Pablo Antinori felt his first high in the fall of 2020.
Antinori and his Socorro Tequila co-founder, Josh Irving, were outside of a convent in Jalisco, Mexico. They had just spent hours inside: Antinori had shared snacks with the orphaned children who lived there, and Irving roller-skated with them. They spent hours showering kids with attention and love. Many of these kids had not felt love before. It was heartwarming and soul-cleansing for everyone involved.
The business partners didn’t want to leave. The nuns had to practically push them out.
As they walked out the convent, Antinori turned to Irving with tears in his eyes and said, “Papa, I’ve never done any drugs, but there is no way that anything in the world could make you feel better than what we just did.”
The Socorro tequila owners are dedicated to giving back
Irving and Antinori founded Texas-based Socorro Tequila earlier that year, in April 2020. Through its Case for a Case program, the premium tequila brand donates a case of water to orphanages, nursing homes and the community in Jalisco, Mexico—the location of the brand’s distillery—for every case of Socorro sold.
“We don’t scream it from the mountains,” Irving says. “It’s organic. We went from non-philanthropic people who probably have never done any philanthropy in our lives to honestly, selfishly being addicted. It is our favorite thing to do.”
Selling other people’s tequila
Socorro’s inception was quite simple. Irving and Antinori know tequila. The agave spirit connoisseurs have consumed plenty of it.
They’ve had it neat. They’ve had it in cocktails. They’ve had a lot of really good tequila and they’ve had a lot of not so good tequila.
Tequila is the only world they’ve known. Irving has sold tequila through distribution since he was 22. Antinori, who has an intimate relationship with Dallas dining and has sold plenty of spirits in the restaurant industry, jokingly says he’s been drinking it just as long.
“Papa, let’s quit selling other people’s tequila and let’s go make our own,” Antinori said to Irving one boozy night in 2018.
The friends knew each other and trusted each other. Their drive and competitive nature wouldn’t fail them.
“We knew one thing when we started this company, and it’s that we can sell tequila,” Antinori says. “That’s the only thing we could do. Everything else we had to learn.”
The mission before the juice
By 2019, Irving and Antinori were getting well-acquainted with the ins and outs of the tequila industry. Jalisco, Mexico, was their goldmine. They searched the highlands and lowlands to find the perfect distillery but stumbled across what would be the heartbeat of their brand.
After visiting their fifth distillery, the two aspiring entrepreneurs and their Mexican business associates stopped by Carnitas Jaime’s in Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico. The men enjoyed chunks of shredded pork that had simmered in large copper pots in the traditional eatery when a grade-school-aged girl and her younger brother approached them. They were selling candies.
“I ended up buying everything she had,” Antinori says. “Me, as naive as I was about the situation, I asked this little girl, ‘What are you doing with the money?’”
The answer was eye-opening: The girl planned to buy food and water.
“That completely broke our heart,” Antinori says.
The business partners would soon discover that Mexico’s water scarcity issues are heart-wrenching.
“It’s different when the curtains are pulled back,” Irving says.
According to a 2022 report by the National Autonomous University of Mexico, 42% of the country’s population does not have access to daily water. Approximately 6 million people lack access to drinking water and 60% of the present water bodies are contaminated. Research by S&P Global Ratings predicts the number of Mexican states highly exposed to water stress will almost double by 2050. Jalisco is one of them.
Irving and Antinori didn’t have a distillery. They didn’t have a name, but they did have a mission. No matter what they did, they’d provide water to the community that would soon become a second home.
‘Socorro’ is more than a name
“Socorro” is a popular feminine name in Hispanic cultures. It means to help, to assist. Irving and Antinori set out to make tequila but found another purpose: They would help the community. It was only fitting to name their namesake brand after their experiences.
The founders’ time in Jalisco had quickly become intimate. The two entered the rural community not knowing what to expect. Each experience was a kaleidoscopic image on the beauty of humanity and Mexican culture.
