Mas tequila brought mas dinero to Sammy Hagar 15 years ago.
It was on May 7, 2007, that Hagar announced he was selling an 80 percent interest in his Cabo Wabo Tequila to Italy’s Gruppo Campari, then the world’s seventh-largest distributor of spirits. What began modestly as a house brand at Hagar’s Cabo Wabo restaurant and nightclub in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, sold for a reported $80 million (more than $104.5 million in 2022 money), likely a greater haul than the Red Rocker had taken in, total, during his then 24 years as a recording artist and frontman of bands such as Montrose and Van Halen.
But, Hagar told UCR at the time of the sale, it was not just about the money. He was also motivated by the ability to make Cabo Wabo a worldwide brand. “To get my tequila everywhere in the world, I had to go with the big liquor companies,” Hagar explained. “When you walk into a bar in Hong Kong, you want to see Cabo Wabo behind the bar. So I sold them the amount (of the company) it took to make the deal. If they’d have said, ‘We’ll do it for 20 percent of the company’ or ‘we’ll do it for 30,’ I would’ve done THAT deal. If they had said 100 percent, then, no.
“I really made a partnership deal, like an independent label would do with a Warner Brothers or a Universal or a bigger record company. And I still have 20 percent. But my partners are out of sight people and they’re gonna spread this brand worldwide. And they don’t want me to change anything; they said, ‘We love what you’ve done with this company, that’s why we want to get involved. If anything, get another tattoo…'”
Cabo Wabo was, of course, an unexpected mega success story for Hagar. He’d opened the Cabo Wabo cantina during April of 1990, which was a flop at first but then became successful with new management, eventually opening other locations in Lake Tahoe, Fresno and Las Vegas.
Hagar started making Cabo Wabo tequila during the late ’90s with the help of a family-owned distillery in Jalisco, Mexico, around the same time he proclaimed his love for the liquor with his 1999 single “Mas Tequila.” During its first year Cabo Wabo sold 37,000 cases; by the time of the sale it was moving 147,000 cases, making it the No. 2-selling premium tequila brand in the United States. In announcing the purchase, Gerry Ruvo, president and chief executive of Skyy Spirits — which marketed Cabo Wabo for Gruppo Campari — said that, “Sammy has done a fantastic job building the brand, so we are going to obviously spend time with him and work with him to continue our efforts to take the brand to an even larger level, both here in the U.S. and, more important, globally.”
Acclaim for Cabo Wabo only mounted after the sale. The brand received five medals, including a double gold, at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition between 2008-2012. More recently it received a gold medal at the 2020 New York International Spirits Competition. “I love that,” Hagar said of the acclaim. “I didn’t want this to be, like, a (Jose) Cuervo mass market brand. I wanted it to be viewed as a really fine, boutiquey, special thing, but I want it to be everywhere, too.”
Cabo Wabo was also a launch pad for Hagar’s other liquor interests. During November of 2011 he rolled out Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum, distilled in Hawaii. And in 2017 he added Santo Mezquila, a partnership with Maroon 5 frontman and The Voice host Adam Levine and the first-ever blend of mescal and tequila.
The Best Song From Every Sammy Hagar Album
On his own or in a group, the Red Rocker proves there’s more than one way to rock.