Look Behind the Scenes of LALO: The Tequila Brand Bringing the Spirit of Modern Mexico to the U.S.

Presented by LALO

Lalo González and David R. Carballido. All images courtesy of LALO.

“We're selling real tequila,” says David R. Carballido, co-founder of LALO, when asked what sets his product apart from all the other bottles lining bar shelves. “When you try LALO, you taste pure tequila from the highlands of Jalisco. I get worried sometimes that people think the taste of tequila is one that some celebrity endorses.” Unlike those brands, R. Carballido and his co-founder, Lalo González, have turned down celebrity affiliations, declined to produce the kind of novelty nightclub bottles often accompanied by sparklers, and stuck to promoting a single hero product: blanco.

Their Guadalajara-born brand began in 2017 as a small-batch project between two childhood friends. Bottles found their ways into family members’ liquor cabinets and became the designated tequila at a friend’s wedding. Scaling the operation was the logical next step as demand outpaced supply. When they finally did so, the pair named the brand LALO after González’s father, Eduardo "Lalo" González, himself the son of tequila doyen Don Julio.

The LALO See New campaign. Campaign photography by Santiago Sierra Soler.

Based between Austin, Texas and Guadalajara, R. Carballido and González have each honed in on the parts of the business they excel at: The former speaks passionately about front-end messaging, while the latter outlines the liquor-making techniques he’s inherited as a third-generation tequilero. A little insight: LALO is pure agave, champagne yeast, and well water, twice distilled.

“We just became a national brand recently. That's a big milestone for us,” says González. “We're available in every state in the U.S.” That momentum comes alongside a deluge of projects, including partnerships with the Whitney, Contemporary Austin, and SXSW—all places the founders themselves enjoy. “We never wanted to grow fast,” explains R. Carballido, of LALO’s gradual infiltration of a young, cultural scene. “We really try to get involved with art because we like art. And we're really involved in fashion.”

As the pair expand LALO stateside, and to markets around the world, they bring more than a taste of home with them. Like all tequila, the brand’s product is native to Mexico, but so too are the photographers, designers, and more working on campaigns, like LALO’s recent See New initiative. The brand’s social media is littered with local recommendations of places to visit and people to pay attention to. As increased attention is bestowed upon the country’s fast-growing international presence, LALO is positioning itself alongside the cultural institutions making waves stateside. Now, Carballido and González are ready to introduce themselves as the men behind the mission.

CULTURED: First, I want to hear how you guys got the brand off the ground floor.

David R. Carballido: Lalo and I, we have known each other since we were 15. We love tequila but in different ways. We never considered doing a business. Lalo has a lot of experience with the production of tequila because of his family background, and I was doing brand positioning, especially for tequila brands.

Lalo González: [Ours] is very similar to the story of the love and passion of my grandfather for the agricultural side of the business, which is what I represent in LALO—the purity, honesty, and transparency in how we make things. It's continuing this legacy and authenticity but building our own story and brand in a different way. But it’s not only the tequila—it’s to share with the world our Mexico.

CULTURED: Growing up in a family that's done this for some time, is this kind of a career path you expected to take?

González: I grew up in this world, and when you grow up doing something, you do it because it's natural. At the same time, you don't know what you're passionate about until you're actually doing it from the ground up. The reason why I decided to do it is because David really encouraged this to happen. I enjoyed doing this without earning any money because, at the beginning, we were just putting in money.

CULTURED: What are the modern touch points that you have been able to infuse into the brand, since so much is about the heritage of the product and land?

R. Carballido: We really want everyone to succeed, especially if you're supporting Mexico and giving jobs to Mexico. We always like to be friends with other brands. But what we're doing differently is dedicating our lives to this; this is our main job. What you see and what you taste is a reflection of two young Mexicans that are from Jalisco. It's personal.

We're stubborn and determined to use just agave from the highlands. We use a really strict process that Lalo learned and he likes. We’re committed not to pleasing a market, [but] to pleasing ourselves and sharing with the world what we created for us, for our friends, and for our family.

