• Maria Georges

Mara Smith Launches a Tequila Brand Focusing on Women

Tequila has gotten a bad rap. When most people think of tequila, many relate it to a drunken college night and have sworn it off. But, not all tequilas are created equal, and if you know the differences and what to look for, you'll discover tequila in a whole new way.

Tequila 101: a simplified, beginners guide

Tequila is a plant-based, naturally gluten-free drink made from the blue agave plant found in Mexico.

100% agave is a term used for tequila distilled only from agave with no additional sugars added before fermentation.

100% tequila must be bottled within its production region, and these are generally considered the best tequilas.

Tequila is considered a comparatively better option than other types of alcohol because it contains fewer calories, zero sugar, and zero carbohydrates. But, that all depends on the type of tequila.

For example, Blanco tequila is pure 100% agave and doesn't contain sugars, corn syrups, additives, or congeners.

What are congeners, you ask? According to Mayo Clinic, congeners result from the fermenting process and give many alcoholic beverages their flavor, but moreover, they contribute to the severity of hangovers. So, considering José Cuervo, which most Americans think of as tequila, contains 42% corn syrup and congeners, you are in for a really nasty hangover.

But with so many tequilas on the market, how do you know the difference or what to buy?

There are five categories of tequila:

Blanco, also known as Silver or Plata tequila, is minimally aged, colorless, and (in most cases) free of additives. It is considered to be the purest and most authentic expression of tequila.

Reposado, which means rested, has been aged for 60+ days.

Joven, also known as Gold tequila, is a mixture of Blanco and Reposado tequilas.

But beware, some Reposado and Joven tequilas haven't aged long enough to develop a natural, rich caramel color; therefore, in most cases, caramel color has been added to give it that golden color.

Añejo means it has been aged between 1-3 years, and Extra Añejo, aged longer than 3 years, usually in oak barrels, which will naturally produce a golden color over time. Tequila connoisseurs have compared Extra Añejo tequila to fine French cognac with a price tag to match.

To be sure the tequila you are buying is additive-free, a verification program by Tequila Matchmaker is identifying bottles dosed with unnatural additives and flagging brands that don't use additives to artificially provide aromas, flavors, and sweetness.

So, how did a former corporate attorney and mom of three kids become the founder of a Tequila Brand?

For Mara Smith, it was answering the call for herself and other women, who were looking for a clean, gluten-free, sugar-free spirit that fit into their active lifestyles.

Mara says she enjoyed having cocktails with her girlfriends but didn't like how most spirits disturbed her sleep or made her feel the next day. She discovered high-quality tequila was the answer but searched for a tequila that was additive-free with the look, taste, and aroma that appealed to her. That perfect tequila simply did not exist, so she decided to create one.

Mara's newly launched tequila, Inspiro Luna Blanco, was born with her vision to redefine what it means to enjoy tequila by crafting a clean, smooth, and sippable 100% blue agave tequila without any additives.

Her goal is not just to create a one-of-a-kind tequila but also to make women feel seen and relevant in the spirits industry and support and inspire other female entrepreneurs to follow their passion.

What inspired you to start your own business?

I have always been brainstorming ideas and thinking about what my next act would be. A friend came to me with a consumer product business idea to explore – I immediately dove into research and figuring out how to source, manufacture, and distribute the product. While the research process was exciting, I just wasn't passionate about the particular product. I realized I could apply the same due diligence to developing a product that I was genuinely passionate about – tequila. I knew there were no tequila brands out there that really spoke to me as a consumer. So, the idea for Inspiro Tequila was born!

Why Tequila?

As my children grew older, I realized I needed to enjoy myself more and spend more time with friends. After not drinking (even a sip of alcohol) for years, I quickly realized that most spirits caused me to feel terrible the next day but discovered that high-quality tequila (on the rocks with soda) did not. For me, tequila fit into my active, healthier, and gluten-free lifestyle. Eventually, I converted many of my friends over to tequila.

And, as mentioned, I felt that there were no tequila brands that really spoke to me as a consumer. Everything on the shelves seemed so masculine, and yet I knew so many women who chose tequila as their drink of choice. I believed there was an opportunity to innovate in tequila.

Tell us something about Inspiro that sets you apart from other tequila brands?

There are a lot of tequila brands in this male-dominated industry but, there are not many brands that focus on women as the consumer. We created a look, taste, and aroma based on our consumer's preferences.

First, our Luna Blanco is smooth enough to sip on its own. Instead of bottling immediately after distillation (like typical Blanco tequilas), we rest Inspiro in oak barrels for a lunar quarter to create a refined, smooth, and sippable Blanco Luna tequila.

Also, many people don't know that a lot of their favorite brands actually contain additives. Tequila regulations allow producers to add up to one percent of additives like coloring, glycerin, and flavoring into what is supposed to be 100% agave tequila without disclosing it on the bottle label.

