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Oct 18, 2017

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Sammy Hagar
by Darryl Roberts
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 2.6

Wine X: I gotta ask you this up front: how'd you get the name "Red Rocker?"

Hagar: A journalist in Vancouver. I did a dollar show up there in '75 or '76 when I first left Montrose. It was like a dollar to get into this club called Rising Star Concerts... Some promoters wanted me up there -- 'Come see Sammy Hagar.' And I had this song called Red, and I had a red guitar and red pants, you know, and the writer called me the Red Rocker. The next day there's some fans at the hotel and they ask me to sign an autograph and said it'd be cool to sign it "Red Rocker." So I said, sure, you know, and... so I started signin' my name that way a little bit... Talk about something that just happened on its own.

Wine X: And it stuck.

Hagar: Yeah, I mean a year after that I'm walkin' down the street and they're yellin', 'Hey Red Rocker,' and I'm like, whoa, not self-proclaimed, here, you know. I almost denied it for a couple years. Don't get me wrong, though. I'm really into red. I like red. I got a lot of red cars an' all that stuff... I was tempted to have a red bottle for the tequila, but... It looked like Christmas, you know, so...

Wine X: Let's talk about tequila. How'd you get into this whole thing? Did it stem from your club or personal tastes or...?

Hagar: The club stemmed from tequila, actually. I've always been a fan of tequila. I don't drink much of it -- I'm not a big drinker. But when I discovered tequila, pure tequila, you know, with no chemicals... I was down in Mexico and got really wasted on this unbelievable tequila, Don Julio, actually, and it turned me around, because you didn't have to kill it with lime and salt. You wanted to taste it. It was like cognac. It tasted like scotch, you know. So I got into aged tequilas and so forth down there. Then I started building my club in Cabo in 1987. I originally wanted it to be a tequila, mezcal and beer club. Period. But there's no tequila in Cabo. I mean you can buy it. But it's not a tequila-producing region. So a friend and I went on a tequila tasting binge to start stock-piling stuff for the club while it was being built, and I found this unbelievable tequila, that happened to be called De la Hancia. This was back in '88. But you gotta get it when you're there, you know, because the next batch might not be the same. The stuff is phenomenal. It's all made in wood-burning ovens, which Cabo Wabo is by the way, and then aged in barrels. There's no crap in it. They don't change anything. Sometimes the alcohol's high or low. It's just like wine. There're good batches. Bad batches. Some better than others. And I really dug that, you know -- the personality of each tequila. So I found this De la Hancia and I wanted to make Cabo Wabo. But before I could make a deal with 'em, Patron bought 'em out. So I started lookin' again and found a company called Zafarancho and this guy named Julio Escandon, who I think is the finest tequila maker around. Not only did he make the tequila taste even better but production was much more consistent. So we set up a company in Hawaii and started shipping the tequila there. A guy there, Tim Girard, bought a thousand cases so my partner, Shep Gordon, and I figured we'd test market it there. The market's pretty forgiving, you know. It's a tourist market: people come, they taste it, they love it, they leave. If they can't get it again it doesn't matter. It was a test market to see if we could get it shipped on time.

Wine X: And?

Hagar: We had a lot problems. Breakage, bottles leaking, you know. We had to redesign the whole thing. Had to find a new bottle maker. Bring in more professional people for distribution. Which is now, you know, Wilson Daniels. And we're real happy about that but...

Wine X: Tough business, tequila?

Hagar: Real tough business. Everyone will promise you anything down there. You want 5,000 cases? Sure, no problem. Then they're a little behind and you find out just how far behind they are and... It takes a long time to get things in order and find the right people and a guy to stay on top of it.

Wine X: The major difference between Cabo Wabo and the standard tequila brands, then, is the wood-burning ovens?

Hagar: Yeah, that's that whole key to it. Everyone uses stainless steel. Without that wood-burning oven -- without that smokiness -- tequila tastes plain. It's almost too fine. It's like vodka, you know. See, regular tequila doesn't have a lot of taste unless you use a wood-burning oven, and then you get this smoky taste to it, which makes it more scotchy and more like a cognac. And then you age it in wood. I think that's the whole difference. Other than that, a tequila maker isn't really like a winemaker, a genius, you know...

Wine X: I got news for you, most winemakers aren't geniuses.

Personal Note: No offense to winemakers.

Hagar: Some are. There are some that can take a bad year and make a pretty damn decent wine outta it.