That's the same reason we just have an additive-free blanco, which is a question that we get often: When are you going to do reposado? We could get more space on the shelves or follow the trend of the tall bottle, but we're not that.

González: On the production side, we created LALO to be a very easy-to-drink brand that tastes like tequila, obviously, but that is versatile. You can sip on it, but then you can also put it in a cocktail, you can drink it on the rocks, you can drink it out of the bottle, you can shoot it, you can do whatever you want. We don't want to teach people how to drink. We want to deliver the best quality blanco that they can get on the market, and we want them to play with it.

CULTURED: This is a brand that is made by people who come from this area. Do you think that's something that's been lost in the market?

R. Carballido: We were approached by some celebrities at different times, and when we were saying no everyone thought we were crazy. Nowadays, what people want is honesty and authenticity. You see every influencer promoting a sparkling water, and in two weeks they're promoting another sparkling water. I know celebrities that don't actually drink alcohol and they're the faces of tequila brands.

For us, it is more than a strategy. Even in this [See New] campaign, the stuff that we create resonates with who we are. The clothes that the models are wearing are a style of clothes that we like. The way the drinks are presented is the way that we will drink them. We're not selling something we won't consume.

González: This trend of celebrities in spirits, specifically in tequila or agave spirits, is bringing consumers to the category. I try to see the positive side of all these new trends. It's our job as Mexicans and as founders of a Mexican-owned brand, an authentic and traditional brand, to let the consumer know that there's more beyond the face on the back of the bottle. There's a production process, there's a story, there are families that have been making tequila for many, many, many years. It's kind of the perfect segue.

Photography by Pablo Astorga.

CULTURED: In Mexico, is it quite a different row of bottles when you go to the bar?

González: It's shocking to see that in the industry, you can find better quality tequilas in the U.S. than in Mexico. There are multiple reasons why. The reality is that all the good stuff comes to the U.S. and there are more options in the U.S. But, you also have the other, celebrity-backed tequila. The U.S. is the largest market for tequila consumption in the world, even more than Mexico, so it just makes sense that you have more options.

CULTURED: Do you think that there's a misconception in the way that people think of the cultural scene in Mexico, or just that more attention is being brought down there?

R. Carballido: There are two Mexicos or two versions wherever you go. If I go to New York and I go just to Times Square, it's completely different than if I go with you and you show me where you live and the restaurants and entertainment. So that is Mexico City. The “seekers of the new” that we have in our campaign are the people who are making Mexico City what it is on the international map. They are the people who are talking about all that is happening there—the art scene, culinary arts, fashion, and everything else.

We want to use LALO as a platform to show people that there is more. You can go to Cancún—it's great, it's beautiful, but you can’t find these things. That's why even in our social media, we try to present hotels and designers that we like.

González: The misconception in the world about Mexico is because of what you have seen in the movies about what Mexico is. That's not the real Mexico. That's not the Mexico that we are experiencing as Mexicans. Mexico is not what you see in some newspapers or in the media.

That's what we're trying to do in LALO: be a portal to the Mexico that we experience and the Mexico we want the world to see. Mexico City is in the spotlight, but I think it's way more [than that] and Guadalajara, our hometown, needs to be discovered.

R. Carballido: It depends so much on who shows you the city, right? With the See New campaign, Lalo and I will be the guide.

CULTURED: How are you facilitating that on your side?

R. Carballido: We try to be present in most of the events that we do. We are going to do a lot in the Hamptons this summer. The Hamptons is a special place for the brand because we tried to create experiences based on areas. We care about where the first time you see the brand and how your experience was.

We always say LALO is not intended as a special occasion tequila, it is intended to make any occasion special. We want that: wherever you see LALO is a special occasion for you, and then when you see the bottle again, it reminds you of that experience. We're the only brand competing out there that doesn’t belong to any group. We're an independent company, Mexican-owned and the founders are there.