When was last time Justin Timberlake was wrong about something? The guy seems to be spending a great deal of time making the right decisions and all the right moves. He’s behind the brand 901 Tequila, and tonight at Irving Plaza he’s presenting the Memphis-based hip-hop group, FreeSol (signed to his label Tennman Records) in advance of their debut album, out in October. Since today is 9/1—you know, September first (and I’m really sorry if I’m the first to break that news) and the Tequila is 901—the festivities will begin at 9:01 P.M.
I have it on good authority that you need to get there early, because this shindig is on a first come, first served basis, and I figure the line is starting as you’re reading this now. So it’s free, it’s boozy, and it’s new music from a group endorsed by Justin Timberlake. Now, these kind of affairs and business dealings always have a man behind – or right next to – the man with all the attention. That guy is Kevin Ruder, an old friend of Mr. Timberlake. I asked Mr. Ruder to tell me all about it.
You co-own 901 Tequila with Justin Timberlake and you guys are taking over Irving Plaza to promote FreeSol. Is this like Vince and Turtle in Entourage, where Vince gets involved with that Tequila? How did you and Justin hook up for this Tequila company? Justin and I have known each other for a while. I worked at Anheuser-Busch for about 13 years and one day he called me and said, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about doing my own Tequila, I really love the process of making it, and I obviously love tequila, what do you think about that?’ I said, ‘Well, it’s not something you can just decide you want to do for a weekend and see what happens, if you want to do this, then it has to be 100% your money and your commitment.’ And then we went into the business together about 3 years ago. It took us about a year to find a distiller that we were comfortable with and had a product that would formulate to exactly what we were looking for. We launched in 2009 in four states, and picked up a few more states later on that year and each year has grown bigger and bigger and now we have national distribution.
Is tequila the new vodka? I hear this sort of banter all the time these days. This is not the same tequila I was drinking ten years ago, getting a headache the next day. The new Tequilas are distilled and restaurants like La Esquina, have 150-plus options on the menu. Obviously I’m a little jaded but I think it’s better than vodka. Tequila is now being compared to wine because of how long the process takes. Agave has to grow for eight years before it can be harvested and made into tequila. It’s not like vodka where you can grab any kind of starch and make it, especially with 100% agave tequila, which is important. It’s not what you and I were used to when we were younger—slugging back shots and making a face, there are more sipping varieties, and some that are great for mixing with juices. Instead of just a margarita, there are now so many different cocktails and options for tequila, whether it be in a mixed drink or on the rocks. And you’re seeing 100% agave tequila drive the category and open people’s eyes to what tequila really is.
Who do you expect to show up at the FreeSol concert tonight? Justin Timberlake fans? Since we’re sponsoring it, it’s a 21-plus show, and that helps tremendously. We don’t have to worry about anyone too young being somewhere that we don’t want them to be. I think it will mimic both FreeSol’s style and our own style, which is geared toward a young, edgy crowd who are looking for something a little different. They’re a tremendous band, they’re young and we’ve been sponsoring them from the get go because we really like what we’re about. I think it will be that 22-35 year old crowd that likes music that’s a bit different, like urban pop with a lot of horns. It’s just a great hi-tempo show. You’re renting a venue for an entire night, giving free away admission and free liquor.
As the CEO of a liquor company, what’s the value at the end of the tunnel? The one thing we have is September 1st. That’s 901, so that has to be our day. It has to be our day this year, next year, and in 20 years. Our goal is to throw a great party, not just ‘hey this is our tequila come check it out’ or ‘hey, this is Free Sol, come check it out’ or ‘hey, come get a picture of Justin on your camera phone.’ This is ‘hey, come have a good time experience, not just on the Tequila side, but on having a good time side.’ There are lot of things we can gauge from that. If I have 1,000 people leave that night saying, ‘these guys are fun, these guys are my kind of people,’ in the future when they think of Tequila, they’ll say ‘901 is a good product, I had a good time that night, I want to mimic that again.’ And the folks that aren’t in New York are going to read about it, see pictures and say ‘hey, these guys aren’t stuffy, they’re not so ultra premium that you can only buy it for $150 a bottle. Yes, it’s priced a little more than Cuervo, but these guys are pretty normal and down to earth.’
The Hurricane that wasn’t for so many here in the Big Apple, was actually a big deal for a great deal of people. As I write this on Thursday morning my prayers and good wishes go out to my boy Seamus Regan. It seems his sister Sheelagh and a wedding party of 40 people got themselves cut off from civilization in the town of Pittsfield, Vermont. It seems Vermont and other regions north of us got hit real bad. All of the roads are washed out and the National Guard are trying to rescue them. They have no electricity and food for only about 5 days and I’m hoping the Jameson and Powers holds out. Seamus is one of New York’s fastest and most sought out bartenders and owns Salon 13 in the East Village. He has a home up there near Killington where he spends the winter months snowboarding and such with Brian Mitchel of Park Slope’s Brookvin and George Ruotolo owner of Whiskey Town and Whiskey Brooklyn as well as Chris Buckley owner Hanson Dry, Brooklyn. They may be out by the time you read this, as there was a 2-hour window this morning that rescue workers were trying to solidify.
I often take the L train home late at night. It leaves me inches from my Williamsburg home. A common sight is the boxes of Artichoke Pizza hungry hipsters are holding on their laps with great anticipation. Now, with the newly minted frozen Artichoke pies there may no longer be a reason for them to venture into Manhattan ever again. With a branch opening in Williamsburg as well, it may mean the absolute end of Manhattan nightlife as we’ve known it.