Meet Eric Brass; former financier turned founder and CEO of one of Canada’s most successful tequila companies – Tequila Tromba. Today, he is a connoisseur and an advocate for the North American spirit, but in his youth, Eric didn’t always possess an appreciation for tequila. Like many, Eric had experienced the rather, ‘unfavourable’ qualities of poorly distilled tequila, and thanks to myths surrounding the spirit, fully believed that the reputation was applicable to all bottles on the market.
It was on exchange in Mexico in 2005 with the Richard Ivey School of Business that Eric was given his first taste of a well-crafted tequila. Upon his return, Eric noticed a hole in the market and found that many Tequila products were cheap and low-quality, or too expensive and didn’t appeal to his lifestyle or demographic. A craft tequila at a moderate price point just didn’t exist and he saw this as an opportunity.
In 2011, with connections to one of Mexico’s best distillers, Eric had stepped away from his 9-5 job and set out to produce a tequila that satisfied the market with an authentic, ultra-premium, inexpensive and inclusive product. From there, Eric grew the company from the ground up, relying on the quality of the product and the relationships built at each establishment he walked into.
Today, Tromba has grown into an internationally recognized brand and one of the top-trending tequilas in the world according to Drinks International 2019 Annual Brand Report. Tromba was the only independent Canadian brand to make the list.
We had the opportunity to connect with Eric to discuss the success of the brand across the continent:
How was the idea born?
During my time in Mexico, I had the unique opportunity to meet with Rodrigo Cedano, the son of Marco Cedano who was as the master distiller behind Don Julio for more than a decade. They had dedicated their lives to making tequila and I was immediately captivated by their story and passion.
When I returned to Toronto, I would preach my new love for Tequila, but to my surprise, I found that most people held a large stigma for spirit; it reminded them of their unforgettable hangovers from college or university. The more I looked, the more I realized that the market lacked a quality tequila product with authenticity, substance, and style and I was more dedicated than ever to make people taste the difference of a quality 100% agave product.
Once we realized a gap in the industry, my partners and I decided to reach out to Rodrigo and Marco and discuss them becoming partners in a new tequila brand. A brand that would separate itself from competitors and become a standout, handcrafted, highland tequila.
At that moment, Tequila Tromba was born with Marco and Rodrigo Cedano as our distillers – a father and son duo who have been making tequila for three generations, and today have become the backbone of our growing brand.
We are proud that Tromba is distiller owned, every single step of the production process is overseen by Rodrigo and Marco – from the harvesting of the agave to the cooking, fermentation, and distillation. Marco invokes the traditional methods of how things have been done while Rodrigo (the younger) asks why we can’t do it a new way, adding innovation. We call it modern craft, and it works.
What was the hardest step?
Having everyone tell me that it was “impossible” to start a tequila company with no money or experience.
We first submitted our business plan to an industry expert, it came back with more red ink than black. Another professional told me that we would need at least $1 million dollars just to launch or we should just forget it. It’s hard to blame them, it was a long shot.
Most of our competitors were – and still are- billion-dollar companies with tens of millions in marketing budgets. All I could think was, how the heck are we going to beat these guys? We definitely didn’t have a million dollars so instead, we did it with true grit and by out thinking our competitors. We started with a backpack, a few bottles, and our story. Today, the relationships we have built with bartenders across the country is one of our most valuable assets.
If you could go back and chat with your younger self, what would you say?
Only worry about things that you would still worry about 12 months down the line. There is a lot of noise in every business – really pick your battles and focus.
What’s your favourite thing about the startup world?
The wins are yours and so are the losses. If that’s not exciting, I don’t know what is.
What’s your wildest dream?
When I started Tromba, my wildest dream was to be held in LCBOs across Ontario and maybe even expand across Canada. Today, we’ve achieved that and so much more. We are now proudly sold across the country, in all the major metropolitan areas, as well as in major cities in the United States. Our next goal is to have Tromba carried in every international market.
What’s your most essential tool?
Wouldn’t call them a ‘tool’ but we have the best team in the business.
What’s your bad habit?
I’m a stickler for good quality spirits – but I wouldn’t consider that a bad thing!
What or who is your greatest inspiration?
Those who can take an idea and make it a reality. I always say, passion and persistence is paramount and it’s one thing when someone says they’re going to do something but what matters is the steps they take from there. That kind of ambition is what really inspires me.
What three trends do you see shaping the spirit world over the next 5 years?
The use of tequila in traditionally non-Tequila drinks, for example, subbing out gin, vodka etc. for tequila. Tromboni (tequila negroni), Mexican mule and Tromba soda are three of my favourites.
I believe that we will also see a continued trend towards quality craft spirits at moderate pricing. Millennials and Gen Z are hyper-focused on quality, craft products that tell a great story and offer an exceptional experience. These are the tastemakers shaping the future of spirits.
Lastly, I think we will see a greater emphasis on the bartender. Bar programs for many years were predominantly focused on wines and your typical mixed drinks. As the food industry continues to gain traction in the mainstream, we’ll continue to see a focus on the cocktails that pair with the food.
What’s your “end of the world” menu?
Tacos de Lengua and a Tommy’s Margarita.
Your favourite advice or quote?
“Well done is better than well said.”
Tell us about something we haven’t asked. Anything!
Best way to drink tequila? Straight! You do not need lime and salt to take shots of tequila. This combination is less a pairing and more a tactic to mask the taste of bad quality Tequila.