Tequila runs deep in Hiatus founder Kristopher DeSoto’s veins, which is useful when running a tequila company.
Originally born in Texas, DeSoto says that his household had a deep respect for Mexican culture, and his mother used to bring authentic tequila over the border for their home. He bounced around living outside of the United States for a good chunk of time, spending time in Europe and living in Australia for 5 years and Mexico for around 8 years. DeSoto had also spent time at a tequila distillery in Mexico out of pure interest for the process and having no plans to launch his own brand at that time.
He ultimately landed in New York City in 2011 for a career in helicopter sales and marketing, and when he arrived he found that a number of people were excited about tequila and mezcal.
“I was shocked about how many people were talking about tequila and mezcal, it had really taken off while I was out of the country,” said DeSoto. “I tried the latest and greatest tequila and it tasted like garbage. None of them were good tequilas. I filed that in the back of my head and went about my life, selling helicopters.”
A few years later, DeSoto was getting fed up with the tequilas that were on the market and were not good products despite being popular or having celebrity backing. Knowing that there were so many great tequilas in Mexico, DeSoto resigned from his job and dove headfirst into the spirit business and started to talk to professionals. In 2015, DeSoto partnered up with his friend David Osher, who had experience in marketing for luxury brands, to help get the business off the ground, as well as his friend Adam to help with fundraising in 2016.
“I spent the next 18 months deep-diving into the industry and learning as much as I could,” said DeSoto. “I started flying back and forth to Mexico meeting with the Tequila Regulatory Council and several distillers — I had one in mind that I really wanted to work with, there are products of theirs that I loved when I was living in Mexico and I had toured their facility in 2007. It was one of the most romantic distilleries I’ve seen.”
In 2015, DeSoto approached the distiller, La Cofradía in Mexico, and explained his goal, thinking that they wouldn’t want to work with him, but they ultimately agreed. After years of planning, distilling and focus groups, the Hiatus brand officially launched in December 2018.
“We did blind taste tests against Patron, Casamigos and Espolon,” said DeSoto. “To my astonishment, in blind taste tests, they chose our Blanco 76% of the time and our Reposado 94% of the time. I was hoping, 10, 20 30% positive replies, that would have been enough for me to feel confident to move forward.”
Currently, Hiatus has three tequilas on the market: Blanco, which DeSoto describes as the “purest” form of tequila with aromas of roasted agave, fresh-cut grass, and tropical fruit; Reposado, which is aged for six months and has roasted red pepper, and cinnamon notes give way to hazelnut and vanilla; and Añejo, which is aged for a whole year in American oak and has aromas of dried herbs and candied fruit followed by hints of baking spices, cocoa, and toasted oak. Each tequila is made from 100% agave, which is very common for Mexican-made tequila. Hiatus currently distribute their products in New York, Indiana, Florida and Missouri, while holding office space on Long Island.
Despite being pretty new to the spirit world, Hiatus has garnered a lot of attention so far. In December 2019, Esquire named Hiatus as one of the Best Bottles of Booze in 2019. In May 2019, Wine Enthusiast named Hiatus’s Añejo Tequila as one of the Top 100 Spirits of 2019, giving it a score of 95 out of 100.
“We submitted that in late January and by the end of February, [Wine Enthusiast] came back and told us — though it wasn’t public yet — in the May edition of the magazine we’re going to do a spirits rating and that we got a 95 rating for the Añejo,” said DeSoto. “We were only about 6-8 weeks on the market when we found this out, a 95 rating is massive. They don’t give many high ratings like that for spirits, and the trade respects Wine Enthusiast because it’s true blind taste test.”
Like many businesses, Hiatus was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to DeSoto, 70% of the company’s business is through the hospitality industry and the remaining 30% coming from liquor store sales.
“Across all of our markets, we lost 70% of our business. There was an immediate impact in New York especially,” said DeSoto. “I remember sitting in one of the bars back in March where we distribute and seeing on the TV that schools were closing and bars had until Tuesday to close up. Shortly thereafter we had the same in Florida and the other states we sell in.”
However, DeSoto said that the uptick in liquor store sales helped Hiatus stay afloat as the pandemic made its way through New York.
“We’ve been fortunate because tequila has been on a growth projection for 20 years,” said DeSoto. “Tequila overtook rum in sales percentages, it’s growing significantly. Liquor is kind of economy proof.”