoisseurs of fine spirits, especially those who find their way to the Azar Distillery here in San Antonio.
In the meantime, Cinco Vodka is available at many liquor stores all over the city. To learn more about the company, visit www.cincovodka.com