“Throughout this whole journey, you’re running into heartbreaking situations of poverty,” Irving says. “What kind of person are you if you don’t do something to help those people that are hurting, but also inspired you?”
Mexico embraced Irving and Antinori. The two had gone to Mexico not knowing what to expect. Irving was a North Texas native. Antinori split the first 18 years of his life between Argentina and Bolivia, where his father and mother are respectively from. He spent his adult life in the United States.
They knew the hustle and bustle of U.S. living. In the U.S., you have to prove yourself before they let you in a group, Antinori says. Mexico is the complete opposite
“They live in the present, which I love about that culture,” Irving says. “They are just there to have a good time. That inspires me. I’m huge on embracing anything that inspires me.”
Jalisco welcomed Socorro with open arms
The community of Jalisco supported Antinori and Irving from the start. Acquaintances who became friends opened their homes to the two, gave them beds to sleep on, cooked for them, cleaned for them and let them borrow their cars. Irving was baffled.
“This is their real life,” Irving says. “This is not anything we know. This is the way that they live. They bring people to their family.”
Socorro had to be a success. Antinori and Irving were inspired to return the love.
Liquid to lips: Socorro tequila was born
The first bottle of Socorro tequila was born in April 2020, a month after COVID-19 lockdowns shut down much of the world, including the restaurant industry. A pandemic couldn’t stop the inevitable success of a brand that was founded on goodwill and tradition.
“We respect tequila as a tradition,” Antinori says. “We don’t take any shortcuts when it comes to making our product.”
Socorro is a premium tequila, meaning it is 100% blue weber agave. There are no additives. It is not produced in a mass production distillery. It is one of five brands produced in a family distillery located in Jalisco, and the only brand not owned by the family. For Antinori and Irving, this is an honor they do not take lightly.
Socorro is made the “old-school way.” The agave piñas are cooked in a traditional brick oven for 24 hours. After 24 hours, the ovens are shut off to allow the piñas to steam cook. Then the agave juice and well water are placed in tanks with proprietary yeast for at least 96 hours.
During the double distillation process, the magic happens. The distillation process is split into three parts: heads, heart and tails. The most harmful alcohols are cut during the heads and tails portions of distillation, leaving the “heart” of the tequila, the alcohols that will be transformed into the spirit.
“We lose about 30 to 32% of our production on cutting heads and tails; that really makes our tequila quite premium,” Antinori says.
Socorro tequila is growing rápido
Socorro tequila has grown nearly 50% since 2022, and is one of the top 10 tequila suppliers within Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits.
“We let our juice, or tequila, speak for itself,” Antinori says. “We sell our tequila on the tequila merits. We price our tequila very well to make sure that our tequila is the best that you can get for a price that is cocktail friendly, as well.”
Socorro, which runs in the $30 price range, is available at more than 900 restaurants and 800 retailers. Texas is the brand’s largest market. You can find the tequila on menus at Texas dining staples like Meso Maya, Gloria’s, Mi Cocina and José.
“That [success] doesn’t come from sitting at home behind the computer,” Antinori says. “You gotta put liquid to lips every time.”
Case for a Case
To date, Socorro has donated more than 36,000 cases of potable water to the Jalisco community. Antinori and Irving return to Jalisco every quarter to do the drop-off themselves and reunite with their Jalisco family.
“We actually know who the kids are, what they do, and that’s a special thing for us,” Irving says. “It’s the coolest thing that we personally get to do.”
Over the last three years, Irving and Antinori have witnessed infants become toddlers. They’ve seen a six-month-old grow into a sprouting preschooler. They’ve watched in amazement as another young girl taught herself English by reading a book.
“It’s not about the money; it’s about the time,” Antinori says. “Water is a lifeline, or this excuse we use to get to go to this orphanage. The best part is giving these kiddos time and attention.”
Photos courtesy of Socorro Tequila.