Nayana Ferguson wants to change the stereotypes around tequila. “Everybody tells us about their spring break story,” Ferguson, chief operating officer and co-founder of the metro Detroit-based company Anteel Tequila, says with a laugh. “They say, ‘I’m not ever drinking tequila again because that tequila shot made me throw up.’”
But she knows there’s more to the spirit than being the culprit of a bad hangover after a wild night out. Instead, she finds tequila to be a complex liquor that — when enjoyed responsibly — can deliver a fine drinking experience and even be a healthier alternative to some cocktails.
Ferguson started her company in 2018 with her husband, Don, who serves as co-founder and CEO of Anteel, following her battle with pancreatic and breast cancer. “I still wanted to enjoy a drink here and there,” she says, noting that she was drawn to tequila because of its appeal as a “clean” spirit.
Because the liquor is made from the agave plant, Ferguson says tequila is naturally gluten-free, low in sugar and calories, and contains no carbs. Unlike vodka, whiskey, and bourbon, it doesn’t spike a drinker’s glycemic index — something that’s important to Ferguson as a pancreatic cancer survivor — and it’s tolerable for many who have allergies to certain types of wheat or grains.
Often, despite these health benefits, she says consumers still overlook tequila because they’ve only had bad experiences with it. Ferguson believes more people would enjoy the spirit though if they chose to drink a more premium version of it. According to her, some tequilas may be “harsh” — possibly due to the quality of the soil the agave is grown in, how the liquor is distilled, and other factors that affect the spirit’s smoothness — and drinkers will try to mask the taste with lots of sugar, which can lead to hangovers.
She and Don wanted to offer a different drinking experience with their products, so they decided to produce Anteel’s tequilas from a blend of highland agave and lowland agave. “The combination of both of these agaves is not common in the industry but does provide a smoother, more flavorful profile than many other brands on the market,” Ferguson says. “…Also, during production, the distillation of [our] tequila goes through an oxygenation process that helps to further remove any impurities in the juice.” She considers all three of their products — the Anteel Blanco Tequila, Anteel Coconut Lime Blanco Tequila, and Anteel Reposado Tequila — to be sippable on their own or in a cocktail.
Ferguson has worked to bring awareness to misconceptions about tequila with educational Facebook Live sessions and — before the pandemic — in-person tastings. Through these efforts, she’s also breaking down another stereotype: who can run a liquor company.
Ferguson says she’s the first Black woman to co-own a tequila company. Some people have called her a “trailblazer” for her work in the spirits industry, which has been historically run by white men, but she’s simply happy to inspire others. “I’m excited to educate and motivate other people, whether it is a Black woman or a woman of any color, to do something that they may not have thought that they were going to do, especially in an industry that is dominated by males,” she says.
Her hard work is paying off. Since launching the business nearly three years ago, Anteel Tequila has been named the best tequila for summer by Cosmopolitan magazine, received silver and bronze medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and earned a double gold medal at the Sip Awards. The company’s products are now available in five states — it’s carried in 300 stores in Michigan.
“Our growth has been tremendous,” Ferguson says, adding that the company plans to introduce another product by early summer and expand to two more states by the end of April. “I’m so excited that so many more people are getting to know Anteel.”
Visit teeqspirits.com for more information.
3 Spring Cocktail Recipes Featuring Anteel Tequila
Grab a bottle of Anteel Tequila and give some of Nayana Ferguson’s spring cocktail recipes — featured below — a try
Anteel Lavender Lemonade
The color of this spiked lemonade is representative of Ferguson’s work with the Pancreatic Cancer Network — purple symbolizes pancreatic cancer awareness. The drink features a light, refreshing flavor profile with a hint of lavender.
2 cups cold water
1 cup Anteel Blanco Tequila
4 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
3 oz simple syrup
1 Tbsp. dried lavender leaves
1 tsp. dried butterfly pea flowers (optional)
Place dried lavender leaves and butterfly pea flowers in tea infuser ball. Add all ingredients into pitcher with ice and stir well. Add tea infuser ball to pitcher. Refrigerate pitcher for 15 minutes. Remove from the refrigerator and take out tea infuser ball. Rim Collins glasses with sugar. Pour lemonade into a Collins glass with ice. Garnish with thin lemon slices and serve. The drink yields four servings.
Summer Breeze is Anteel Tequila’s take on a warm-weather punch. Inspired by island getaways, the vibrant drink features fresh flavors of mango and different fruit juices. It’s ideal for poolside sipping.
2 oz. Anteel Coconut Lime Blanco Tequila
½ oz. sweetened lime juice
½ oz. grenadine
2 oz. mango juice
Lime-flavored mineral water or sparkling water
Combine tequila, lime juice, grenadine, and mango juice in a glass with ice and stir. Top with 2 to 3 oz. of mineral water or sparkling water. Garnish with pineapple wedge and maraschino cherries
Blood Orange Sweet Tea
This cocktail is a variation on a traditional iced tea. Ferguson says blood orange is a flavor profile she likes, and she expects to do more with it this year.
1 ½ oz. Anteel Reposado Tequila
½ oz. Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur
½ oz. Triple Sec
2 oz. Earl Grey tea (cold)
Mix all ingredients with ice in cocktail glass. Stir well. Garnish with peach slice and rosemary sprig.