Guy Fieri & Sammy Hagar Talk Tequila And Their Lasting Friendship - Exclusive Interview

If you ever find yourself talking tequila with rock icon Sammy Hagar and Flavortown Mayor Guy Fieri, consider having a shot on hand. And another one for good measure. The longtime friends and business partners behind premium spirits brand Santo bring enough energy into a (Zoom chat) room to power a Space X rocket through the stratosphere (which just so happens to be the home of Sammy's latest residency). Friendship and booze were the headline topics during Hagar and Fieri's exclusive interview with Mashed, and the loquacious superstars had plenty to say on both subjects.

Before George Clooney built his $1 billion Casamigos enterprise and The Rock got cooking with Teremana, Hagar made his mark in the tequila biz with Cabo Wabo, the award-winning brand which netted the former Van Halen frontman a pretty peso when he sold his majority stake in the company to Gruppo Campari in 2007. But after a decade-long contractually-mandated exile, Hagar has returned for a comeback tour and this time around he's sharing top billing with the undisputed king of the Food Network (especially now that Bobby is going bye-bye).

No matter your thoughts on the culinary currency of Donkey Sauce or where you fall on the Red Rocker versus Diamond Dave debate, there is no denying that Santo tequila is the real deal — and the bleached blonde faces of the franchise are more than happy to tell you as much. Hagar offers decades of expertise bringing agave to bottle, and while Fieri may have participated in our Zoom call using the alias Lloyd Christmas, he certainly didn't play dumb when it came to his tequila prowess, making the case for why Santo's unaged blanco and barrel-kissed reposado offerings stand out in an ever-growing field of competitors. (The brand also traffics in Mezquila — the world's first tequila and mezcal hybrid).

In other words, these two aren't simply slapping their celebrity names on the label and cashing in a paycheck. As you'll discover below, Fieri and Hagar's passion for tequila is as pure as Santo's blanco, and their hands-on approach to the upstart brand seems to be paying off.

The reason Guy Fieri got into the tequila business with Sammy Hagar

Sammy, you've been dubbed the "Godfather of Celebrity Tequila." Have any of the guys who have followed in your footsteps — and there've been many — reached out to you for advice or even thanked you for the path that you've set?

Sammy Hagar: David, that's a double-edged sword because yes, almost every one of them. I can't tell you how many have called and asked me to hook them up with somebody or how do I do it, or give me some advice and ask me all these questions. And then once they do it, they act like they never heard of me. It's like, "Sammy Hagar? Yeah. Isn't he the singer from Van Halen or something?"

"Yeah, yeah, he makes tequila too."

"Oh, really? I didn't know that." I'm joking.

But to be honest with you, one of those people that called me up and said, "I want to make tequila. You ever would do this again, don't forget about me," was Guy Fieri. After I sold Cabo Wabo, he came back. When I started making Santo, when I first started, he said, "Hey, dude, what about me?" I said, "I forgot. It's been nine years for God's sakes." And here we are together. So one of those guys actually came through and wanted to partner up instead of just play the leapfrog game.

Guy Fieri: Sammy is giving you the gospel. He is the godfather, and I just carry the guitar case. It really was that. I told the story the other day. I was at the Raider game and we were having this big discussion about tequila with all the powers that be at Caesars. I said, "Yeah, Sammy, I was his number one account in Northern California when he had Cabo Wabo." We became buddies and he was a great mentor to me as I was getting into the TV business. 

He called me one day and it was weird I was getting a phone call. I was in the middle of shooting "Triple D." I was on some island right off of Seattle. He said, "Hey, Guy Bones," he said, "I got good news and bad news." I said, "What's up, man?" He goes, "Well, I just made $80 million." I said, "Well, Sammy, that's awesome." He goes, "Yeah, bad news though." I go, "How could there be bad news on 80 million?" He says, "Well, I sold Cabo Wabo." I was really heartbroken. First thing I said, was I said, "Dammit, Sammy. If you ever do this again, I want to be involved." He says, "Man, I'm never going to do it again. I got 10 years. They got me. I can't do anything for 10 years." I said, "Ten years, Sammy. In 10 years we're going to do this." And here we are 13 years later ..."

