Got Tequila?

Who: Kailee Asher, Corporate Mixologist, Azuñia Tequila
The Conversation: Enlightening
By: Laura Stoddard

Sometimes you just can’t outrun your destiny. You may try to go in one direction with your career or life, but like a magnet, the universe pulls you back. Such was the case for Kailee Asher, Corporate Mixologist for Azuñia Tequila. Ten years ago, she would’ve chosen any job but one related to the hospitality and spirits industries, and yet…destiny pulled her back. And she couldn’t be happier.

TRYING TO BREAK THE MOLD
Kailee refers to herself as the proverbial casino kid. Born and raised in Las Vegas, her mom was a cocktail waitress on the casino floor and her stepdad was a pit boss. They worked for Harrah’s, moving around to different properties, and helping open new casinos. So she grew up in an environment that was colorful, vibrant, and had an almost euphoric energy.

Kailee went to the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and even though it’s the second best hospitality school in the country, she studied public relations and communications. She worked full-time at a mortgage office while going to school, and even though it paid next to nothing and wasn’t all that exciting, it worked with her school schedule. And then the recession hit, and Kailee lost her job. “So now I’m 21 years old and going, What the heck am I going to do with my life? I needed a night job so I could keep going to school and finish my degree, so I applied for all these jobs online.” Considering where she lived, it’s no surprise that the majority of open positions were in the industry she’d vowed to stay away from. But sometimes necessity requires compromise.

BACK TO HER ROOTS
“I ended up getting a job as a cashier at a nightclub at the MGM grand, and my job was to basically charge people when they walked in the door to the club. About six months in, the managers would ask me to cover when a cocktail waitress would call in or something and I was like, I really don’t want to do it—I’m making good money doing door admissions, it’s a union job, I have health insurance, I’m fine.” Eventually, though, she acquiesced, and suddenly she was making not only good money, but great money.

She discovered two things; one, that she actually really enjoyed waitressing, and two, that she could see herself being in the hospitality business without it consuming her life. “I started taking secondary courses at UNLV—wine classes, liquor classes, bartending classes—and really gained this new perspective, and this really great basis of knowledge. I could see that there were other opportunities in the industry.”

After college, Kailee moved around the western United States, working in PR and communications jobs, but still bartending at night. By then she’d discovered the world of craft cocktails, specifically some that tasted like food, and she had an epiphany. “I went, You can make drinks taste like food? I want to do that! I LOVE food! That’s the kind of bartending I want to do! Screw the Jack and cokes. I started getting really excited—because I love to cook—so I started learning about classic cocktails and all these really cool drinks you could make, and I became passionate about it.”

All during this time, something of an incessant battle raged within her. She wanted to pursue a career in PR and communications, with gigs in the hospitality business just on the side. Or did she? She was fast becoming fascinated with the world of cocktails, she loved bartending, and the money was killer. So, maybe she should do that full-time instead. By the time she was 25 years old, she said she felt completely lost. “I was trying so hard for so long to go into anything but that industry.” She worked for a while at the Chamber Bureau in Park City, then interned at a PR firm in San Diego. “I was trying to make my life work in PR, but it was like trying to put a square peg in a round hole. It just wasn’t working for me.”

FINDING DIRECTION
Around that time, one of her friends convinced her to go to a psychic and get a tarot card reading. Kailee agreed reluctantly, not a believer in that kind of thing, but she figured she’d play along. “So my question to the psychic wasn’t like, When am I going to meet the love of my life? Am I going to have kids? My question was, What am I supposed to do with my life? Where am I supposed to be? I’m just lost and I want to know what I’m supposed to do with my career.” At that particular point in time she was selling timeshares, a job she absolutely loathed. The psychic’s answer surprised Kailee, and yet, it also felt right. It went something like this: “I don’t really know what you did before, but you’re supposed to go back to that and embrace it. Because once you finally embrace your destiny, the chips will fall into place.” Kailee had always been happiest when she was cocktail waitressing or bartending, so she knew what she was supposed to go back to.

Kailee dove into the beverage and hospitality industry with renewed fervor and soon became part of the U.S. Bartenders Guild. She moved back to Vegas and started working at Commonwealth, a hip downtown bar that served cocktails. One particularly busy night the chips that the psychic had mentioned started to fall into place. A friend of Kailee’s came into the club with an entourage of friends. Her future husband, well-known valley mixologist, Jason Asher, happened to be in that group, and they hit it off immediately. After about five months of dating, Jason asked her to move to Arizona so they could be together. She started bartending at Virtù in Scottsdale and had an amazing experience working with Chef Gio Osso, and getting to come up with some of the restaurant’s cocktails.

