Eric Brass is a 28-year-old founder and co-CEO of Tequila Tromba, a premium tequila brand available in some of Toronto’s greatest bars. (And might we say one of the best we’ve ever sipped.) Find out what led this driven YP to start his brand in today’s YEDaily.
Elevator Pitch (we just met on an elevator, we have 30 seconds together in the elevator, please describe your business).
Tequila Tromba is the newest tequila in the Canadian marketplace. Tromba’s master distiller is one of the world’s best – he was the former master distiller of pioneer brand Don Julio. Tromba is a boutique tequila produced only in small batches giving us inherent quality advantages versus our mass produced competitors. Tromba comes from the highest point of the highland tequila producing region in Mexico, which, combined with our master distiller’s proprietary production techniques, makes Tromba a much softer, sweeter tequila – perfect for sipping and mixing.
Why did you start your business, what was the inspiration?
I went down to Mexico in 2005 on exchange with the Ivey Business School and just fell in love with tequila. I had the same misconception that most still have about tequila: It’s a shot at some ungodly hour at a seedy bar. I was absolutely floored when I tried real premium for the first time and lapped up the history and culture behind it. In Mexico, no one shoots tequila. Tequila is meant to be savoured and sipped much like a fine wine and scotch. One of the guys I met down there was an Aussie who had the same ‘epiphany’ with tequila that I did. We always joked about starting a new brand to bring to Canada and Australia that would be accessible both in taste and price with packaging that breaks the mold as to what a tequila ‘should look like.’ These jokes got quite serious when we made a pitch to the former master distiller of Don Julio to come on board and produce his first independent brand outside of Mexico. He not only became our master distiller but a founding partner in Tromba, giving it the pedigree it needs to succeed.
We launched Tromba just eight months ago in Australia at the Sydney bar show. The reception has been great. We’re already in over 100 bars around Australia. We launched in Toronto just a few months ago and are in over 35 bars around town. These bars are amongst the top in the city. We’ve also entered three competitions and won three awards – two golds and a silver – so international recognition is starting to come through.
What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis?
Anyone who gets to sip premium tequila everyday, chat it up with great bartenders, and meet new and interesting people on bar stools everywhere has a very good life.
What is the most challenging part of your business?
Our competitors are big brands that have big budgets. We can’t outspend other brands. What we have to do is drill into the right drinking subculture and define Tromba within it. We need to out-think our competitors and out-love our customers. A bartender who gets to experience Tromba first hand and hears the story behind it builds a loyalty for it, one that in many cases can withstand generous offers from other brands. Hopefully, our bartenders then become storytellers and ambassadors to the brand.
Another big challenge is also the greatest opportunity, the negative perception of tequila. Everyone has a bad tequila story. What people don’t realize is that their bad tequila experience comes from 51 per cent agave tequila (Mixto) – that’s 51 per cent tequila, 49 per cent poor quality sugar distillate. It tastes awful, smells awful, and is awful for you. When you try high quality 100 per cent agave (100 per cent pure) tequila, the difference is night and day. Pure agave tequila can be sipped easily and turned into some sensational mixed cocktails. People are starting to realize this, which is why premium tequila is one of the fastest growing subsectors in the liquor market not only in Canada but around the world. Tequila has a very long way to go but its sharply going in the right direction.
Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Do what you want and what you love. Life is too short to be stuck in a gig just for the cash. If you truly have a passion for something, do it well, work hard and be honest – the cash will come.
A few other things I believe in…
Brands need real credentials: substance over style wins in the long run.
Relationships are everything. Make sure you always take care of your customers. The world is a small place, so don’t put money before character.
The perfect business plan does not exist; just get out there and do it.
See the world. Living in Mexico changed my life in ways that I would have never imagined.
Best asset for business?
Tough one but I would say guts. When I first told people about Tromba I got many laughs and non-believers. I think the hardest part was putting it all on the line and following my dream. Quitting a comfortable job with a comfortable life is not easy. Great success comes from taking risk and having a go. Someone once told me that rules are what the artist breaks; the memorable never emerged from a formula.
What does success look like to you?
If I’m happy, I’m successful.
What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
Seeing that first line of Tromba come off the factory brought a tear to my eye.
Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
Giving back is important. I am involved with the United Way along with a bunch of other charitable organizations. I am also always keen to give product to a charity event.
What is Notable to you?
Folks that have a go.