Why Guy Fieri is a tequila natural

Guy: This to me, this is one of those projects that you do. This is a life project. This is something that you always aspire to making the best quality. It's like Sammy making great music, me making great food, or Sammy making great food and me not making any music.

But this was about getting a chance to be involved on the ground floor. This is a chance about being involved with a legend. This is a chance about doing it real. This is something that one, nobody owns it like Sammy and I own it. Two, I don't think anybody's really giving it as much of the truth as we are because we don't have to do this to any board of directors or any governing body. We make just great goddamn tequila. And here we are. So thank you for covering that. I had to make sure I get my 2 cents in there. Because I know when you get the Red Rocker talking —

Sammy: Listen, you got 35 cents in. Now, it's my turn to get 15 cents more and then we're going to be at 50. One thing about having Guy as a partner, David, it's really unique because people partner up in all kinds of businesses and in music, bands go out on tour together to sell more tickets and all that. But really the thing that Guy really brought so much to me was the fact that he's got this palate that all he does every day of his life is put things in his mouth and taste them. His expertise on his palate really elevated what we were doing, what I was trying to do with tequila again. My first intention was to make the best tequila in the world, outdo the Cabo Wabo, outdo everything I've ever done before with any kind of spirits. 

Guy came in and man, he just tasted a few things and his simple little comments, like, "How do we get rid of this little bitter thing in here? How do we get rid of that? It's like, "Wow, gee, I never thought about that. Let's go ask our mix ... not our mixologist, our scientists that makes this stuff for us, Juan Eduardo." And so, he brought in an element that really elevated this brand. I hadn't made a blanco yet. I only had Mezquila when he came in with his expertise of that on the blanco. 

Sammy Hagar and Guy Fieri make the argument that Santo is the best tequila in the world

Sammy: I can tell you right now, it is the best blanco on the planet. I'll go to bat with any person that wants to sit down in a blind tasting. You bring me your favorite one, I'll bring you my favorite. I'll bring ours, our Santo. Bring three or four others, blancos and blind taste the stuff. Everybody's going to put that Santo right to the side and go, "That is the purest, cleanest tequila I ever tasted in my life." Because we got rid of all the funk. We use better agaves, trim tighter, throw the roots and stuff out and the dirty rotten parts that [have] been in the ground and got worms in them. We cut that stuff off. Most people throw it all in there. Guy tasted it. He went, "Yeah, it's not funky here."

Guy: I think there's another thing here, Sam, that you just touched on, which I think is another part about our business style is that the way we trim the piña. There is an ability to have a lot more left on it with the roots and with how much of the leaves and how much you're going to leave onto that base root. That really changes the flavor profile. As you know, and imagine ... David, we haven't even let you speak so I apologize that we're sucking all the wind out of the room. But as you know, we don't add anything to our tequilas — 100% blue agave. The purity, it's very similar to doing ... I started making wine, and we started in the wine business about eight years ago, seven years ago.

One of the things I learned, which was very difficult to handle, to swallow, no pun intended, was dropping fruit. Guy Davis, who's my winemaker said, "We got to go drop fruit. I know we can get a bigger yield and get more out of this, but you're not going to get the intensity of the flavor." So by trimming this pina down more, we get less of the acidic factors when we're getting into this distillation in the cooking of the pina. So it's just little things like that. We could probably get 10% more, but why do we want to do that? We'd rather have the ability to brag, as Sammy just did so eloquently. I'll take anybody, hands-down. Let's go. Everybody has a different palate of course, but I'll take the repo, I'll take the blanco. You can't compete against the Mezquila because nobody makes ... we're the only ones that make it in the world. But it's the real deal. I was just spouting off about this the other night, Sam. So I'm glad to hear you saying it.

Sammy Hagar's tequila tasting tips

You guys are obviously very hands-on with the Santo production process. When you're doing a tasting, does Sammy sort of get into tequila snob mode? Do things get a little crazy after a few samples?

