Back in February when Kendall Jenner announced her latest business endeavor, a tequila brand named 818 (which pays homage to her hometown, Calabasas), she was met with a ton of criticism. In recent years, a number of celebrities have ventured into distilling their own tequilas, but behind the Hollywood curtain is more appropriation than appreciation.
It took Jenner four years to create a tequila brand, and no one had the courage to teach her how to properly taste the drink (no tequila expert would drink it on the rocks, and “strong” is not a real tasting note used to describe tequila) or the basics of Spanish grammar. The names of each tequila are grammatically incorrect in Spanish—the adjectives should come after the noun they describe. Does the brand not have a team working on copy? “Añejo Tequila,” “Reposado Tequila” and “Blanco Tequila” are all incorrect. On top of all this, there’s even an agave shortage because interest in tequila has grown tremendously in recent years. But, you can’t just grow more agave to combat this issue since authentic tequila must be made with Weber Blue agave that can only be grown in four Mexican states that are approved and registered by the Consejo Regulador del Tequila. Jenner is not the only celebrity to blame for the shortage of agave plants in the region though—Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Nick Jonas and George Clooney have all debuted signature tequilas in recent years.
Did you know that celebrity tequila products aren’t that different from one another? In most cases, like in Jenner’s, the tequila celebrities sell is produced by a handful of distilleries in Mexico. “‘Basically [distilleries] just make barrels and barrels and barrels of tequila, and celebrities come in and literally pick a barrel,’” said Lucas Assis, a tequila expert based in Los Angeles, to InStyle. “‘So there might be a little bit of a difference [between brands] like this one is aged in French oak and this one is aged in American oak…But essentially it’s exactly the same bottle, and the celebrity just buys that, and then they just use their marketing and their branding to sell it to you.’” Jenner’s 818 is produced by a distillery that provides tequila to over sixty other brands.
A famous face chooses the place willing to work with them, and then they hire a team to brand and market the liquor as their own. It’s possible that a celebrity tequila will taste similar to a brand-named one, but the price is jacked way up. A 25 fl. oz. bottle of 818 is said to retail for $59.99, but a similar tequila, like Casimigos, will cost you about $34.99 for the same amount. If you’re willing to pay more for better alcohol, try supporting a small business like Casa San Matías.
The Kardashians and Jenners are no strangers to profiting off of other cultures’ traditions. Tequila has a rich history in Mexico, and the public fears that Jenner’s fanbase will wipe out that tradition in Mexico. “So now our small family-owned tequila makers are going to lose business because it will be [a] new trend to buy some from the Kardashians,” said one Twitter user. Tequila has been a part of Mexican culture since 1000 B.C. It not only provides employment to a number of communities in Jalisco, but it’s a pride and joy for Mexicans. According to Inside Mexico, the spirit is “an allegory of our history because it fuses the benefits of a native Mexican plant with the European techniques that Spain introduced during the colonial period.”
Jenner is not the first and only celebrity to profit off of tequila’s rich culture in Mexico. So, the next time you stock your bar cart up for Zoom happy hours (hopefully the last of them), consider purchasing a bottle that supports a small family business—not a supermodel looking to make a buck off of her Instagram following.