Thursday, June 20, 2024

WB’s Blue Shark distillers bringing new brand of tequila to market in May

Locally made Hacienda Chactun Tequila, from the Blue Shark distillers, will be available in local ABC stores by Labor Day. (Courtesy Mark Milliken)

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — It’s been a decade-long process since Mark Bloomquist and best friend Mark Milliken began working on a spirit they’re launching next month from Daytoon Distributors — the parent company of their first brand, Blue Shark Vodka.

If all remains on track, Hacienda Chactun Tequila will be available in local ABC stores by Labor Day; the product is ready to roll, as it awaits the state-controlled commission’s thumbs-up. According to Bloomquist, the ABC has to make room in the warehouses for more product, which is then distributed to the state’s 170 boards.

READ MORE: Shark Week countdown: Blue Shark Vodka makes a splash as Wilmington’s first distillery

ALSO: Blue Shark looks to expand nationally with ‘world’s smoothest vodka’

Hacienda Chactun’s creation actually began when the two lifelong friends began discussions about scaling a full spirits company in the mid-2000s. Bloomquist and Milliken met at the Naval Academy and graduated in 1975. 

Utilizing Bloomquist’s background work as a former executive at Seagram’s and daughter Brooke’s knowledge as a master distiller, they launched Wilmington’s first distillery with Blue Shark Vodka in 2019.

“It was a little bit easier to distill the vodka first,” Milliken said. “In our minds, it was quicker to get to market, so it was our blueprint to see if we could pull this off.”

Blue Shark Vodka has won numerous accolades in its infancy, from the World Spirits to the SIP awards, as well as the 2022 gold for the Best Fifty vodkas in America. Bloomquist is the CEO of Blue Shark, while Milliken oversees Hacienda Chactun. 

While the non-GMO corn grown for the vodka comes from a farm in Polkton, North Carolina, Hacienda Chactun Tequila’s blue agave is cultivated from 100 acres in Mexico. The plants used for the first batch have been growing for 10 years now; it takes seven for agave to mature for harvest. 

The crew uses its own aquifer to control the water, almost 1,000 feet below sea level, which keeps natural minerals intact. 

“There will be a supreme smooth taste from that,” Milliken said. 

A diffuser is used to extract 99% of the agave plants’ raw nectar for the highest purity and cleanliness. The sugar content will be 25% — a little higher than the required 22%.

The addition of a Danish yeast makes for “flawless fermentation,” Milliken added.

“We decided a long time ago, if we were going to do it, we were going to do it right,” Bloomquist said. “Tequila is like Champagne.”

Much like the grapes mandated to grow in Champagne, France, to make the sparkling brut, tequila’s blue agave must come from one of five authorized Mexican states: Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacan, Nayarit, or Tamaulipas.

Hacienda Chactun comes from Jalisco. 

Bloomquist said the Hacienda Chactun team planted another 1,500 plants in Jalisco last week. (Courtesy photo)

“Our distilling facility’s down there in Mexico and we’re doing all the production ourselves,” Milliken said. “We’re not going to buy juice from somebody else and produce it; it’s going to be all ours.”

Over the last year the team has been traveling back and forth from the states to Mexico, perfecting the recipes, working on labels and securing bottles. The latter experienced a shortage during the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused a delay on the tequila’s release.

Once Hacienda Chactun is created, it makes three stops: California, Nevada and North Carolina, where Daytoon has other warehouses and production facilities. Bloomquist said the majority of the bottles at first will be distributed in the Tar Heel State — more so locally.

“Much like Blue Shark, we will also launch our products through New Hanover first,” Milliken said. “The county’s been good to us.”

Recently, Bloomquist said someone from the ABC asked why they didn’t stick with the “Blue Shark” branding for the tequila too.

“Blue agave, Blue Shark, Naval Academy, blue and gold,” Bloomquist rattled off, all symbols of importance throughout his life.

But to Bloomquist the name “Blue Shark Tequila” didn’t have the same appeal. 

He chose Hacienda, meaning ranch, and Chactun after learning about an archaeological find in Mexico. 

“It was an old city,” he said. “This was Mexico’s best kept secret. Nobody knew about Chactun, and we trademarked it.”

Through the holdings company of Daytoon Distributors, each brand the company launches will stand on its own. Bloomquist and Milliken are looking to unveil Stede’s Caribbean rum by 2024, with a clear rum to follow thereafter.

“And we’ll have a whole new team for that launch as well,” Bloomquist said.

The two Marks already toyed with whiskey as well. 

“We did a short run of it about two years ago,” Milliken said. 

They produced 100 bottles infused with peaches from Lumberton, North Carolina, but it’s not for sale. Bloomquist said the two aren’t really interested in pursuing it further and is unsure what they’ll do with the remaining bottles.

“Neither of us are bourbon drinkers,” Milliken added. “I’m more of a tequila drinker.”

Hacienda Chactun will come in reposado option as well. (Courtesy photo)

Hacienda Chactun will come in two varieties: a reposado, aged one year, and blanco, silver and unaged.

Created by an Italian artist, the labels feature a Mayan design in metallic. On the back of the blanco bottles are ruins, with a shot of agave plants on the reposado label.

The goal is to have both products on the shelves in May; it will be sold in fifths at first, with pints possibly in the future. The pricing has not been solidified yet, but the reposado will be a little higher due to the aging process.

With requests coming in from New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts, also controlled states, Milliken said they will continue to grow distribution regionally and perhaps expand farther nationally if the opportunity is right.

“We’re contemplating spreading a little bit more if we see it fits and if we have the energy to do that,” Milliken said. “We are both 70 years old, but we feel like we’re 22 again.”

Currently, North and South Carolina markets are the bread and butter. Virginia recently accepted the spirits as well, though product isn’t in the market yet.

“It’s just a matter of supply,” Bloomquist said. “We are working so hard. Building a brand isn’t easy, but if it were, everyone would be doing it.”

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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