Sammy: No. Hell no. We don't do the snob move. That is like ... the way I say you taste tequila is number one, you taste a blanco. I don't even want to taste your reposado and your añejo until I've tasted your blanco. Because that's the one that's got holes in it. Once you put it in wood, you can mask all kinds of things. So I say you taste a blanco first, straight up. I always like to put a piece of salt on my tongue. Not a big chunk, just a little bit of salt. Clear my palate before you have your first sip. You don't have to do it every time, just the first time. Put it in the same glass as the other glass that you're tasting a different one. That's the only snobbery I do because I really want to give each one its chance to shine the same. So you use the same type of glass. You have it at the same temperature. You don't have one colder and one hotter. That's as snobby as I get.

Other than that, Guy and I, man, we drink from [the] bottle, brother. We like to drink tequila. Somebody says, "What's your favorite tequila drink?" I'm going straight from the bottle, brother. Chilled down a little bit. I don't want it too hot. I don't like it [to] come out of the refrigerator. Guy likes his in the refrigerator. It's too cold for me. It hurts my teeth.

Guy Fieri's secret to making the perfect margarita

I know Sammy's a big margarita guy. If you're looking to take your margarita to the next level, a "rockstar" margarita, what sort of additions, enhancements do you suggest?

Sammy: That's Guy Fieri's job. He's the chef. He's the master chef. He's invented more margarita twists than I ever had. I was the business 10 years before him, and in the first month, he threw more things at me, his jalapeños and all that stuff. Give me one of your fiery jalapeño tahini rimmed something. Guy, what do you got?

Guy: I'll tell you this, David. I'll tell you this and this is probably the ... I don't know. This is one of my most important, and it's the ice.

Sammy: There you go.

Guy: You think about making a drink and you put the ice in the drink, and then you drink all of it, and then the ice melts in the glass and then you accidentally pick it up and you take a drink of it. It's just been water on top of ice. And then you take a drink of it and you're like, "Oh my God, what is in this?" Because the thing is — those impurities don't come out of the ice when it's super cold. That's why the Germans, that's why a lot of folks in Europe drink their beer a little bit warmer. You could really taste the truth of the beer when it's not as cold.

So I think ice is the first foundation of any great cocktail. How good is the ice and how cold is the ice? Ice that's already started to melt starts to dilute the drink too fast. There is a dilution factor that goes into all the cocktail making, of course, but it has to be a prescribed dilution and a prescribed timing. It can't just be just throwing it on top of some lukewarm ice that's going to melt the minute the alcohol hits it. That's one of my first and foremost. Second one, this really is —

Sammy: David, you're not going to argue with that, are you? You're not going to argue with that. That just blows my mind. That is so correct.

I'm taking him at his word.

Sammy: I just love this f***er.

Guy: The next one, and it kind of goes to a Sammy factor of music or a Guy factor of food. You just can't mask and hide lack of quality. We say it as chefs all the time. If you don't have the correct ingredients, don't make the dish. I don't care how bad you want to have lobster. If you're not getting yourself some great fresh tails or some great live Maine's, if you're not getting the right ingredient, don't make the dish.

Well, if you don't have the right limes, or if you don't have a really clean glass, or you don't have really good ice, if you don't have the right salt ... I've watched people take iodized salt, the really super fine salt like you find in a salt shaker, and rim a glass with that. Well, not all salt has the same sodium level. The foundation statement, David, just to clarify, this is when you're using a super premium like Santo. You have to support it with the right band members, the right equipment, the right ingredients, the right cooking technique. It just has to be everything played to the next level. 

I think that's why our tequila shines so well is you don't need a lot of bulls**t. You don't need to go get some syrupy, over-flavored, citrus-infused, non-citrus pasteurized product that is going to come in and mask how weak or how over-flavored or over-colored or over-sugared your tequila may be. With ours, I tell people, you can tell the honesty in the drink. A little bit of lime juice, a little bit of agave nectar, some really good ice. I'm going to give it a quick shake. Now you go ahead and taste this and tell me if it gives you that massive heartburn that's always so associated for a lot of people with margaritas. It's simple.

Guy Fieri reveals what it was like to shoot Diners, Drive-ins and Dives with Sammy Hagar

This isn't the first time you've collaborated. What it was like working with each other on "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. And Guy, where do those rank among your favorite Triple D episodes?