Wine X: Sure.

Hagar: Well tequila is just tequila. They all can really be the same. It's how much care they take. How clean it is. How much dirt and crap goes in it. Good wood, smokin' it right. And then how long you age it in wood barrels. I make a reposado -- I think the reposado is the tequila -- the ultimate tequila, which means it's been aged in wood for four months to a year. After a year it becomes an anejo, which means old. Reposado is really a shootin' tequila. That's the one you'd shoot with salt and lime. But now reposados like mine are gettin' so good.

Wine X: And anejos?

Hagar: Anejos are the ones you sit around and sip like an after-dinner drink, or before dinner. Or just sittin' at a bar sippin' it from a brandy snifter or wine glass. But I'm over those now. They're too rich, too... They're just not a tequila now. They're more like a scotch. They're too scotchy. A reposado's the ticket. I can make anything I want, you know. I choose reposado because... if you wanna make a margarita that doesn't leave that funky tequila aftertaste, or if you want to sip it you can sip it or if you wanna shoot it you can shoot it.

Wine X: It's versatile.

Hagar: Yeah. But four months to one year of aging is a big deal. Once you get a little bit over the edge after a year... We aged ours 14 months once just to see what would happen. Well, it becomes a anejo: big and heavy and oaky. So I'm into aging it about six months. Six months in the wood makes it complex, nice, smooth and takes that, you know, that big hot edge off.

Wine X: The shape of the bottle. Is that traditional in Mexico?

Hagar: Yeah. We decided to make it look more traditional. I wanted a porcelain jug shape 'cause that's the way tequila's made and drunk down there.

Wine X: And each bottle is hand-blown?

Hagar: Into a mold, yeah. In Mexico, there's a lot of that hand-blown glass with the bubbles in it. It's really kinda cheesy stuff, but it's their thing, you know. You drop it, man, it's just gonna break all over the damn place. But it's hand-made stuff. Now, if you go into the finest crystal shops, or whatever, down there, it's expensive stuff.

Wine X: You planning to make anything else? A mezcal?

Hagar: I don't think so. I think we're gonna to make a white tequila. I just have a feelin' that's where the market's goin' and, I hate to say it now, but I think that's where my taste is gonna go. I think if you get a really good white tequila, with no age on it, no wood, just wood-burning oven, I think people are gonna really get into that. I think that's the ticket.

Wine X: So you have a lot of say in the actual production -- the flavor and taste -- of your brand?

Hagar: Oh yeah. Totally. I mean, I discovered the stuff, you know.

Wine X: How many cases are you producing?

Hagar: We can only produce about 1,200 cases a month; 15,000 cases a year. That's the whole batch, you know. And we're not interested in makin' any more. This isn't what I do for a living. Just for me, it's really fun. I'm an adventurist, you know.

Wine X: Is most of it sold outta your club?

Hagar: We sell about a 1,000 cases a year outta the club. And that's pretty good considering all the other choices we have, you know. And it's pretty cool to turn people on to something you've found or discovered. My fans really dig it.

Wine X: Are people gonna drink it because it's Sammy Hagar's tequila or because it's really good?

Hagar: I always say, grab your favorite tequila, put it side by side with mine, smell and then taste it, and your mind will be blown. You'll never go back. I mean, regular tequilas smell like chemicals. They're made to taste consistent time after time, and that's the only way the major brands can do it, with chemicals.

Wine X: A thousand a year go through your club, the rest is distributed throughout the U.S.?

Hagar: Yeah, actually as of May first this year. To give you some technical information... It'll be California first. New York. Texas. Florida. 'Cause, see, again, we only make so much, so we can only hit one state at a time, to make an impact, you know. Boom boom. Ship three-to-four thousand cases to each state. The neat thing is that this tequila is really hot. Everyone that tasted it freaked out. Wilson Daniels [distributor] ordered 1,000 cases, originally. And they gave it to their sales people and said to just go out and take the temperature. In California alone they had orders for more than 5,000 cases. And then my fans got wind of it and they just got flooded.

Wine X: Price?

Hagar: About $40 a bottle. And I'm gonna try to keep it that price. This is really a $60 to $70 bottle of tequila. But we're gonna keep it around $40.

Wine X: So it's grown into quite a business. Where do you find the time?

Hagar: I'm a delegatin'' son-of-a-bitch, man. I just come up with the dream and then find the right people to run it.

