Chattanoogan building Tequila brand

photo Eduardo I. Gomez, left, president of GDL Imports LLC, introduces a new tequila to the area. Paul E. Beggan, right, is head of sales and operations.

BioName: Eduardo GomezCompany: GDL ImportsTitle: PresidentAge: 36Education: Bryan College, marketingProduct: Trianon TequilaInvestment: $1 millionPartner: Paul Beggan, former CEO of Bicardi CanadaCost: $40 to $52 per bottle of 100 percent agave tequila, depending on size and quality. A tower of nesting bottles with one of each of the three varieties costs $80.

At this very moment, someone in Chattanooga is crafting beer. If the law one day allows, an entrepreneur soon could open a liquor distillery. In the interim, Eduardo Gomez is trying to create a tequila importing empire based right here in the Scenic City.

His product, called Trianon Tequila, will compete directly with well-known upscale brands like Patron in Tennessee starting this weekend. He plans to roll it out to bars and liquor stores over the next two weeks as part of a deal with Chattanooga-based Carter Distribution.

If all goes well, he'll capture 1 percent of the super-premium tequila market, he said, which works out to about 1,500 cases in Tennessee, or 40,000 cases nationwide.

Gomez, educated at historically dry Bryan College, is part of a wave of young leaders trying to grow the spirits business in Chattanooga. Hot on the heels of public pleas from the Chattanooga Whiskey Co. to loosen regulatory restrictions on distillation, Gomez has settled on an easier way to whet Chattanooga's whistle -- importation.

He'll bring the tequila in from Mexico, where a small family run business owned by Eduardo Orozco produces it by hand.

Made from just the middle section -- the heart-- of the agave plant, Gomez says he hopes drinkers will take the time to taste the tequila rather than just pound shots or blend margaritas.

"There are over 2,000 brands of tequila, and I was able to find one that was bringing something different," he said. "We don't care about people getting wasted, we want to tell people about the taste."

In upscale tequila, drinkers taste the agave plant before they taste the alcohol, Gomez said.

His partner, former Bicardi executive Paul Beggan, said part of the business plan is promoting mixed drinks made with Trianon Tequila. The group has hired former bartenders and chefs to create drinks outside of the realm of the margarita.

"We want to promote the mixability of it, and we've done a lot with mixologists," Beggan said. "We're not about this crazy party tequila. We're more about the cocktail, and fresh organic drinks that match each one of our three expressions."

When Beggan says the word "expressions," he's referring to the three different aged varieties of tequila.

There's blanco, the easiest to mix, which isn't aged at all. Reposado is aged -- or rested -- for six months or less. While it can be mixed, Beggan says it's best on the rocks. And finally, the anejo expression is aged for one year, and is comparable to fine whiskey, Beggan said.

"It's a great after-dinner drink," he said. "We're doing a pineapple margarita with hibiscus and pomegranate, and we've got kind of a cosmo-sangria margarita ready to go."

For Beggan and Gomez, their ace in the hole is a best-in-class showing at the Sip Awards, an international spirits competition in which Trianon won recognition from a 60-judge panel.

"That gave us a lot of confidence that we're in the right ballpark," Beggan said.

The pair's deal with Carter Distributing could be especially advantageous. A new law adopted in Tennessee last year allows beer distributors to enter the liquor market, provided they follow a few guidelines, Gomez said.

"I was the first guy to go into their portfolio, I was the first one to knock on their door," he said.

Unlike typical liquor distributors that offer customers many different tequilas to choose from, Carter just has one - Trianon.

"Things have gotten a little bit bigger than what I was expecting," said the 36-year-old. "The fact that they aren't working with another tequila means they're going to be pushing it."