Duke Spirits unveils a special line of tequilas…with a twist.
Written by Constance Dunn
While John Wayne may have been all-American, he had a distinct affinity for south of the border. Baja was a favorite boating destination, and the actor was a regular at the Belmar Hotel in Mazatlan, where he went to fish and relax. In the early 1970s Duke arrived in Durango—a desert area about 90 minutes by plane from Mexico City. He purchased land there and had a replica of an old Western town built, which would become an oft-used Tinseltown film set. His fondness extended to the nation’s most famous spirit, tequila, which he savored over crushed ice with a slender slice of lemon.
“The tequila connection really arose from John Wayne’s love of Mexico,” says Chris Radomski, who co-founded Duke Spirits with Wayne’s youngest son Ethan in 2013, and whose role in creating the new Duke Tequilas was pivotal. “He made the majority of his movies in Durango, and he admired the Mexican people.”
This year Duke Spirits introduces a new lineup of tequilas, from its Grand Cru Extra Añejo, aged three years, to its Grand Cru Reposado, aged six months. Also released is a commemorative edition—a limited 1,000-bottle run of rare tequila, aged six years, with part of the profits benefitting the visionary John Wayne Cancer Center. Duke Spirits has a history of such unique spirit offerings, with a current lineup that includes bourbon and a double-barrel rye, each based on Wayne’s personal blends and the dominant taste profiles of his favorite spirits. “Unlike the bourbon,” explains Radomski, “we didn’t find evidence of a tequila recipe. Instead, we had an outline.” When it came to formulating Duke Tequilas, the focus was on honoring Duke’s passion for rich, sipping tequilas. “We wanted to do something with more of an age statement, and more of a backbone and flavor profile,” he describes.
What happens during the aging process is what makes Duke Tequilas distinct: The reposado, añejo and commemorative edition each rest for an additional period of time in French oak wine barrels from Kentucky—where they’ve also been used to age bourbon. “We’ve been experimenting with using wine barrels to age spirits for a long time,” Radomski notes. “We know that the interaction of the French oak gives us nice options.” The pleasing result of this marriage is a two-step kick that adds more layers and texture to the spirit—namely, a pleasing veil of deep red fruit. “It gives a really nice finish to the tequila,” says Radomski of the process, “and makes Duke Tequilas a little bit different than anything else out there.” Cheers to that!