The big interview: Lenny Kravitz
When it comes to launching a drinks brand, rock star Lenny Kravitz is going his own way by bringing Mexican spirit sotol to a wider audience. He tells Melita Kiely what attracted him to the project, and his ambitions for new brand Nocheluna.
Lenny Kravitz “is the epitome of cool”, as Aquaman actor Jason Momoa once attested in an interview. With multiple Grammy awards to his name, the Are You Gonna Go My Way singer has cemented his status as a certified living rock ’n’ roll legend. He’s performed with musical deities such as Prince and David Bowie, sold millions of albums worldwide, starred in Hollywood movies, and even launched his own dental care line, called Twice.
It’s enough success to last a lifetime. Yet just over three decades since the launch of his debut album, Let Love Rule, it feels as though we’ve only seen a fraction of Kravitz’s full potential. His latest venture made drinks industry heads sit up and pay attention, when news of his inaugural spirits venture broke last month.
While other celebrities have tapped into the growing trend for agave-based spirits, American whiskey, and vodka, true to his unique style, Kravitz has opted to enter the world of distillation via a much lesser-known category: sotol.
“I was in the Dominican Republic filming a movie with J-Lo that’s not out yet, a film called Shotgun Wedding, and somebody was telling me about sotol,” he explains over a Zoom call from the Bahamas, where he splits his time with Paris and Brazil.
“I got a secret sample sent to me in an unmarked bottle with a sticker on it, it’s in writing, and I had been told what it was but I was not knowledgeable about sotol. I knew that sotol was somewhere in the family of a mezcal or Tequila, but not. I opened it up, took a sip of it neat, and I was immediately intrigued by the flavour.”
At the time, little did Kravitz know that tasting would lead to him partnering with Mexican spirits group Casa Lumbre – the company behind mezcal brands Montelobos and Ojo de Tigre, and Mexican whisky Abasolo – to create Nocheluna Sotol.
“It had all the notes that I particularly like, especially the smoke; it has a very smooth, elegant smokiness to it,” says Kravitz. “And then it has notes of cacao, and stone fruits, and different things. And I got it. And then I was with a bunch of the cast, we were sitting at dinner, and there were fresh fruits all around. So starting with pineapple, we started mixing the sotol with some different fruits and spices – and it mixed so well. It just enhanced all the fruit flavours in the spirit.”
Kravitz could not take his mind off of sotol, and found himself continuously researching and reading as much as he could about the native Mexican spirit. As part of his research, he travelled to Chihuahua in Mexico to meet producers, and learn all about the production process, from desert to distillation.
“On that trip, it worked out that I partnered with those people, those generations of families who make sotol, in a very organic situation,” Kravitz recalls. “I met some really wonderful human beings, and this is their art form, their culture, their families, and I just want to be a part of introducing that to the wider world. So that’s what I did; that’s where we are right now.”
Nocheluna Sotol is crafted by local experts: fourth-generation master vinatero Don ‘Lalo’ Eduardo Arrieta, sotol educator Ricardo Pico, and Casa Lumbre’s chief innovation officer and partner, Iván Saldaña. The sotol is made from the dasylirion plant, which is native to the Chihuahuan Desert in Mexico. The plant thrives in desert conditions, flourishing in hot, dry days and cool nights.
To begin, the heads of the plant, called cabezas, are cooked for 72-96 hours, before undergoing a week-long fermentation in open-air wooden vats.
The liquid is then distilled in copper stills. Nocheluna Sotol is said to offer flavours of wild herbs, dried stone fruits, caramel and honey, complemented by deep minerality and oak firewood.
Nocheluna Sotol officially launched in October, with Jameson Irish whiskey owner Pernod Ricard acquiring a minority stake. At the time of the launch, Moises Guindi, Casa Lumbre CEO and co-founder, said: “In these partners we have found not just financial investment to enable our work, but partners who help foster awareness, which can further allow Mexico to reach all corners of the world. I am proud to have assembled a team that will lead people to discover a new taste of Mexico – one they have not imagined yet.”