Wine X: Let's talk about wine for a minute. You have quite a collection. About how many bottles?

Hagar: 'Bout 8,000.

Wine X: The oldest being?

Hagar: The oldest is a 1911 Bordeaux. I've got a lot of the better vintages. And a lot of '47s, mostly in magnums, 'cause that's the year I was born.

Wine X: When did you start collecting?

Hagar: Early seventies. That's when I really first started. From then on I've got about everything 'cause I buy a couple cases of each on pre-arrivals. Although I've sold-off half of it 'cause I'm thinkin' I'm never gonna get around to this. It's gonna go before I can drink it. Old Bordeauxs are fun to taste and everything but I prefer young five-year-old wines.

Wine X: Do you buy California wines?

Hagar: Oh yeah. I've been collectin' California wines since '72.

Wine X: You seem to know your stuff pretty well?

Hagar: It's so hard to keep up, you know? So... I'm just really likin' pinots, now. That's all I buy. That and Italian wines. And Vega Sicilia. Vega Sicilia's probably my favorite chateau in the world. Penfolds, too. That Hermitage. Wow!

Wine X: What are your preferences in California?

Hagar: I'll take sauvignon blanc over chardonnay and pinot over cabernet any day.

Wine X: Music. Marching to Mars, still kickin'?

Hagar: It's a year old, now. It came out last March, and... It's still doing really good, you know. It just dropped out of the top 200, so it sold for the whole year. I did 110 shows in America. Went back, played all the little towns across the country. I went back and said I'm doin' this from my heart, you know. Not for the money. I don't do anything for the money. And I played for three hours... I played every little town that had a 2,000 to 3,000 seat theater, and it was so much fun. But it took 110 shows to do America. And I missed a lot of places. I'd be out there for the next year-and-a-half if I hit all the markets. I just said I wanna go back in small theaters, no other bands, no confusion. And after 11 years of Van Halen, I want my old fans, and the Van Halen fans who are pure Sammy fans... I'm gonna have a pure Red Rocker, you know. And do an anthology, from Montrose all the way through. Twenty-five years of music.

Wine X: Working on anything new?

Hagar: I'm writin' a new record now, tentatively called Red Voodoo. We have a song in there called "Tequila Part Two," which is a song I wrote about drinkin' tequila, but... This album is gonna be an adult party record. Marching to Mars was a very serious record. Lot of issues: death penalty; you know, you name it. I couldn't help myself. I was driven to make a statement. But this isn't like that. This record's about fun, how to have it and doin' everything everybody likes to do, you know. I figure that's what rock n' roll and Sammy are pretty much all about. So I'm goin' back to my childhood one more time.

Wine X: Back to your roots?

Hagar: Yeah. But not sound-wise. Image-wise. I've always bee a fun guy. I've always been about Cabo Wabo, gettin' up on stage and havin' fun. Any concert when I was with Van Halen, I was all about ring-leading the party. So I decided to make a record like that.

Wine X: Any Mexican influence on the record.

Hagar: A little bit. Kinda rhythmically. It's a very rhythm-oriented record, more Latino, I'd say, than Mexican. There'll be a lot of percussion on it. Four or five songs are gonna have horns on 'em. One song's got a Mexican trumpet -- Tequila part Two. It's an honest record, you know.

Wine X: Okay, you gotta choose between wine and tequila. Which one?

Hagar: I'd drink wine. Unless it's margaritas. When I have hot foods I have margaritas and beer. Other than that, I always drink wine. The only time I really drink a lot of tequila is when I'm in Mexico at my club.

Wine X: Are you familiar with our magazine?

Hagar: Yeah. Yeah, I dig it. I've seen the last three issues and you guys are totally hip. You're doin' the right thing.

Wine X: Thanks.

Hagar: What's so cool about this is that you guys are really on to it, man, Wine has been such a snobby-ass thing, you know, and I've always felt that... and I've been collecting and drinking it since '72... and I'd run into these guys, big-time wine taster guys, because of my collection or someone hears something about some thing, and they'd invite me to a tasting... I've haven't done this for 15 years now because... It got so ugly, you know. Some guy be talkin' about how the wine tastes like artichokes, you know. I mean shit, man. It's all about what it smells like and tastes like to you. Not to someone else, you know. So that didn't work out for me. Like rock n' roll, it's about havin' fun and not being snobby about it.

Wine X: Hey, we appreciate your time. Thanks.

Hagar: Thank you.

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