It was really important to me that we created the taste profile we were looking for but without using any additives. And with Inspiro, we have made a silky smooth tequila with vanilla, caramel, and fruit notes, but without using any additives in the process. I am proud to announce that Inspiro has been awarded the Additive-Free certification by Tequila Matchmaker.

Finally, being owned, operated, and inspired by women, we have thoughtfully designed a unique bottle from a female's perspective. It is sleek, sophisticated, and easy to hold and pour.

What's your favorite way to drink tequila?

On the rocks with a little soda.

Where can we buy Inspiro?

Online on our website Inspirotequila.com We hope to be in retailers in Illinois soon.

Inspiro is a purpose-driven brand- can you share more about your mission?

It has always been part of the mission to give back. With the Inspiro Purple Bicycle Project, we hope to inspire and empower women who have been told they don't have any industry experience or have been out of the workforce for too long.

Starting your own company is risky, and very few startups make it. The Inspiro Purple Bicycle Project is here to financially support and mentor female founders enabling them to get started, manage the bumps along the way, and move forward to follow their dreams.

What has been the biggest challenge in starting your business?

Where should I start? There have been many challenges, and I'm sure there will be more to come, but I always aim to learn from them rather than fear them. These situations have helped me grow since they have required me to learn flexibility which I really wasn't good at in my former career.

Actually, being a mom has helped me to learn the flexibility I need for my business. Most parents know that things never go according to plan. These obstacles have also allowed me to grow as an entrepreneur since I constantly problem-solve and figure out plan B and then plan C. I always think of Marie Forleo's book, "Everything is Figureoutable"- a mindset requisite to starting your own business. You just can't get too easily discouraged.

So one of the biggest challenges I have faced was when I decided to not use the first batch of tequila we distilled because the agave hadn't been cooled for the appropriate amount of time, which affected the flavor profile. Some people working on the product suggested that maybe we blend the first batch and the second batch, and I thought - why would I combine something bad with something good? So rather than compromise and create something that didn't meet my standards, I got rid of about four thousand bottles-worth of tequila! This actually postponed my launch date by six months. But, I truly believe that quality is everything, and the process for making Inspiro Tequila is what sets us apart from the rest.

What have been the most important lessons you have learned as an entrepreneur?

I have learned so much on this journey. That is actually the part I love the most. The learning curve is huge. I understood the legal side of things, and I have always been able to evaluate the numbers and the analytical piece, but of course, I had to learn everything I could about tequila production.

But starting Inspiro has required me to use creative skills that I didn't know I ever had. It started with designing the bottle and coming up with ideas for the logo. I also had to learn all about marketing which is like a foreign language to me. I had never heard the terms pixels and boosting posts. I can't say this is my favorite part of the business, but it's important for the founder to understand every aspect. There are some areas that I don't have to be an expert in, and I can rely on other people who are experts, but I feel like I have to know enough to evaluate choices and make decisions.

What advice can you offer other women who are thinking of starting their own business?

You can innovate in any industry, even as an outsider, if you are willing to put in the hard work and do the research. The more prepared you are, the better.

Who has inspired you?

My grandmother- who was a holocaust survivor and an amazing and brave woman ahead of her time. She has been my inspiration behind Inspiro.

What advice would you give your 25-year-old self?

I would tell her there is a huge world out there- with so many different paths to take and different jobs to have.

At 25, I was graduating from law school after earning a CPA three years earlier. I only thought of going into accounting or working for a large law firm to pay off my student loans, so I didn't consider any career alternatives. I don't regret my decision to go to a large law firm. It was an incredible learning experience, and I really liked working there. I just don't think I was aware of all of the options.

Who are the five people- living or dead- you would invite for your dream dinner party?

- My grandmother

- Ruth Bader Ginsberg- even before going to Law School, I admired her and dreamt of becoming a Supreme Court Justice. I studied her decisions in law school. She is someone I emulated and who inspired me in law school. I would love to learn about the decision-making process from her, how hard it is to get buy-in from the other Justices, and how to not get swayed when you don't agree. One of her quotes that has always inspired me is, "women belong in all places where decisions are being made."

- Kirsten Green of Forerunner Ventures- because she is a pioneer for women in venture capital, and I love seeing women make a significant impact in traditionally male-dominated industries.

- Chelsea Handler- to break up the seriousness and just for some good laughs.

- Sting- to serenade us.

What is your motto?

I heard this concept on a podcast recently, and it really stuck with me; Be a "learn-it-all" not, a "know-it-all."

I genuinely love to learn new things, and that is what this startup journey has afforded me. If I wasn't willing to take the time to research and learn, I could not have thoughtfully brought Inspiro from a concept to reality and into the market in eighteen months.

I listen to tons of podcasts, read and listen to books, reach out to experts and those ahead of me in the process. It has enabled me to take these learnings and apply them and constantly see where we can improve and do things better.

Please Sip and Enjoy Responsibly.