For the better part of a decade, consumers have been conditioned to believe that an expertly crafted and significantly aged tequila must carry a price greater than $100 and often greater than $200. Qui Tequila, a youthful brand that came to market only eight years ago, is disproving that notion and rewriting the narrative of extra-añejo tequilas. The brand is also redefining enthusiasts’ understanding about what a truly well-aged tequila can be—and what it can taste like.
The brand’s genesis in the late 2000s occurred when a conversation among three entrepreneurial friends of Egyptian descent—Medhat Ibrahim, Pete Girgis, and Mike Keriakos—steered its way to the topic of tequila. Before long the entrepreneurial trio was evaluating the market for opportunities and deliberating about creating their own brand.
The idea was connected to Ibrahim’s background as an investment banker in the 1980s, when he worked predominantly for Mexican clients. On business trips, Ibrahim was frequently invited into his affluent clients’ homes, where he discovered that many Mexican families have their own barrels of aged tequila that they treat as reverently as fine cognac or reserve wines. “It was poured from crystal decanters,” he recalls of the elegant and mature tequila he was discovering, “and it was sipped and enjoyed in a much different way than I was accustomed to drinking tequila.”
That was Ibrahim’s aha moment. Decades later, after he had transitioned from a career in banking to the hospitality industry, Ibrahim met Keriakos and Girgis, the latter of whom had cut his teeth working for his parents’ retail liquor business on weekends while he earned a law degree from Rutgers University. Leveraging those relationships—high-end bars and restaurants, as well as liquor stores throughout New York and New Jersey—the trio of entrepreneurs established an effective, grassroots platform for product exposure. But they still needed an exceptional liquid.
After many trips to Guadalajara, the three entrepreneurs uncovered a stock of aged tequila at a distillery that they had fallen in love with, and they employed a master distiller to soften its nose and smooth out its finish. The goal, Ibrahim explains, was to create a luscious sipping tequila that could be enjoyed by consumers who were new to the extra-añejo category. “The vision was to create accessible luxury,” he says. “To democratize aged tequilas.”
Softening that first batch of aged tequila (now the brand’s proprietary filtration and distillation process), preserved the blue agave flavors and aromas found in the liquid, but extracted the spirit’s original golden hue. Qui’s founders had already committed to a gradual marketing strategy predicated upon on-premises tastings—a “liquid-to-lips” approach, as Girgis describes it—but the tequila’s appearance, which belies its age, didn’t become an obstacle to its acceptance.
“We found that people would taste the product and then come back for it,” Girgis says. “Once they learned that it was an aged tequila that was clear, why it was softer but had more flavor than a [normal] clear tequila, and once they tasted it, our customers became brand advocates.”
Since launching Qui Platinum, an almost four-year-old tequila aged in American whiskey and Bordeaux wine casks and that retails for $60, the brand has more recently unveiled Qui Rare, a limited-edition, 12-year-old expression aged in those same wine barrels and Tennessee whiskey casks, which carries a heftier price tag of $400. While that price point aligns Qui’s more exclusive offering with other top extra-añejo tequilas in the marketplace, its age far exceeds those competitors. What’s more, the characteristic bright and herbaceous notes from the blue agave still shine through, which proves that, when it’s masterfully done, the long-term aging of tequila can marry the elegant flavors extracted from casks with the distinctive agave notes that define the spirit.
Qui will soon unveil a third expression—a marriage of five-year and seven-year tequilas—that will be competitively priced against other extra-añejo tequilas less than half its age. And as Qui continues to grow, the brand will invest even more in younger tequilas, which offers Qui’s master distiller Rafael Ayala and his team the ability to experiment and ultimately produce a broader lineup of superlative and revolutionary expressions.
“Nothing stops us from innovating with tequila,” says Ibrahim, who acknowledges that Qui is likely to experiment with aging and finishing future expressions in a variety of barrels from around the world. Yet, even as Qui’s lineup inevitably grows wider, its flagship expression will continue to lead the way.
“We believe that more consumers will soon be demanding older aged tequilas,” Ibrahim says, “and Qui Platinum is a gateway to take them into that great adventure.”