From the initial idea conception to the product launch, Kravitz says Nocheluna Sotol was “a good couple of years’ work”, most of which took place during the pandemic.
The brand name, Nocheluna, was inspired by the roots of sotol in the desert, as Kravitz explains. “When you’re out there in the desert, you’re under the moon, under the stars, under the sky, it’s quite surreal – you’re in the middle of nowhere. It’s like you’re in outer space,” he says.
“We wanted to have a Spanish name, and ‘noche’ and ‘luna’ are two words that pretty much anybody with any basic Spanish knowledge at all will understand. And then we came out of our meeting in the Bahamas, we walked outside and the full moon was over our heads. So we knew we’d chosen the right name. It was about the atmosphere where the sotol is grown, and two identifiable words.”
Sitting at 43% ABV, Nocheluna is available in Mexico and in a number of US states, including Texas, California, New York, Florida, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, and New Mexico, priced at RRP US$79.99 per bottle. It will be available across the US by the end of 2022, and will also launch in select global markets.
I ask Kravitz where he would like to see Nocheluna Sotol available, and his global ambitions become apparent: “Everywhere, if I’m being honest. I spend a lot of time all over Europe. Obviously Paris, I live between Paris, the Bahamas, and Brazil. America, North America, South America, Asia – we’re looking at this with a very side scope. Obviously, our fist initiative is to break into and get respect in Mexico, and just flourish from there.”
He continues to share his own experiences with Tequila, and his perception of that agave spirit’s evolution.
“I can remember going back 20 years, you know, touring in Europe and being in Paris, and asking for certain spirits, even Tequila,” Kravitz recalls. “Nobody was really drinking Tequila. It wasn’t a big category over there. And now, of course, it is, and things change.”
He confirms the brand will be looking at both the on-trade and off-trade to raise awareness of Nocheluna. “Bars and mixologists can help to get this out to all the people that should be tasting this. That can be a great ambassador,” he notes.
Creativity is in Kravitz’s DNA, and he draws key parallels between the skills he utilises to make music and films, and those used by distillers and blenders to make spirits.
“It’s all a process; it is all creativity and it all takes patience and precision,” he says. “And you know, I do identify with what these people are making from a plant. They’re taking this beautiful, resilient plant that grows in the desert, and they’re making something out of it. I’m making notes, and there’s only so many notes: do, ray, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, and then you’re back to do again (of course you’ve got your sharps and your flats), but it’s the same sort of process. I learned that when I was working with Dom Pérignon before that.”
A different discipline
He explains how he was on friendly terms with a former chef de cave (cellar master) at Dom Pérignon. “Both of us, you would think we were at opposite ends of the spectrum,” Kravitz continues. “And as we hung out, and as I went to Champagne and watched his process, and learned about it, and he came to my shows, into the studio, we realised we do the same thing. And that’s when I realised that about the making of spirits.
“I love creativity in general, whether it’s music, photography, design, whatever it may be, to me, it’s all the same thing, just a different discipline.”
Kravitz was able to channel some of his other creative passions into the bottle design for Nocheluna and the imagery that was shot to accompany the launch. “I pulled in my dear friend [American photographer] Mike Seliger to accompany me on the trip, and he shot all those beautiful photographs,” Kravitz credits.
Kravitz confirms that talks are already under way about future line extensions to the Nocheluna Sotol range. “We’re talking about that now,” he says, “about expanding and doing other things, as we begin to launch this year.”
Expectations should be set at nothing less that something unique, in true Lenny Kravitz style. “I like doing things that have not been done. There’s enough of the other spirits out there. And this is a new spirit, a new story, a new category to introduce to the world.
“So my plan is to be part of that team, and to use my profile to do something I’m passionate about. It’s personal. It’s beyond business.
“It’s fun when you can do something like that, where you can be creative, work with wonderful people, wonderful creatives, and also make business. That’s the jackpot for me.”