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While many will celebrate Cinco de Mayo today with a tequila cocktail, only two Utah residents can claim they own a brand of this popular Mexican spirit.

John and Lisa Barlow of Draper launched Vida Tequila in 2007. Since then, this premium brand has slowly been building a name in restaurants, bars and liquor stores in New York, Chicago and other East-coast cities.

Seven months ago, the small boutique spirits company started selling its tequila in Utah. Utahns who have tried Vida are as enamored with the tequila's crisp, layered flavors as they are the owner's choice of residence.

"Who would ever think there is this young, hip couple from Utah who own a tequila company?" said Karen Olsen, owner of Metropolitan, one of several Utah restaurants who use Vida in cocktails. "In California you might expect it, but the Utah connection is interesting."

Utah ties » The Barlows were both born and raised outside the state but have background in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. John was born in California but his father's job took the family to Florida then Texas. Lisa, whose Jewish family converted to Mormonism, grew up in New York.

Both came to Utah to attend Brigham Young University. John earned his bachelor's degree, but Lisa returned to New York after three years where she graduated from University of New York in Albany. Lisa's sister, who was in the same Mormon mission as John, introduced them.

When it came time for the couple to choose a place to live, Utah was their first choice.

"When we tell people what we do, they kind of raise their eyebrows," said John. "Even people from out of state think it's unusual."

"We love it here," said Lisa, who added that even though their business is alcohol, the couple respects the Mormon church and are raising their 5-year-old son Jack, in the faith.

The business » Vida Tequila produces three different types of distilled and aged tequila, all of which are made with 100 percent blue agave grown in the Mexican state of Jalisco. The Blanco tequila, which costs $50 for a 750 ml bottle, is the only one currently available in the Utah liquor stores. However, the Repasado and Anejo offerings are expected to be approved soon. Until then, they can be special ordered or sampled at some Utah restaurants.

In all, Vida produces about 6,000 cases (6 bottles each) annually. The Barlows expect that number to grow as their products will soon be available in Colorado, Texas and North Carolina.

The 30-something pair said they happened into the distilling business by chance. About seven years ago, they owned a company that imported consumer goods to the United States. On a trip to Mexico, they were introduced to the owner of a distillery located north-east of Guadalajara.

While the distillery made several brands of tequila, none were imported to the United States. The distillery owner and the Barlows joined forces to create an ultra-premium brand that would appeal to American consumers. The venture took nearly $10 million, which the couple raised through investors, family and their own savings.

Their timing was impeccable. Over the last decade, tequila has become one of the fastest growing spirits in the United States, according to the Distilled Spirits Council. Since 2002, U.S. imports of tequila have grown about 8 percent a year. While less expensive tequila blends are part of the trend, it's the premium, higher-priced offerings -- with flavors that often compare to the best aged bourbons and scotches -- that people are finding hip to sip.

There are hundreds of boutique brands like Vida fighting for consumer dollars. Most are owned by families that have generations of experience in the business, and few have women owners, said Lisa Barlow. That's one of the reasons you won't see the scantily clad women on Vida's packaging or advertisements. Lisa Barlow's love for fashion also shows in the tequila's high-end packaging, which includes hand-blown bottles, housed in elegant white boxes with touches of light blue.

"The focus is always on the product and never anything to diminish the beauty of this product that is elegant and indigenous to Mexico," she said.

Reviews are in » But it's what's inside the bottle that counts, and Vida -- which means life -- has earned some impressive reviews.

Earlier this year, Vida's Anejo tequila received a score of 92 -- out of a possible 100-- from Anthony Dias Blue, the editor of The Tasting Panel , a national beverage industry publication. He described the spirit as: "Smooth and earthy on the nose; mellow agave flavors with soft oak complexity; long, spicy and clean with hits of caramel and cinnamon."

And in 2008, Vida Tequila's Repasado received a platinum medal -- the highest award given -- during the inaugural Agave Spirits Challenge. The blind tasting included dozens of Mexican tequilas, all of which were judged on aroma, taste, body, finish and smoothness and quality for price. At the same competition Vida's Anejo won a gold medal and its blanco won silver.

Vida Tequila converted Stephanie Bailey-Hatfield, the general manager at Frida Bistro, who never really liked tequila. Like most of us, she assumed all tequila burned your throat and left you with a pounding headache.