Guy: Well, when you get a chance to work with a legend and somebody that you admire ... I can't say that I still do not get starstruck. But it's so funny from a guy that doesn't ... "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" is my thing. It's my, "[I] Can't Drive 55." When I watch Sammy, I understand now how musicians do it. Very similar to how chefs do it. You listen, you pay attention. You figure out what the tempo is. You find out where we're going with this, and then you start going. I remember when we were in Maui and we did Mick Fleetwood's joint. At any given time, I could've just left. I could've just left and gone to the beach and let Sammy just continue to run the show.

He's so talented. He's a really great cook, a great chef, and gives me all the accolades in that category. But he sends me more pictures. I have not sent him one song that I have written or played, yet he has sent me probably 200 to 300 pictures of dishes that he makes, and he crushes it. An artist is an artist, and a leader is a leader. Sammy is all those things.

Sammy: Well, I'll tell you one thing, David, to shorten up what Guy just tried to tell you, we are friends. First and foremost, we are friends. We came into business from a friendship first, and then we came into business ...

Guy: Through that —

Sammy: It wasn't like I needed a business partner, like he needed a business partner. We weren't looking for somebody. We found each other years ago. Like Guy said, 10 years ago we were friends before we became business partners. It's really a pleasure to have a business partner that not only brings money, because we put our own money into this. Guy and I, we put our money in this. We didn't go get money from other guys and say, "We'll just put our name on it and put our face on it." Hell no. We put our own money in it. We went down to get the bottles. We're involved 100% together. Having a partner that is on the same page as you and eats and drinks the same things you do and listens to the same music you listen to, man, we're having a blast doing this stuff. This is so far beyond business, I can't even tell you. 

Guy: Yeah. It gives us a good excuse to hang out and talk s**t and drink tequila.

Guy Fieri and Sammy Hagar discuss the future of Santo

So what's next for you guys with Santo?

Guy: Big things that are on the horizon ... one, I'll talk about the elephant in the room. We have the añejo getting ready to launch. The añejo is done. It's been its year. But because we don't color and we don't do additives, we are just waiting to get that color out of these American Oak bourbon barrels, and just really get it right. As again, I tell you about holding court, I go to places and I say, "I'm just going to guarantee you there's no goddamn way that almost brown añejo that's sitting right there in that bottle is not color."

Sammy: Absolutely.

Guy: For some people, that doesn't matter. For some people, they don't mind using truffle oil. I do. That's just not my jam. It's not Sammy's jam. So we are three months past our añejo. We're probably going to be añejo and a half. Sammy, you speak Spanish. You tell me how to say that. So the —

Sammy: That's it. Yeah. We're not just making tequila to get on the shelf. Everyone says, "Why didn't you release an añejo, a reposado, and a blanco all at the same time?" I say, "Because you can't do it that way." We started with a blanco. Well, we started with Mezquila, but those are blancos. It's a blanco mezcal and a blanco tequila, our blanco tequila blended together. But we started with a blanco and then we said, "Okay, let's age it." To be honest with you, the first aged tequila we put in, we started tasting it. Guy and I said, "These barrels are too old. Something's wrong with these barrels, man. It's putting a funk in there that I don't like."

Guy: We had to make a change.

Sammy: Boom. We went and got different barrels. We got brand new, once used bourbon barrels. It's like our reposado went "boom," went elevated. So then we had to do the same thing with añejo. We're doing it step-by-step, making sure that all steps are right, not just throwing three products on the market. And that's the difference between us and everybody else.

Guy: And speaking of the three products, we have this trio that's going to be available for the holidays. I have people asking me all the time where they can get it and who's got it and where they're carrying it, and I send them all to the website. We've got all kinds of cool stuff –- etched glasses, and shot glasses, and sweatshirts. I send my friends and family over to the website because they keep coming over to the house and my stuff keeps growing legs. I'll say, "Where did you get that sweatshirt? It's the same camo one that I have." So yeah, all kinds of cool stuff. I mean people love the association of being a Sammy fan or a Guy fan or a both fan, or they really just dig premium tequila -– it's made by two dudes that own the company who are really involved.

You can shop for your own bottle over on the Santo tequila website. Obviously, both men are always on the move, but you can keep up with what Guy Fieri is cooking or where Sammy Hagar is rocking by following them on Instagram.