Palisadian Mom Jennifer Erwin Creates Artisan-Crafted Tequila

By SARAH SHMERLING | Editor-in-Chief

True crime television producer by day, tequila crafter by night: About nine months ago, Jennifer Erwin took her love of smoked spirits one step further and started experimenting in her Marquez Knolls home.

“It was just a hobby, it was really fun,” Erwin shared with the Palisadian-Post of when she was first getting started. Her beginning creations were crafted with fire and then she moved on to an electric smoker, which she said made everything easier.

She smoked a variety of spirits, including vodka and gin. When she tried smoking premium tequila, that’s when it all changed.

“Then I decided to take it more seriously,” she explained.

Erwin met with Joel Garcia, master distiller, who grew up on an agave farm and learned how to make handcrafted tequila from his father. The land that the distillery is on is very green and open—visitors need to take a cobblestone road to get there. 

“He’s an artist,” Erwin added, referring to his products as “small batch” and “ultra-premium.”

Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

Traveling back and forth to Mexico to meet with Garcia, Erwin finessed the recipe and process, launching The Smoke Label.

“This year has been so interesting and shocking,” Erwin shared.

Erwin has been in the entertainment business for 20 years—she said that at first, she couldn’t imagine loving anything else, but that crafting tequila has shifted that perspective.

“It was a wild journey, back and forth to Mexico,” Erwin explained. “‘Is this going to happen?’ Thank God it did.”

The tequila business is incredibly competitive; there are thousands and thousands of brands, so Erwin wanted to do something different to stand out. She wanted her product to be as pure as possible, with no toxins or additives.

The Smoke Label tequila is crafted with spring water from the Cienega region of Jalisco and non-GMO agave that is pesticide free and bat pollinated. Garcia uses an ancestral inspired process from the 1600s, which Erwin explained in “incredibly time consuming.”

The process includes building out a stone enclave in the earth and placing the naturally grown, blue agave pinas in.

“When you see the agave plant, it’s just the blue leaves sticking out,” Erwin explained. “What we harvest is the pina you can’t see at the base of the plant.”

The agave pinas are placed in, with lava rock and different types of wood, creating heat and smoke. There is no plastic, which can hurt the flavor or add toxins, used in any part of the process.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Erwin

“It’s a very long process,” Erwin said. “It’s days and days of smoking, but it’s worth it. It’s really unique and smooth. You can maintain that quality when you’re doing smaller batches.”

She had 3,000 bottles of her blanco and reposado tequilas made to start.

After the juice is twice distilled, the blanco goes into the bottle, which avoids flavor contamination and impurities that can happen when it is held in a tank. The reposado is matured in French oak cognac barrels, which helps give the tequila an aromatic bouquet of vanilla and hints of woodsmoke.

“I do it because I love it,” Erwin said. She has no plans to mass produce the product, but will continue to sell her small-batch creations in places like her neighborhood favorite Ronny’s.

Erwin moved to Marquez Knolls from Santa Monica Canyon with her husband, who grew up in Malibu, 14 years ago.

“We got here with no kids and no pets, and felt really out of place,” Erwin said with a laugh. The two adopted a French bulldog and started to build their family.

She said that she loves the locale of the Palisades, being set against the Santa Monica Mountains and walking distance to the ocean. 

“It’s just inspirational, stunning, but the best part of this town is the close-knit, small community,” Erwin said. “It’s magical, it really is.”

The mother of two Marquez Charter Elementary School students wanted to do something to give back to animals. Erwin shared that she was reading “American Wolf,” which tells the story of a legendary female pack leader at Yellowstone National Park who taught scientists that when an animal is removed, the environment changes and suffers.

In honor of the wolf, O-Six, who was killed by a trophy hunter in 2012, The Smoke Label’s bottles feature a hand-drawn wolf, created by Erwin’s mother, modeled after the pack leader, along with the tagline “Unleash Your Call to the Wild”—and 5% of sales are donated to wildlife conservation.

For more information or to order, visit thesmokelabel.com.