All the distinguished Mexican gentlemen and ladies in their very finest clothes were ready for the ball at the agave court.
Then the doors swung open once again and in came…
Selva Negra Spirits from Germany!
“Selva Negra Spirits” is an agave spirit made in Germany! While it is neither a mezcal nor a tequila, it is definitely an agave spirit. Agave spirits made in Germany are few and far between and this product is amazingly well executed. Which is why we had at chat with the folks behind the brand here at TequilaList!
Q: Who are you guys anyway and what have you been up to for the last few years?
I am 32 years old and live with my wife in Stuttgart-Vaihingen. I was born and grew up in Herrenberg, south of Stuttgart.
After completing my technical college entrance qualification in Nagold, I did my civilian service at the University Hospital in Tübingen. In 2008, I started my apprenticeship as an industrial clerk at Stuttgarter Hofbräu (Radeberger Group) and subsequently completed my three-year dual studies at the DHBW Stuttgart in the field of commerce.
In 2013, I gained my first sales experience in field sales for the Radeberger Group (RG) in the Herrenberg, Tübingen, Reutlingen and Filderstadt area. Since 2015, I have been working in key accounts for RG in southern Germany until I switched to SILBERPFEIL Energy Drink in mid-2019 and have been building up the brand in Baden-Württemberg since then.
I am 34 years old and originally from Nuremberg in Middle Franconia.
After graduating from high school, I studied commerce at the DHBW Baden-Württemberg, specialising in marketing. Through the trade, I later came to Diageo, which is how my interest in spirits developed. After Diageo, I went on a world trip and lived in Sydney for 1.5 years. I was able to get to know the bar culture there as a bartender.
After Sydney, I came to Berlin and have been living here ever since with my girlfriend and our daughter.
I am 37 years old and live here in the Kaiserstuhl wine village of Bötzingen.
After graduating from high school in Freiburg, I directly started an apprenticeship as a winemaker. After that I worked as a winemaker for about 5 years and started to develop my own brand “Faude feine Brände”. Since 2006, the FfB brand has been established on the market and supplies fruit brandies (spirits) at the highest level.
Q: How did you get together?
Sebastian: Laurin and I both worked in sales for the Austrian start-up SILBERPFEIL Energy Drink. He worked me in during the initial phase and we quickly realised that we had a lot in common. We both played American football and also both studied at DHBW. In addition, we are the same age and have similar ideas about our careers and private lives. Therefore, a good friendship naturally developed before the idea was born.
Q: How do you come up with the idea of making an agave spirit?
Sebastian: Even before my time in Sydney, I noticed that mezcal and tequila have a strong international relevance. I love Islay whiskeys myself, so the path to mezcal was somehow logical. In Germany, unfortunately, the topic never got the kick-start that it does in other countries. A few mass-produced products of mediocre quality that actually have nothing whatsoever to do with a good agave spirit have spoiled the Germans’ stomachs and their desire for the category. This has always bugged me and I thought to myself, how can we make the category palatable to the Germans on the one hand, and on the other hand offer our own special signature. The idea of a German/European agave spirit with an international orientation was born. Without Laurin, however, I would never have dared to take this step.
Q: How did the decision to become self-employed come about?
Laurin: I called Basti back then because of another business idea in the spirits segment. In that conversation, he told me about mezcal and tequila. I did a lot of research that weekend and noticed how much was happening internationally in this market and was immediately interested. I immediately stocked up on the big brands and in the meantime I am an absolute fan and infected. In the beginning, I drank a lot of mass-produced products, but now I mainly drink the elegant distillates with more distinctive notes. I would almost say that I have tried the important products on the market at least once.
With the enthusiasm, the interest grew in me to put it into practice. We sat down together and talked about the goals and ideas and well, here we are a little over 1 year later.
Q: What does Selva Negra mean?
Our product comes from the Black Forest. Unfortunately, the Black Forest as such is a protected term and we therefore cannot use it. In Spanish, however, there are several attempts to translate the term “Black Forest”. One of them is “Selva Negra” and we immediately fell in love with the sound of the word. It also seemed obvious to use a Spanish name.
Q: What happened next?