"This is much more refined and delicate," she said. "It just slides down your throat and is as smooth as can be."

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo

Food and tequila tasting » Enjoy Mexican food and culture tonight with a four-course meal and tequila tasting at Frida Bistro, 545 W. 700 South, Salt Lake City. Lisa Barlow, a Utah resident and owner of Vida Tequila, will talk about this popular Mexican spirit. Cost is $60 for food and $40 for drinks. Seatings available at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Call 801-983-6692.

South of the Border benefit » A Cinco de Mayo celebration, which benefits High Road for Human Rights, is tonight from 5:30 to 9 p.m. in the Gorilla Design headquarters, 522 W. 700 South, Salt Lake City. The celebration includes Mexican buffet, cocktails, a silent auction and a performance by the award-winning Mariachi Juvenil. A live salsa trio also will perform. Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 at the door. Call 801-364-3563 or visit

Fiesta all night » Club Karamba, 1051 E. 2100 South, in Salt Lake City hosts "Fiesta 5 de Mayo." Doors open at 9 p.m. The event includes a live mariachi and DJ Vikingo. Beer and tequila cocktail specials for $2 and $3. Sponsored by IN Utah This Week and 97.1 ZHT radio. Details available at

Utah Fiesta » The 6th annual Utah Fiesta, an event for families, will be May 22 from 5 p.m. until dark at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center, 1355 W. 3100 South, West Valley City. The free event includes traditional Mexican music, dance, food, Aztec ritual performances, the ceremonial lighting of the Olmec head and fireworks. Games, children's crafts, sing along and dance competition. For details call 801-965-5100 or visit

The Vida Tequila File

Vida Tequila, owned by John and Lisa Barlow of Draper, produces three different types of distilled and aged tequila, all of which are made with 100 percent blue agave.

Blanco » This clear tequila is double distilled and bottled without aging. No flavorings have been added creating a smooth agave taste. Available in Utah state liquor stores for about $50.

Repasado » Triple distilled and aged six months in American white oak barrels. The process it gives it a light amber color and sweet, smoky flavor. Available only by special order from state liquor stores.

Anejo » Triple distilled and aged for 24 months in French oak barrels. Has a deep amber color and soft flavors with a bit of caramel. Available only by special order from state liquor stores.

Modern mojito

1 1/2 ounces tequila (Vida Tequila Blaco recommended)

1/2 ounce Creme de cassis, black currant liqueur

1/4 ounce orange juice

3 fresh mint leaves, plus additional for garnish

Splash of soda water

Place mint and a soda water in a tall glass. Muddle to release oils in mint. Pour tequila, creme de cassis and orange juice into a shaker with ice. Swirl to combine. Pour into the glass with crushed mint. Garnish with additional mint leaves.

Servings » 1

Source: Vida Tequila

Metropolitan's Blood orange margarita

1 1/2 ounces tequila (Vida Tequila Blaco recommended)

1 teaspoon blood orange puree

Juice from 1/2 of a fresh orange

Twist of orange peel, for garnish

Place the blood orange puree into a chilled martini glass. Place tequila and orange juice in a shaker with ice. Swirl to combine. Strain the mixture into the martini glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Servings » 1

Source: Metropolitan Restaurant

Frida Bistro's travieso (trouble) cocktail

2 drops Agave nectar

1 1/2 ounces tequila (Vida Tequila brand recommended)

1/2 ounce cold water

Dash of fresh lime juice

Place all the ingredient in a shaker filled with ice. Swirl until combined. Pour into a glass filled with ice.

Servings » 1

Source: Stephanie Bailey-Hadfield, general manager Frida Bistro

Tall sunrise

1 1/2 ounces tequila (Vida Tequila Blaco recommended)

2 ounces fresh squeezed orange juice

1/2 ounce grenadine

Splash of soda water

Wedge of orange, for garnish

Pour tequila, orange juice, grenadine and soda water into a shaker. Swirl to combine. Pour over ice in a tall glass.

Servings » 1

Source: Vida Tequila

Tough morning

1 1/2 ounces tequila (Vida Tequila Blaco recommended)

1/2 ounce Crème de cassis, black current liqueur

Splash of soda water

In a rocks glass filled with ice, pour in Crème de cassis, tequila and a splash of soda.

Servings » 1

Source: Vida Tequila