"We have a greater dependence on foreign liquor than we do on foreign oil," says Trey Azar, founder and chief executive officer of San Antonio-based Cinco Vodka.
And it's for that reason that the martini devotee (Cinco' motto is "The Martini Lover's Vodka"), who grew up in a family of beer distributors, decided to take it upon himself to create an American brand of ultra-premium vodka.
Cinco, which is distilled and bottled in small batches just outside of China Grove, is the only Texas vodka brand to distill in the European style, using winter wheat — the other Texas vodka brands are corn-based.
Cinco is not even a year old — it started distilling in November 2010 — but it's already making a name for itself. Founders Trey and Kimberly Azar can't count the number of people they've converted from premium European brands like Ketel One and Grey Goose, although they do name the manager of one chichi Houston establishment, in particular.
"Either we're making really good vodka, or people are really good liars," Trey says.
Cinco is distilled five times from Idaho-sourced amber wheat — three column distillations in Idaho and then another two in San Antonio in the distillery's 530-gallon hand-hammered copper kettle named "Betty."
Trey says the 5,000-square-foot facility, which also bottles on-site, was built on 30 acres with an eye toward expansion.
The bottling is done by hand, and the bottle itself is one of the nicest we've seen, with distinctive pressed glass, à la the pre-Prohibition era, instead of your standard etching.
"We wanted to stand out," Trey says, using the expression he coined for most other vodka bottles: "Lost in the frost, a sea of sameness."
"We didn't want to be frosted, we didn't want to sound Scandinavian. We wanted clarity as a reflection of our product."
The bottle is lined on each side with five raised faceted stars — Kim's touch. And each are topped with an American flag tag, so there's no mistaking this domestic brand.
Adding to Cinco's high-quality wheat and traditional distillation process, Cinco's water component (60 percent of an 80-proof vodka, like Cinco, is water) is drawn from the Edwards Aquifer, a protected limestone reservoir with attractive mineral qualities. Good water, good wheat and no added sugar amount to a good next morning.
The price point for Cinco is right about even with Ketel One, retailing at $24.50 per 750-ML bottle. It's less expensive than Grey Goose, Belvedere or Ciroc, meaning it's a solid value for the ultra-premium category aside from being local.
Next up for the Azars? Expansion to new markets — ideally Florida, Trey says —and a whole new spirit.
"We're working on a blended Texas whiskey now," he says. "The name's been trademarked; the logo and bottle design are underway." Although he wouldn't tell us the name, he says the expected launch is in January of 2013.
Cinco is available at Spec's and at choice Houston establishments (including the River Oaks Country Club). Don't have it at your local watering hole? Ask the manager — this is one of those brands we can get behind.
To take advantage of Cinco's promotions (past prizes have included $100 iTunes gift cards and dining certificates to Fleming's) visit the Facebook page, stay up-to-date on Twitter, and download the free App — which includes a "cocktail alarm clock," recipes, olive-marked maps to Cinco locations, a taxi locator and more.