Laurin: At first, we had to find a way to approach the whole thing. Everybody talks about gin, but only a few have talked about such a project, and those who do wouldn’t even think of the crazy idea of distilling their own agave spirit. So we created a sample bottle filled with water and I started searching in the region. Through my network, the right people were quickly found.
Q: How did you find Florian Faude?
Laurin: Everyone I spoke to said: “If anyone can do it, it’s Faude”. He has the necessary know-how and a national reputation for outstanding spirits and a very special signature. I made my way to him, together with our sample bottle (which, by the way, no longer has much in common with today’s). One video call later, it was clear that from now on, the three of us would be making this journey together.
Q: Who does what with you?
Sebastian: I take care of everything to do with the brand, strategy, accounting and purchasing. Establishing a premium product has big hurdles and requires a certain knowledge of the industry. The last few years have taught me a lot and I know the market like the back of my hand. I am less of a salesman and more on the creative side. I think a lot about usability, image and communication as such. I prefer to leave sales to Laurin. He’s much fitter in that respect.
Laurin: Yes, as I mentioned before, I have the entire sales background. My time in sales has taught me a lot and I have a large network in the region as well as in Germany. I am excited about how our product will be received on the market and look forward to the first reactions when I stand at the door with the bottle. The first talks took place without the product and the feedback was very positive.
Florian takes over everything concerning the distillate. We had the idea of a spirit that would fill the gap between tequilla and mezcal (rough classification). Elegant taste with a light smoke. Florian took it on and tinkered for months. Today’s product exceeds our expectations and it simply has to be said that it has not become a copy of existing products. SELVA NEGRA bears Florian’s signature (in the truest sense of the word, as he also signed the label) and meets the highest demands of a premium spirit. This has nothing to do with the taste of industrial mass-produced goods, but SELVA NEGRA is definitely something for the refined palate and we are very proud of that.
Q: How do you get the agaves?
Sebastian: This topic has taken months. Agave hearts can only be obtained in this ripeness and quantity from South America. But no one has done that yet. In addition, there are hundreds of different varieties. After a lot of research, we found someone who would import the shrink-wrapped agave hearts for us. However, the quantities we would have had to import would have left an immense ecological footprint. Agave syrup in the standard quality is more commonly used. Especially at the big players. In principle, there is nothing objectionable about this, as it is the same process as in the
Tequilla production, except that the extract is not fermented. A classic standard thick juice was out of the question for our project and so we tried our way through the most diverse molasses, extracts and thick juices. In the end, we found a natural starting product in the form of an extract, which is mainly used in health food shops, cosmetics and the food industry. This product contains all the minerals and the complete character of the plant. But you can’t put it in your muesli. Very expensive, very intense and very rare. We have found an importer who supplies us with the product and we can tap into existing infrastructures. As far as the ecological footprint is concerned, we take less weight than the imported tequillas and mezcals, because they are already bottled on their way to Europe. As the quantity increases, this difference becomes more and more obvious, of course. This is not ideal, but we are thinking about it and making it at least a little better. Maybe in the future there will be enough demand for European agave hearts so that we can initiate a European alternative. But that is still up in the air. By the way, we source all other components mainly from Europe. The bottle, for example, comes from Italy and the labels from Nürtingen (Baden-Württemberg). It all costs significantly more, but we want to behave as responsibly as possible.
Q: And then what happens next?
Sebastian: In principle, from this point on, everything runs a little differently than in Mexico. We don’t have spontaneous fermentation, but add a specially selected wine yeast to the product and ferment over several weeks. That requires a sure instinct and precise knowledge of the distiller. Florian is always very tense when this process is kicked off and pays attention to every little sign. We are very happy that we found a way after all these months. It took a lot of money and time to get to this point. After the wine is fermented, the distillation (double distilled) takes place. Here, too, there are some peculiarities regarding the pre- and post-distillation, but we leave that to Flo’s eye and tongue. After that, the liquid has to rest for another 6 weeks. So it takes a total of 10-12 weeks until we can bottle it.
Q: How do you get the smoke into the liquid?
Sebastian: We use the smoke from the Black Forest spruce that is brought in during the process. But how that works exactly remains our little secret. We don’t want to give everything away.
