db interview: Lee Applbaum of Patrón Tequila

It’s a sunny early spring day in London and Lee Applbaum is celebrating with Margaritas. Sitting down to lunch in the bright, buzzy Oxo Tower restaurant boasting enviable views of St Paul’s, Applbaum is excited for me to try the English Garden Margarita, created by the Oxo Tower’s assistant bar manager Sophie Bratt as part of Patrón’s Margarita of the Year competition, which saw seven bartenders from around the world gather at Patrón’s HQ in Jalisco to create their personal twists on the classic cocktail. The top three finalists will go head to head on 17 April when the winner will be announced.

Patrón’s chief marketing officer, Lee Applbaum

Elaborately made with a pumpkin oil and smoked salt rim, Bratt’s cocktail blends Patrón Silver with lemon juice, apricot liqueur, Patrón Citronge Orange, Earl Grey syrup, orange flower water, sugar snap peas and mint. Cocktail in hand, Applbaum reveals that his job at chief marketing officer for Patrón means that he spends a large proportion of his time up in the air and clocks up serious amounts of air miles.

Based in Dallas, Texas, he makes frequent trips to the Patrón hacienda in Jalisco and spends much of the year visiting key Tequila cities from London and New York to Tokyo, Hong Kong and Melbourne, taking his wife and young son with him on trips to Europe.

Patrón is made with blue weber agave

A keen foodie, he makes the most of his time on the road by checking out the latest restaurant openings around the world and is looking forward to dinner at René Redzepi’s latest Noma pop-up in the Mexican resort town of Tulum.

After our lunch meeting he’s due at the Patrón Secret Dining Society, a one-off pop-up held at MC Motors in Dalston. The blink and you’ll miss it dining concept is due to be rolled out to other key cocktail cities like Paris, Madrid, Israel and Cape Town.

Rather than being bored by the idea after of yet another dinner, Applbaum oozes enthusiasm for the event. While some CMOs end up sounding like a scratched record reeling off rehashed speeches and well rehearsed sound bites, Applbaum’s passion is palpable and genuine.

It helps that he’s promoting such a success story. Patrón was founded in 1989 by Californian entrepreneur John Paul DeJoria, co-founder of Paul Mitchell hair products.

The brand launched at the audacious price of $37 a bottle when the ultra-premium Tequila category didn’t exist. The bold move paid off. “It was literally door to door sales back in those days, but we were lucky because the brand became very hip very fast,” Applbaum begins.

In the last 27 years Patrón has been pivotal in changing the perception of Tequila as a cheap drink to do shots with to a sipping spirit for discerning drinkers. The brand’s luxury offering has done much to haul the spirit out of the dark ages, with everyone from Bruno Mars and P Diddy name-checking Patrón in songs and Tom Cruise famously ordering it post car crash in the club scene in Vanilla Sky.

“We’re lucky enough to have never paid for an endorsement and yet people talk about our brand all the time. Patrón is everywhere in popular culture and hip-hop songs, which is a blessing and a curse because we don’t want to lose our authenticity or our swagger,” Applbaum admits.

Flirting with the stars and securing the celebrity seal of approval helped take the brand from profits of $US75m to $US450m in a mere six years. Today, Patrón is the world’s number one ultra-premium Tequila, accounting for 70% of sales in the category and outselling its nearest competitor in the US by eight to one with an annual production of 3 million cases.

One Response to “db interview: Lee Applbaum of Patrón Tequila”

  1. Ana Valenzuela says:

    Patron is made with blu agave ? The picture is not blue agave for tequila… 🙂

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