A local college student turns a school assignment into your new favorite tequila

We’ll drink to that.

During his senior year at Loyola Marymount University, Carlos Soto was given an assignment: pitch a new business idea that wasn’t tech-related. A night out with friends and a pocket full of bar receipts led Carlos to consider the spirit business. “There are so many people here in L.A. that [go out] on a regular basis; there has to be some sort of money behind this,” Carlos explains.

This idea, in its most simplistic form, gave Carlos the basis for his pitch. But it also inspired a journey that would lead him to become a respected contender in the world of tequila, while also growing a socially responsible business that gives back with every bottle sold.

Since its January 2017 launch, Nosotros Tequila has found itself in some of the South Bay’s most frequented bars, restaurants and retailers. But its recognition stretched far beyond local appreciation after winning both the 2017 Double Gold and Best Tequila awards in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Ironically, with his business still in its infancy and Carlos just barely out of college himself, it was a competition the new brand nearly missed. “It was in April of 2017, and funny enough we couldn’t even afford to go to the competition,” he notes.

“We were at our starting point, with maybe six or seven accounts,” adds Michael Arbanas, Nosotros’ CFO and cofounder.

But while the team was absent from the event, the two bottles of Nosotros Tequila they sent for the blind taste test clearly made an impression. “It was a game-changer for us,” says Carlos. “We sent an email blast sharing the results to a lot of the people we were trying to reach. And then it was like, ‘OK, maybe these kids do have something.’”

At 24 years old, Carlos has a confident yet humble demeanor. He’s the kind of young, ambitious youth you want to root for. Born and raised in Costa Rica, he’s quick to reference the “pura vida” lifestyle—though after six years in Los Angeles, his love for Southern California is clear.

“It’s just so beautiful, with so many different places to explore and live. I think that’s something that makes California so special. You’re two hours away from absolutely anything when it comes to nature.”

This love for coastal living, in part, inspired Carlos to team up with Waves for Water. “I was lucky to (during my junior year) interview the creative director for Hurley,” Carlos says. “Hurley works very closely with Waves for Water; they’re one of their main sponsors. I love what they do. Their whole focus is to take water filters to underprivileged communities around the world. Jon Rose is the founder. He used to be a professional surfer—his father had actually been building water filters and carrying them around. They realized they’ve been going to all these amazing places and surfing, but a lot of these places—where the best waves are—have communities that are walking two to three miles a day to come back with drinkable water.”

Waves for Water works to get water filters to these communities, and Nosotros donates 1% of every bottle sold to contribute to that goal.

“The whole idea of having a drink with someone is a social experience. It’s sharing a story with someone. It’s about you and me; it’s about us.”

As for the tequila itself, the brand currently boasts two bottles: Nosotros Blanco and Nosotros Reposado. “One of the main things that makes Nosotros different,” Carlos explains, “is that we use a blend of agave from the highlands and the lowlands [in Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico]. In the highlands they tend to be a little bit sweeter. In the lowlands they tend to be a little more earthy—a little more peppery. We do a 50/50 blend.”

The Blanco is slightly more citrus with orange or pineapple notes. “[It’s] deemed the purest expression of the tequila, so what you’re [tasting] is really the flavor of the agave,” Carlos explains.

The Reposado gives off more of a vanilla or cinnamon flavor. “It’s almost more like a whiskey,” Carlos adds, “picking up flavors from the barrel.” Nosotros’ Reposado ages in French oak barrels for the maximum duration of 11 months, at which time it would then be considered an añejo.

In the short term, the team hopes to introduce a mezcal and an añejo to the brand’s collection. Their long-term goals are a bit bigger. “Our main goal is that we’d like to become the staple of tequila in California,” Carlos notes.

The name Nosotros in Spanish means us or we. “The whole idea of having a drink with someone is a social experience. It’s sharing a story with someone. It’s about you and me; it’s about us,” Carlos says.

For him, Nosotros represents “mixing the pura vida lifestyle of enjoying the moment and being present, with the spirit of Jalisco, Mexico, under the California sun.” As Californians, that is something we can all say “cheers” to.