In the Spirit is the Local Palate’s newest digital column. Each month we highlight an up-and-coming distiller bringing innovation and quality products to the South’s spirits scene.
Distilleries have long been characterized as an old boys’ club. Rikki Kelly, however, is intent on changing this stereotype with her take-charge attitude and determination. And, she’s enjoying some drinks along the way. Kelly is founder and owner of Ego Tequila, an up-and-coming tequila brand distilled in Jalisco, Mexico, that celebrates crisp citrus and white flower flavors by using highland and lowland agave.
Kelly dove headfirst into the spirits industry at age twenty-four after studying business at the University of Arkansas and previously working at a construction company. Ego Tequila soon launched in 2021 when Kelly was 26, making her the first Black woman in Texas to own a tequila brand and the third in the nation.
The Local Palate talked with the self-driven entrepreneur to learn about her experience getting into the distilling industry at such a young age and her excitement of the Ego Tequila brand.
RIKKI KELLY ON EGO TEQUILA
What inspired you to go into distilling? How did you learn about the process?
The inspiration to start Ego Tequila, other than my love of margaritas and smooth tequila, was that I didn’t see a lot of female-minority owned brands. At the time, I had also noticed more celebrities were coming out with their own brands or plastering their image behind one. There wasn’t enough representation in the industry for women like me and that motivated me to get into tequila. I did some research, watched videos on YouTube, and listened to podcasts. But, when I toured the distillery is when I got to fully understand the process and concept behind making tequila.
How did you get the company started?
I started Ego Tequila back in June 2019. Initially, when I got into the industry, I met with a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) consultant who gave me the clearance to go ahead and start the company. I was in my way and lacked confidence because I didn’t know what I was doing. After that, I met with the distillery that distills Ego to construct the brand, found an awesome branding and spirits agency called Fried Hustle to help guide me along the way, funded it with my paychecks, and eventually Ego Tequila launched! The way I just described makes it sound so simple, but it was nothing of the sort.
Your labels are captivating with the artistic design. Where does the inspiration come from?
Absolutely love my labels! I didn’t know a whole lot about this industry initially, but what I did know was that this industry is heavily saturated.
I’m not a celebrity or influencer, so I was determined to make my bottle a game changer. I adore metallic foils, vivid colors, and lines–I wanted them to be incorporated into the label. It was also really important for me to include some of the Mexican culture and adding the ancient Aztecs imagery was a perfect touch.
What was it like breaking into the spirits industry at age twenty-four? Did your age pose many challenges?
It was tough, honestly. I only had my passion and drive when I came into the industry. I was missing the experience, knowledge, and basic communication skills. I’ve always thought that my age was a pro and con. Getting into the industry at a young age was really good, there’s room for growth (business and personal) and I’m an inspiration to everyone especially in the Black community–I love that. On the downside, I still feel I’m not sure what I’m doing. Everyday there’s something new to learn, and I’m trying to apply it to these situations I keep digging myself into.
It’s said you use “traditional and innovative” techniques to create your product. What about your method do you consider innovative?
The process that the tequila goes through is very complex, which makes it innovative. There’s an inactive volcano that has produced natural spring water, which is then used to help extract the juices from the agaves after they’ve been cooked and shredded. In addition, the distillery that distills Ego Tequila uses alembic stills. These stills are considered ancient, and they help enhance the flavor of the tequila during the distilling process so no shortcuts! There are other methods, but I consider those to be the some of the most important.
Do have any plans of what you want to do next with Ego Tequila?
As far as expanding the brand. I’d like to branch out into a new market, continue to group Ego Tequila’s footprint in Texas, and gain more major partnerships. Honestly, a top goal for me would be to secure a partnership with ACL Festival!
What’s one of your Ego Tequila cocktail recipes?
We recently had some cocktails curated by local bartender and television host, Thomas Holbert (Tommy the Bartender) here in Dallas-Fort Worth. One of the cocktails he made was a basil and grapefruit reduction cocktail. It pairs so well with Ego Tequila Blanco!
Get the Recipe
Basil and Grapefruit Cocktail
- by Erin Byers Murray
- by Amber Chase