Q: Are you afraid of imitators?
Laurin: A very clear NO! We are looking forward to more products from Europe. We can already say that it will take some time and money, but especially the DACH region is known worldwide for excellent spirits and therefore competitors would be a great development. We want to make tequilla and mezcal accessible to Europe and hope that we can inspire a lot of people with SELVA NEGRA.
Laurin: We have an RRP of 69.99 euros for the end consumer. This puts us in the upper price segment. We only use high-quality ingredients and take our time for our product. We also put a lot of thought into the brand and the handling. Our bottle has a curved, classic shape, is very solid and has a relatively long neck. The bartender should like to hold it in his hand. Our brand logo took months to create and we drove our designers Anna Ruza and Stefan Büttner (also from Stuttgart) crazy with our love of detail. Our corks are not off the shelf and are stained instead of lacquered. We have an outer packaging that is made of metal so that it doesn’t have to end up in the rubbish but can be reused in the household. These are all factors that make a difference in taste and brand experience, and that costs money. But we are convinced that there are enough people who appreciate this kind of quality.
Q: Who is the classic SELVA NEGRA consumer?
Sebastian: From the very beginning, when we designed our spirit, we decided to satisfy all consumers equally. SELVA NEGRA is an incredibly fine and smooth spirit despite its 46% vol. We have a great fruit with a very complex nose, so the spirit lovers out there should also enjoy it very much. The light smoke finds its accentuation mainly in pure enjoyment. In long drinks and cocktails, it tends to fade into the background, which means that you can create great, refreshing and fruity cocktails without getting the feeling of biting into a cigar. We would like to invite everyone to find a way to our product and will then rather address special tastes in special editions.
Q: So there are more varieties planned?
Laurin: Not for the time being, but we have clear plans for the portfolio in the coming years. With Florian, we have a burner who has an incredibly broad spectrum of skills and we certainly have one or two surprises planned from SELVA NEGRA.
The fact is, however, that we will always remain true to our quality standards. Thus, it is rather unlikely that we will launch a “cheaper” version of our product on the market at some point. That is not our claim and also not our goal. We want to offer a product that can exist alongside the existing premium providers. Our goal is to add a serious and novel brand to the category of “agave spirits”, which will eventually also find its followers internationally.
Quality knows few compromises in this case, and that should be the guiding principle of our work to come.
Q: How do you drink it?
Sebastian: Well, in principle, I like it neat. SELVA NEGRA is a great and exciting spirit. Whether in a noising glass or in a tumbler on ice. The product is exciting and fun, without any filler. If you like it refreshing, you can get a good grapefruit soda and some lime juice and make yourself a great Paloma. For those who don’t just want to drink gin and tonic, the Paloma is sure to be a worthy substitute in the shade of a gastro parasol. When it comes to cocktails, classics like Margarita are of course right up there. There is generally a lot happening in the gastronomy with agave spirits. Bartenders are very often active internationally and it’s all been a topic there for a long time. We are looking forward to seeing what will happen with our product out there.
Q: Where can I buy you?
Sebastian & Laurin: For the end consumer we have our online shop. At www.selvanegraspirits.com you can get hold of your bottles. We also work with some great restaurateurs and retailers. So just keep your eyes open.
Q: Your “tequila” does not taste like “tequila” or like agave. How do you respond to such statements?
I hear that all the time. We spoke to many experts and distillers before the launch and the opinion was actually very clear. I think in general the market first has to get used to the category and in particular to a German agave spirit. It was no different with gin back then.
In general, by the way, it is difficult to define the “one” taste of an agave. We are talking about hundreds of varieties here. We are only ever called tequila, which already shows that we are still at the beginning with the category in Germany. We orientate ourselves on mezcal and our agave variety is the Salmeana. This variety is very elegant and has a completely different fruit. It is also used rather rarely. With mezcal, you more often find the varieties “Espadin” or “Tobalá”.
Florian also has a very traditional and fine firing style. Unlike in Mexico, we have a large section in the pre- and post-distillation. This concentrates the flavour very strongly. Another reason could be the controlled fermentation with wine yeast. And of course it has to be said that our smoke is intentionally somewhat reduced. The spruce aroma, of course, also makes the taste a little more complex. At the end of the day, we are something completely new and therefore we bring a new violin into the orchestra.
