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On the Rocks: Tequila Time with Clooney & Gerber

Rande Gerber, AKA Mr Cindy Crawford, talks bed-hopping, banishing hangovers and brewing his own tequila with best friend George Clooney 

Just when it looked like George Clooney couldn’t be any more of a catch, he goes and finds a tried and tested tonic to a hangover. The cure? Drink tequila. On the rocks, neat, in a margarita; just keep slamming those slammers and wake up smug as a teetotaller on a Saturday morning, prescribes Dr Clooney. Of course, he isn’t proffering any old type of tequila; he’s talking about his own brand liquor, Casamigos, distilled with his long-time drinking buddy Rande Gerber.

Gerber’s may not be a name that is instantly familiar, although he’s the spouse of one of the world’s most recognisable supermodels and a successful businessman at that. You might have heard him mentioned as the pioneer of the ‘lounge bar’, a type of drinking establishment that doesn’t sound too dissimilar to Central Perk, except it serves White Russians rather than flat whites.

Today, Gerber and the third cog in the Casamigos operation, property mogul Mike Meldman, have made themselves very much at home in the bar at The Berkeley. It’s the morning after the night before when the trio was tasked with keeping the tequila flowing at the launch party of Cindy Crawford’s new book Becoming. From the sounds of it Clooney was a particularly attentive host, playing bartender and topping up shot glasses with zeal. He’s noticeably absent this morning, although I’m sure it’s just jet lag that’s wiped him out, and not a hangover, heaven forbid. 

Some might call it hair of the dog, but after hitting the sack at 4am, Gerber and Meldman are back on the sauce. “I never drink alone,” confesses Gerber, a mischievous glint in his eye, as he hands me a tumbler of Casamigos Blanco while he pours himself an amber coloured Casamigos Añejo. “Someone once described Casamigos as ‘dangerously smooth’,” he warns, raising his glass in a toast. He might not have quite the Nespresso suave of Clooney but Gerber, at 53, still has something of that distinctly American poster-boy look about him. He is charming, chiselled and very polite. Even dressed down in jeans and a zipped jacket, it’s not difficult to see how he ended up married to his model wife.  

“If you drank that whole bottle right now you might have a bit of a headache in the morning, I’m not sure,” says Gerber with a wry smile when I quiz him about the non-hangover boast. “But I’ve never experienced it and we’ve definitely done a lot of research.” 

Nobody could accuse the men of not doing their homework. Propping up bars all over Mexico, where they built neighbouring homes called ‘Casamigos’ in Cabo San Lucas a decade ago, the drinking buddies worked their way through hundreds of different versions of the local spirit, all in the name of research. Unable to find the perfect blend, it was Clooney who suggested they make their own and they spent two years working with a master distiller in Jalisco.

It might be a bit of a sidestep for Clooney, but as career paths go it’s not such a curveball for Gerber, who until 2010 headed up Gerber Group, a nightlife empire reportedly worth $100m. Hotelier Ian Schrager gave him his big break, tasking him with fitting out the bar at the Paramount Hotel in 1990. Cue The Whiskey, a blueprint for the lounge bar concept, complete with comfortable couches for, well, lounging. Other spin-offs followed as well as the Skybar in LA where Gerber reportedly bumped into Crawford after her divorce from Richard Gere. 

Does it get annoying when Clooney hogs all the limelight? Gerber is diplomatic. “I think the great thing for George is that this is his first business. We’re all partners and we are involved in every aspect of the process. When there’s a decision to be made it’s the three of us that discuss it together. We live the lifestyle so it doesn’t really feel like work because everything about it is authentic.” 

The pair never intended to make a business out of tequila at all but several years down the line, and many empty bottles later, it was the distillery that threatened to pull the plug. “‘We’re sending you about 1,000 bottles a year so either you’re selling it or you're drinking way too much,’ they said to us,” laughs Gerber. “They told us we needed to get a license for our ‘samples’. We didn’t care if we sold one bottle as long as we got to keep drinking our own.” 

The fact that Casamigos is the fastest growing ultra-premium tequila in the States, heaped with more accolades than you can shake a margarita shaker at, is a bonus. “It’s very different from other tequilas out there,” Gerber explains. “Most people equate tequila with their college days and haven’t touched it since, but the type of agave that we use is the best of the best.

