ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque Distilling focuses on promoting all things New Mexico when it comes to naming and labeling its spirits.
It continues the momentum with its latest release of a blue agave spirit and a moonshine honoring Albuquerque boxing icon Johnny Tapia.
The distillery was put in contact with Tapia’s widow, Teresa, through a business colleague that was scoping out a space to put a boxing gym in the same strip center owned by Albuquerque Distilling co-owner Nick Pavlakos. Teresa Tapia had been interested in creating a tequila with her late husband’s name on it.
“She came in, we talked about it,” Pavlakos said. “And of course, we can’t call it tequila because we’re north of the border, so it has to be called blue agave spirit. And so we kind of talked through that whole process, and what it would be like. And we’ve never worked with tequila or agave before, so we kind of had to learn a little bit of that.”
Teresa Tapia does not drink hard liquor but provided background and input that led to the label designs.
The 69912 Hooch Moonshine not only features Johnny Tapia’s inmate number, but also a photo of him incarcerated. Pavlakos was initially uncertain about featuring that image of Johnny Tapia but his widow assured him it would have been something her deceased husband would have wanted.
“She said ‘This is totally consistent with who Johnny is,’ ” Pavlakos explained. “I said what do you mean? And she said, ‘Well Johnny screwed up in his life and he took full responsibility for his screwups. He never shirked them. He never walked away from them, and never said it’s somebody else’s fault. He said, hey, yeah, you know, I screwed up. And this is a bad thing. And his attitude was that if somebody can make a positive out of his negative, that’s what he’d rather see.’ ”
Teresa Tapia explained how her late husband made something in prison called hooch.
“She said it was made from oranges, you know, orange juice, orange peels, whatever,” Pavlakos said. “And she goes, ‘I think these two distilled it,’ and I said I doubt they distilled it but they probably fermented it. So as we were just having a discussion, we realized that in her head, this tasted like orange. It had an orange taste to it. And when you distill stuff, you don’t really get that strong flavor. You know, I mean, you get hints of it.”
Mi Vida Loca Blue Agave’s label features a photo of Tapia during his boxing glory days. The blue agave spirit took some trial and error since it was the first time the distillery had produced that type of spirit. The key to a smoother result was to create a higher proof spirit with quality ingredients.
“That’s kind of what we told Teresa too,” Pavlakos explained. “… What we’ve done with all our stuff is go top quality, top grains, top whatever we can get at the highest level. That’s what we work with.
“And so we told her look, you know, 51 (% agave) is cheaper to manufacture. But really, if we do 100%, you’ll see the quality at the end is going to be much better, and it may cost a little more, because you’re not skimping on materials. And so when we finally made it 100%, you know, it’s such a smoother product.”
Mi Vida Loca is an unaged blanco agave spirit. The distillery has plans in the near future to expand its aging program.
“Right now we haven’t started aging anything not for (the blue agave spirit) yet,” Pavlakos said. “Our plans are to expand that way. We just bought a brand new 500 gallon still. So we’re basically increasing our production by six times … So start making bourbon and aging our whiskeys more. You know, being able to produce more whiskey because right now we’re kind of limited in that. And, so of course, the blue agave will increase. All our the products will increase accordingly.”
The distillery is run by owners and childhood friends Pavlakos and Roger Peery, who also distill. Distiller Mike Nichols also creates spirits for the distillery that currently offers three low or high proof whiskies as part of its AD 1706 Whiskey line.
Whiskey enthusiasts can choose a single-malt barley, rye or corn whiskey. Its Chupacabra Moonshine line comes in watermelon, apple or peach. The El Duque Rum selections include light, dark and jalapeño. Its QOD Vod Vodka is quadruple distilled.
Each of the bottle’s labels has a synopsis regarding the name of the product including the AD 1706 Whiskey named after when Albuquerque was founded; Chupacabra Moonshine named after the folklore creature; El Duque Rum named for the Duke of Alburquerque; and QOD Vod Vodka inspired by the quadrants Albuquerque is divided into.
All of the bottles can be purchased at the distillery and its products can also be found at Vintage 423 restaurant, Stone Face Package Liquors, and Moonwalk at 505 Central Food Hall. The distillery has teamed up with Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits which will soon distribute its spirits to more retailers, restaurants and bars.