In the Spirit

In the Spirit: Ghost Tequila | Listen

By: Amber Chase

Leaning on the key ingredient of ghost peppers, Ghost Tequila boasts a uniquely spicy spirit that seamlessly harmonizes spice with the smoothness of agave. Jeff Popkin, Ghost Tequila’s CEO, is no stranger to the beverage industry, and the moment he saw Ghost on a menu thought, “How could that not be a winning spirit?” Coming into 2024, it’s easy to see how Ghost Tequila is quickly evolving from an intriguing tequila to a household name.

GhostTequila Sidecar BloodyMaria

Ghost Tequila Brings and Balances the Heat

The Local Palate: Tell us about your journey into the distilling world.

Jeff Popkin: I’m a career beverage guy, and came up in the Coors Beer system, working in distribution for about 15 years. My time with Coors brought me all over the states, working in Dallas, Atlanta, and Denver. When the market crashed in 2008, I shifted gears, and worked with Red Bull and Vita Coco in New York. Then, my career shifted, and I became the CEO of Jägermeister in the Americas for seven years. 

The thing about the beverage business is you get emotionally attached to the brands you work with. Wherever you are, whether it’s out to eat or playing a round of pickleball, beverages are always part of it. You find yourself looking at branding, taste-testing, and wondering which brands have the bones to go the distance. I’ve worked with multiple juggernauts in the industry, but my tequila fascination began after helping get Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Teremana tequila brand moving. I visited Mexico and quickly fell in love with the small batch process. 

When I first saw Ghost Tequila on a menu, my interest piqued. This tequila has swagger, it’s unique, and it’s more than just another celebrity-endorsed spirit. I got a call and started as CEO in April of 2023. 

GhostTequila Sidecar BottleLineup

TLP: Why ghost peppers? How should home and professional bartenders embrace the heat?

Jeff Popkin: What Ghost Tequila offers is a perfectly spicy sensation that accents the cocktail but doesn’t overpower it. With Ghost, it’s a neutral spice, not vegetal, like something you would get from a jalapeño. Much like an old fashioned, the spice just peeks through. If you think of taste buds and how the tongue works, a cocktail should bounce off different sectors of the tongue creating a symphony, rather than just a singular note. 

For those that are spice-hesitant, I’d say we’re a little less than medium heat. Most people who have experienced an unpleasant burning sensation had a cocktail with a muddled jalapeño that shot their taste buds. Ours is a smooth, comfortable burn with a little heat at the swallow. This heat is also even more subtle in something like a margarita, and our Blanco Tequila pairs perfectly with something like a watermelon-cucumber margarita or mango margarita. 

Our new Reposado is a sipping tequila. Think of notes you’d find in a rye whiskey but with undertones of caramel from the agave. You’ll find a little wood on the nose too. This is ideal for something like ranch water, simply tequila and soda for a balanced, spicy sensation. 

TLP: Tell us about the infusion process.

Jeff Popkin: We infuse the tequila with ghost peppers after the distillation to achieve a pristine absorption rate, making it a perfectly spicy tool for bartenders. We use pot stills and our Blanco Tequila is barrel-aged for 3-6 months. We really do have to pay attention to the blending between the peppers and the agave. Each batch of peppers can carry their own level of heat, depending on their growing processes, so offsetting this looks a little different each time. 

We also emphasize that we use 100% agave. Agave is the holy grail of sweeteners in the beverage world, and using quality ingredients has a massive impact on flavor. For those that have a difficult past with tequila, drinking quality tequila with 100% agave truly makes all the difference. 

TLP: What is your favorite way to enjoy Ghost Tequila? Specifically, how do you like to enjoy the Reposado?

Jeff Popkin: I’ll be honest, once I have to start shaking a cocktail, I get a little intimidated. For me, a simple watermelon cucumber margarita with watermelon puree and cucumber syrup really shows the range of our Blanco.

For our Reposado, I like to sip it slowly over ice with a squeeze of lime. Or, if I’m feeling fancier, an espresso martini balancing that textured Reposado with chocolate, coffee, and spice–it doesn’t get better than that.

GhostTequila Sidecar MangoMargarita

Ghost Tequila Margaritas To Make at Home

Perfectly Spicy Margarita x Ghost Tequila

Perfectly Spicy™ Margarita 

Spicy Mango Margarita x Ghost Tequila

Spicy Mango Margarita

Spicy Watermelon Cucumber Margarita x Ghost Tequila

Spicy Watermelon Cucumber Margarita

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