"The process that we went through was much longer because we were just doing it for ourselves to drink and we wanted it to be perfect. We wanted the smoothest tequila that we could drink all day and all night and not be hungover in the morning” - Rande Gerber

The agave (that’s a type of aloe plant between me and you) used in Casamigos’ three tequilas is 100 per cent Blue Weber grown in the Jalisco Highlands. In Gerber and Clooney’s current liquor line-up there’s Casamigos Blanco, a crisp, clear and incredibly smooth tipple; Casamigos Reposado, a slightly more viscous blend with hints of caramel; and Casamigos Añejo, which is aged for 14 months and has a more refined, smoky aroma that treads on whisky territory. 

We’re two and a half tequilas in when Crawford makes her entrance, sweeping into the bar with all the inconspicuousness that a supermodel can muster. I wouldn’t mind looking like her at almost 50, having been partying to the early hours of the morning. She is radiantly beautiful; the tequila goggles amplifying the glossy mane, gazelle-like leather-clad legs and megawatt smile. Her poison’s usually a Reposado on the rocks, but the paps are outside waiting to snap her en route to her lastest press junket, so she doesn’t stick around for long. Together, the two of them have to be in the running for the most photogenic couple of all time, although Clooney and Amal aren’t far behind. As brand ambassadors go, a supermodel, an internationally-famed barrister and a Hollywood A-lister aren’t bad, I muse, as Gerber laughs a little helplessly. 

He admits that having celebrities attached to any brand can backfire, but – and again, perhaps it’s the tequila talking – he insists that Clooney’s involvement is the real deal. The set-up seems pretty genuine to me. They have known each other for 20 years, first meeting at Gerber’s New York bar Morgans. They visit their homes in Mexico ten times a year to taste-test and  personally put every batch through its paces – only when it’s had their seal of approval is it bottled. As for how it’s best enjoyed, they like to drink it with friends, or at Meldman’s beach shack in the Bahamas. It’s also, of course, the drink of choice for Clooney and Gerber’s boys-only motorcycle trip that they take every summer. 

Casamigos launched quietly in the UK back in the spring as part of Selfridges’ Year of Mexico celebrations, but it is now behind the bar at Nobu, Zuma, 5 Hertford Street and Chiltern Firehouse, to name but a few. “It’s convenient for George since he moved to the UK because it means he doesn’t have to bring countless cases with him when he comes,” Gerber jokes. 

Although hangovers are a thing of the past for the pair, there have been plenty of salubrious incidents during the production process. One tale, which is already part of Casamigos folklore, never gets old for Gerber. After they got their licence, the story goes, Gerber and Clooney hit the bottle hard, so much so that Clooney had to crash at the Gerber’s Malibu pad. Cindy woke up at 3am and went to look for her husband, discovering him lying face down on the bed in the guest room fully clothed. She got into bed and tried to wake him up and, what do you know, it was actually George, not Rande. “She came to find me and said: ‘I just got into bed with George!’” Gerber sniggers. “We could hear him downstairs raiding the cupboards, laughing about it. In the morning he said, ‘that’s going to be our first ad campaign: drink a bottle of Casamigos and wake up with Cindy Crawford’. But Cindy insisted that we changed it to ‘wake up with George Clooney’.”

Is tequila the secret to a happy marriage? Gerber seems to think so. Let’s hope it works for the Clooneys too. One half of the power couple might be fighting for human rights in the courtroom while the other is setting the world to rights at the bar, Casamigos in hand, but at least they’ll both wake up feeling fresh-faced in the morning. He’s definitely a catch. 

Shake it up: Casamigos Cocktails

Casamigos Margarita
1 1/2 part Casamigos Blanco Tequila
3/4 part fresh lime juice 
1/4 part fresh orange juice
1/3 part agave nectar
1/3 part orange liqueur
Combine all ingredients to iced mixing glass. Shake vigorously for 10 count. Pour all contents into a rocks glass with or without salted rim. Garnish with a lime.      

The Three Amigos      
1 part Casamigos Blanco Tequila
1 part fresh pink grapefruit juice
1 part Italian Aperitif
Shake ingredients with ice then strain and serve on the rocks or straight up. Garnish with pink grapefruit wedge.

Repo Fresco 
1 1/2 parts Casamigos Reposado Tequila
1 1/2 parts grapefruit juice
1/2 part agave nectar
5 mint leaves
3 cucumber slices
3 lime wedges
Top with club soda
In a mixing glass, muddle mint, 3 cucumber slices and 3 lime wedges. Add remaining ingredients, fill with ice and shake. Strain into an ice filled rocks glass and top with club soda. Garnish with cucumber wheel and lime wedge.

Rande Gerber is co-founder of Casamigos Tequila which is available at Selfridges, www.selfridges.com; www.casamigostequila.com