George Clooney’s quest for the ‘perfect’ tequila just produced a billion dollar sale

George Clooney’s “perfect” tequila — so smooth it doesn’t burn the throat, require lime and salt or, apparently, induce a hangover — was only meant to be consumed by the actor and his friends. It was never meant to become a brand or a company.

But almost by accident, it did.

On Wednesday, spirits giant Diageo bought Casamigos for up to $1 billion.

Four years after Clooney and his two friends, Rande Gerber and Mike Meldman, debuted their tequila brand Diageo announced it had acquired the company. Calling it “the fastest growing super-premium tequila brand in the U.S.,” Diageo said in a news release that the transaction went for an initial $700 million with another $300 million possible if sales go well.

“If you asked us four years ago if we had a billion dollar company, I don’t think we would have said yes,” Clooney said in a statement to reporters. “This reflects Diageo’s belief in our company and our belief in Diageo.”

The acquisition should be finalized by the second half of 2017, but Clooney said he and his business partners aren’t going anywhere.

“We’ll still be very much a part of Casamigos,” Clooney said in the statement. “Starting with a shot tonight. Maybe two.”

Casamigos has been a labor of love for Clooney and his friends, who started out as tequila lovers just six years ago and are now tequila kings.

While Casamigos might not need any salt, it’s origin story, as told by Clooney and friends, might require a grain of it.

Clooney, an award-winning actor, and Gerber, a liquor entrepreneur and the husband of model Cindy Crawford, became friends decades ago over tequila. Clooney was shooting a movie in New York and Gerber owned the bar he would drink at.

Fast forward, then, to 2011. Clooney and Gerber spent that year in hotels across Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where they were building adjacent, massive vacation homes on the beach. At the hotel bars, the friends drank on the bartenders’ recommendations — top shelf tequila and cheap tequila, tequila that was bad and tequila that was good.

Nothing, though, was quite good enough.

“We were always looking for the perfect tequila and we could never find it, so we said, ‘What the hell?’” Clooney told the Miami Herald. “Let’s give it a shot and make our own.”

Gerber, who had already launched the award-winning Caliche Rum, started researching distilleries in the area. In Jalisco, they found a “master distiller” who was making tequila with which they thought they could work.

Over the next two years, they went through nearly 1,000 sample bottles while refining their blend. As they tell it, they critiqued each bottle and forced friends into blind taste tests. They finally settled upon a recipe that worked — no burn, no chasers, no hangovers — and named it Casamigos, the same name they’d given their vacation compound, which loosely translates to “house of friends.”

“George opened the sample, poured one for me, poured one for him, and we tasted it,” Gerber told CNBC of the winning blend last year. “We both looked at each other, had another taste of it, and we were like, ‘This is it. It’s perfect.’”

But after two blissful years of guzzling Casamigos at Casamigos, their distiller called with bad news: the celebrities either had to get licensed and become a business, or quit drinking the tequila altogether.

“It was just for us,” Gerber told CNBC. “We didn’t really want to be in the business. We figure, George is an actor and a director. I own restaurants and bars and wasn’t looking to get in another business.

“‘But then the distiller called and said, ‘Hey guys, we have a little problem. In the past two years we’ve been sending you about a thousand bottles a year. Either you’re selling it or you’re drinking way too much — either way, we can’t keep calling it samples. You guys have to get licensed and do this right.’”

“We wanted to keep drinking it,” Gerber told CNBC last year.

So their tequila went public, and quickly rocketed in sales. They sold it with a simple slogan — “made by friends for friends” — and aimed for a bottle aesthetic that was simple.

“We talked about how this was going to be like the bottles you see in old John Wayne movies,” Clooney once told AzureAzure, “where you slide the bottle down the bar, pull the cork out with your teeth, and pour yourself a shot.”

Ultimately, it was the product inside the glass that mattered.

“We didn’t just slap our names onto some glue and try to talk people into drinking it,” Clooney said in an interview with Architectural Digest in 2013. “It’s what we drink whenever we’re at the house.”

As soon as the product went public, Clooney and Gerber became celebrity ambassadors for the product, traveling to bars and parties across the world to sell Casamigos. In 2015, they created Casamigos Spirits Company to be the exclusive importer for their tequila.

Some tequila critics didn’t agree on its perfection.

“Many new people to Tequila bought Casamigos, because they didn’t know any better, and after hearing that it’s somewhat drinkable, and that George Clooney was involved got a pass,” said a review in Long Island Lou Tequila, which rated it “artificially sweet and overpriced.”

On the other hand, Drink Spirits rated Casamigos Anejo Tequila as “dangerously drinkable … very much a gateway tequila, a perfect spot for folks who never have considered sipping their tequila straight to start.”

By 2016, the company sold 120,000 cases of Casamigos, and the brand is expected to exceed 170,000 cases by the end of 2017, according to Diageo.

“We are extremely excited to team up with one of the largest, most respected spirits companies in the world,” Gerber said in a statement after the announcement Wednesday. “What started from a friendship and an idea to create the best tasting, smoothest tequila as our own house tequila to drink and share with friends, has quickly turned into the fastest growing super-premium tequila. Casamigos has always been brought to you by those who drink it and we look forward to continuing that, working alongside the expertise and global reach of Diageo.”

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