Ever Wondered What It’s Like To…Invent an Alcohol?

An Interview with Miguel de Tomas, of Celticº Spirits

/ by Noah Charney

Miguel de Tomas has a pretty sweet job. He works designing and promoting new liquors. Growing up in Saragossa, he now lives in Madrid and his experiences in the alcoholic beverage sector run the gamut from accounting and admin to owning a winery and developing a range of new alcohols to sip, guzzle and mix. His latest venture is a striking series of liquors called Celticº Spirits (which this intrepid interviewer was “forced” to taste in preparation for this article—ah, the things I do for the reading public). There are four liquors in the series, which is particularly notable for its extremely distinctive design, the bottles looking like Warcraft tribal tattoos. Who wouldn’t want a job that involves multifaceted creativity and the expectation of regular drinking of high-end alcohol? Sign me up…

 

 

Noah Charney (NC): What was your first experience with high-end liqueurs that got you interested in working with them?

Miguel de Tomas (MT): I have been surrounded by beverages and spirits as long as I remember, as my father has been working in this industry for more than 30 years. I have to thank him for most of my knowledge, but especially the passion and best practices which make the difference in this market. It is also a competitive, international scenario where you must learn everything from chemistry to marketing, from finance to public relations. It is a thrilling world.

 

NC: You sold a winery. Tell us that story and how you ended up with a winery to sell?

MT: I’ve worked as a consultant since I finished my degree, starting in finance, but little by little moving to the agro-food industry. That background in economics helped in lots of projects, including mediation, business plans and even (sadly) some bankruptcy restructuring. We advised investors in the wine industry, and that assignment compelled me to visit wineries, cellars and vineyards around Spain. That´s where we found new distillation methods and the superb raw materials now used in Celticº Spirits.

 

NC: For someone unfamiliar with Spanish and Galician beverages, what should a visitor be sure to try?

MT: Spain has excelled in the last decades in cuisine and wines, with unbeatable ingredients, creativity and high-level investments. But also with full respect to traditions. Pay a visit to Santiago de Compostela, a place receiving visitors from all around the world since the 9th century and enjoy the hospitality, food and some Atlantic wines, like the scarce Albariño, or try to find local festivals in small villages and get your fill of seafood, traditional music and drinks.

 

NC: Your company develops and markets new alcoholic beverages. Tell us the process of inventing a new beverage. What’s the process like, from the initial “brain-storming session” to marketing?

MT: Market and trend analysis first. Despite socioeconomics, it does not sound glamorous. Lots of R&D: offer new things in a mature market. Rely on experts in blending, testers, designers, programmers… but do not ask everybody. “Too many cookers ruin the food.” Try to innovate at every step, from production to distribution agreements, and try to find something relevant for the consumer.

 

NC: Tell us the story of Garnaccio. I remember trying this earlier project of yours, a fortified wine that was nice with a slice of orange rind.

MT: Our first product development, a regional brand co-working with a big winery…a small-scale experiment, halfway between liquor and wine, with marketing and commercialization out of our hands. Lots of lessons learned there, used in Celticº, with full responsibility assumed now and worldwide objectives.

 

NC: How did you come up with the idea for Celticº Spirits? For example, the bottles are really striking in design, like tattoos, and they come with a necklace hanging off them. There are also unusual recommended serving methods, like setting one of them on fire…

MT: We had to place the product in a conceptual environment, we had to seed it in common places in the mind of the consumer. We looked back to where we came from, the raw materials, the recipes, the soul, but also wanted to exceed our borders. We found the Celts, people from Galicia… but also from Scotland, Asturias, Ireland, Brittany… people with honor, history, pride, cradle of heroes, myths, sailors, druids, nymphs… that was an excellent breeding ground for our cutting-edge technology: cold vacuum distillation of regional grapes providing superb alcohols, combined with university research methods in Botanica and breakthrough style and looks. Reviewed spells for S.XXI tribes, modern legends and epic future.

 

NC: When marketing liqueur, do you primarily target consumers or “mixologists” and bar staff, or both?

MT: There are many aspects to consider when marketing beverages…one of the most important is distribution, as you can´t sell if products are not available for your consumer. And yes, you have to introduce your liquor in an environment where people can recognize the value of the brand. So, of course, you have to work with opinion leaders, advisors, media… But also nowadays any consumer can become an expert with a click on his phone, so we are also hard-working in the web, in social networks, in places where people socialize, exchange opinions and join groups: “modern tribes.”

 

NC: What determines whether a new liqueur becomes a “hit” or not?

MT: Trends, fashions and styles change nowadays faster than any other time in history, with oversupply of products and information available to consumers. So old methods from big companies, like imposing cross-selling with their new developments, are short-legged, as consumers and bar owners do not award them authenticity. Some small, independent companies at times hit the target, but if they have not secured all steps in the process and established true differences from the competitors, they become a “flash in the pan.” Truly good raw materials, processes from production and quality control to contract terms and conditions of your company, distinctions in the eye of the consumer and honesty and authenticity give you a chance to succeed. Then there is hard work, passion and a bit of luck, that is in the hands of your clients.

 

NC: I read about some of the marketing overhauls that struggling but established liqueur companies tried to do. Jagermeister, for example, was not particularly popular until they hired a special firm to promote the product, and now it is huge. Absolut Vodka is another example of ingenious marketing. What sort of lessons can be learned from these success stories, and applied to future products?

MT: Those two are very good examples of innovation in marketing and communication, even in the pre-crisis market, where there where huge investments from traditional brands. Nowadays the outlay in those concepts has decreased sharply, allowing small companies to emerge, but there are principles, like the “Absolut” care of the brand, implying transparency but with an artistic twist to the Swedish vodka, or the bold attitude and generational struggle of the “deer liquor,” that are very good lessons in charisma and authenticity.

 

NC: Where should we drink next time we’re in Madrid?

MT: There are many different, defined zones in Madrid, from underground to classy, from dinner and drinks to night discos, from R&R to radio hits, dance, coffeeshops... Anyway, if you come here from May to October, any rooftop bar (20, 30 of them in the city) is a must, enjoying open spaces, views and climate. Don’t forget to ask for a Gin Tonic there, the outstanding mixer in the world-renowned Spanish nightlife, perfectly served in a big balloon glass with lots of ice and botanicals to enhance the experience. And if you want to try how people here live in their neighborhoods, out of the city “center,” please come and visit us with our friends in “Nuevo Babel,” just in the northern border of ring road M30, “Avenida de la Ilustración.”

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Noah Charney

is a professor of art history and best-selling author of, most recently, The Art of Forgery. You can learn more about his work at www.noahcharney.com or by joining him on Facebook.


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