Q: The bottle currently costs 69.90 EUR. A proud price. How do you justify such a – rather high – sales price?
We would have liked to make it cheaper and maybe in a few years we will be able to offer it at a lower price. We are the first to do this here in Germany. Every lack of experience costs money and resources. We are quickly talking about thousands of euros that have only gone into development. In addition, it has to be said that the category is generally not an inexpensive undertaking. In addition, we have put the same quality standards into our branding as we have into our spirits. Everyone who has ordered the bottle so far has noticed the difference. We make no compromises when it comes to quality and we can guarantee that those who love details will enjoy our product. And that’s even before the first sip. We don’t want to make a quick euro, but to put a smile on the faces of the aficionados, specialist retailers and restaurateurs out there. That is our claim.
SELVA NEGRA as the first German agave spirit is not bound to any legal requirements. We use the “Salmeana“, a very flowery and fruity wild agave. In addition, we add our smoke via a different process and use wood for this, which causes a different taste. Furthermore, our spirit contains spruce aromas, which naturally makes it much more complex. One last big difference, in Germany we don’t use the spontaneous fermentation that is common in Mexico, but use a special wine yeast. Thanks to our distiller Florian Faude, the pre- and post-fermentation is also larger than usual, resulting in a very centred, elegant and subtle flavour. Our smoke is more subtle and tends to take a back seat in mixed drinks. We have put a lot of thought into how we can pick up all the potential buyers. All these things inevitably lead to a different sensory profile.
Q: Internationally, tequila and mezcal already play a bigger role. How do you assess the segment in Germany at the moment?
Germany is experiencing ever greater professionalisation in the gastronomy sector. High-priced spirits and drinks are becoming more and more popular. Restaurateurs, specialist retailers and bartenders have been prophesying a mezcal/tequila boom for years, precisely because it is growing so immensely internationally. In Germany, unfortunately, most people have only known the mixto tequilas so far, and that has done a lot of damage to the category. We want to give people access to the real world of tequila/mezcal and hope that SELVA NEGRA will give them an introduction to the category. Tequila/Mezcal is so complex and unique, as well as artisanal and traditional, that it is long overdue. Any “gin and tonic” fan is only a paloma away from a new passion. Here lies a treasure. Germany just has to grab it.
Q: What potential do you see in this segment for the German-speaking region?
As I said, you only have to look to America or its immediate neighbour, cocktail country England, and then you can guess the potential. Germans are no longer consumers of “cheap spirits” but are curious and eager to experiment. Germany loves exclusive and good spirits and this category is the only logical consequence. Moreover, it has to be said that the big spirits groups do not allocate record sums to this category for nothing. For the industry, Europe and Germany in particular are immensely important. So we firmly believe that something new can finally get underway.
The design comes from the Stuttgart designer Anna Ruza. However, we already had precise ideas about our brand identity before we contacted her. SELVA NEGRA combines tradition with modernity. The branding unites the two worlds of Mexico and the Black Forest. The visuals and model shoots deal with the theme of “past and future”. Our values are reflected in the complete brand identity. We stand for “integration, unification and coming together. “let’s be different together” can be understood as our motto. We are not subject to any restrictions, neither in production nor in our target group. Everyone who is of good heart and shares our love of innovation is welcome here.
For our packaging, we made sure to only work with regional companies. This makes things more expensive, but we try to keep our ecological footprint small and want the majority of our spirits to come from Germany. Incidentally, our process also saves us quite a bit of import space. That doesn’t make it ideal, but a little better and that has to be the way.
Q: Which communication measures, especially in the area of social media, do you use for marketing?
We work with all the people who like to work with us. Especially the “ginfluencers” and of course the old-established tequila/mezcal fans show great interest and support. We are well received and have already had great collaborations. In general, there is a lot of interest in the category. Here and there, people are still a little put off by the price, but that’s the educational work that has to be done, because it’s worth it! You can find us on linkedin, Intagram, Facebook etc. Just keep your eyes open!
We also have a few online shops that already work with us. We are also currently rebuilding our current shop, so that nice shopping is also possible here.