“But what I really wanted to do,” she said, “was to take my knowledge and education with communications and PR, and my love for craft spirits, wine, beer, and creating cocktails, and hopefully have a job where those two worlds kind of met. I always kind of wanted to be a rep, or a brand ambassador, or something like that.”

A little less than a year after moving to Arizona, another chip fell into place. Her friend Danielle, a rep for Azūnia Tequila, called from San Diego to see if Kailee wanted to take over her job. Kailee was thrilled. It was exactly the kind of job she’d been hoping for, but unfortunately, moving to San Diego wasn’t an option. A happy solution easily presented itself. The current Arizona rep would move to San Diego to take Danielle’s place, and Kailee would become the rep in Arizona.

TEQUILA – “A SPECIAL SPIRIT”
“Fast forward over the last three years,” she said, “and my job has been kind of like the national brand ambassador and corporate mixologist for Azuñia tequila. I also oversee a sales territory for the southwest region of the U.S. Whenever my national accounts person is presenting to a big national chain, we put together a cocktail presentation with drinks that we think will fit that type of account. I’m also in charge of creating cocktail presentations and drinks for my sales reps in their territories. They may have an account who wants something for a Cuban or Italian themed dinner (cuisines not typically linked to tequila), so my job is to come up with clever ideas.” She also does promotional events, like dinners and tastings throughout the year. “My job also includes implementing marketing plans, and helping create social media and newsletter content. So I wear many hats.”

Of all the spirits Kailee has worked with, tequila is one of her favorites. “I love tequila; it’s a really special spirit. All Mexican distillates are really special, because there’s this really big heritage and family pride aspect to it. The other thing I love about tequila is that, if you allow it to be, it’s this natural, organic, beautiful plant that you have to be extremely patient for. It’s a gambling man’s game. It takes eight years on average for this plant to come to full maturation, and then you cut it out of the ground and you can only use it once, and then you have to wait eight years for another plant to grow. So there’s a lot of patience and heart that goes into it.”

THE AZUÑIA DIFFERENCE
“What makes Azuñia special is that it uses all estate-grown [Blue Weber] agave, which is pretty unique these days.” She explained that a lot of people or companies will find a distillery in Mexico that they want to use to make their tequila, but those distilleries have contracts with multiple farmers, which means the plants, production methods, and quality are hard to monitor. Consistency is key in producing a superior product. Of particular importance, said Kailee, is the terroir (land and environment) aspect. “Agave is really contingent on the type soil, the amount of rainfall, how cold it is in the winter, elevation, so many things. So that’s one of the aspects of Azuñia that makes it so special. We’re not contracting with a bunch of people, and the fields and distillery are on the same land. We have full control over everything we do.” (For more comprehensive background on the history of Azūnia tequila, check out their website: https://www.azuniatequila.com/.

Today you can find Azuñia Tequila at various locations around the valley, including AJ’s Fine Foods, the Gilbert Convenient Mart, the Liquor Vault, and Cellars Fine Wine & Spirits. You might even come across one of Kailee’s specialty Azuñia cocktails at one of the bars her husband co-owns (UnderTow in Arcadia and Counter Intuitive in Scottsdale).

“He steals my cocktail ideas all the time,” she laughed. “I’ll tell him I’m going to make something, and everything I’m going to put in it, and he’ll go, I don’t know about that. Then he’ll try it and go, Oh, that’s good!” Then, low and behold, she’ll discover a drink, just slightly different from the one she described to him on his menu. “I think it’s funny,” she said, “but I’ll always know that it’s my drink and it’s not like I don’t take his ideas too.”

Kailee is so happy to have found a career in which she feels comfortable with her involvement in the industry, is utilizing her PR and communications skills on a daily basis, and loves and stands behind the product she represents. Destiny. And some clear-cut input from a psychic. (Maybe it’s time for me to go get my cards read…) Thanks again for your time, Kailee!


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Erik Merkow
Founder and CEO at Az Food & Wine
Erik: a father, writer, entrepreneur, son, photographer, corporate guy, friend, brother, and foodie wine guy



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