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Fight Fire with Tequila

(Photo by Silas Fallstich)

For all, the 2017 Thomas Fire 2018 Montecito mudslide caused destruction and devastation to the quintessentially idyllic Santa Barbara lifestyle. For Berkeley “Augie” Johnson, the natural disaster, and the fires which preceded the flows, were also a call to action. Johnson explains, “My family and I thankfully survived the mudslides—but it was near-death.” Augie, of the eponymous tequila brand, has resided in Santa Barbara with his family for 25 years. Alongside his VP of Operations, Marvin Gutierrez, the pair have created an agave kingdom across Santa Barbara County. The aftermath of such tragedy motivated Johnson to make a positive environmental change within the community, as well as cultivate the rich culture encapsulated in this sacred oceanside landscape.

As Johnson began attending fire safety and prevention meetings, he learned that local avocado groves are able to withstand the flames, sparking inspiration for a mutually-beneficial venture. While avocado growth necessitates excessive water to be sustainable, agave and prickly pear are able to thrive in such soil and possess similar characteristics of fire resistance. Johnson’s mission quickly materialized: the protection of his hometown from further natural disaster, possible through the creation of an abundant agave ecosystem across the Southern California coast.

Not only does Johnson’s sustainable farming practice shield our environment from further damage and aid in reversing what has already been done, but the careful harnessing of these plants and their nectars pays poignant homage to the tradition of the land and its Hispanic roots. Augie’s spinoff brand, Firebreak Tequila, is concocted from the agave planted to fireproof Santa Barbara.

Tequila craftsmanship and culture is typically attributed to Mexican culture, which runs deeply through the veins of Santa Barbara, but Johnson explains that the process of growing and distilling agave spirits is not so alien to the area. Rather, abundant evidence suggests that tequila distillation is endemic to the 805, beginning when the Portugese sailed through the area centuries ago and eventually sprung roots in this soil.

Augie's Spicy Frozen Pineapple Margaritas (Photo by Silas Fallstich)

At the heart of Augie’s ethos is their quality control, which extends from the planting process to the bottling of the tequila. Johnson designed a comprehensive agave ecosystem that wastes nothing yielded from the field. Nectar is harvested as a sweetener and the pulque, or fermented sap of the plant, is produced as an alternative fermented beverage. The aim of Augie’s agave ecosystem is to improve the land rather than desecrate it, enriching the soil from which the product is gleaned, reducing waste and promoting the cleanliness of tequila production.

Johnson’s spirits can be found at Flor de Maiz—the waterfront Mexican restaurant whose cocktail program he had a hand in developing—and other local establishments, yet that’s just the beginning. Coming soon to State Street is Augie’s restaurant, a full-service tequila bar, replete with white flags on the building's exterior announcing that the location serves lauded-after pulche, as has been done at similar specialty establishments for centuries.

The DNA of Augie’s is built upon the self-described “805 Experience.” Agave is grown and sourced under the area code, distributed here, and enjoyed in distinctly Santa Barbara locales. Johnson says, “We want this to be something people travel for, that is unique to this area in particular. When they reminisce on their trips to Santa Barbara, we want them to also remember this tequila they had while they were here.

Augie's Spicy Frozen Pineapple Margaritas (Photo by Silas Fallstich)

Let's make Augie's Spicy Frozen Pineapple Margaritas!


1 oz triple sec

2 cups frozen pineapple

1 cup ice

4 limes, juiced

1 jalapeño

Sea salt


Red pepper flakes


For the garnish:

Take a left-over lime and move it around the rim of the cup. Combine the sea salt, tajin and red pepper flakes in a saucer and run the rim of the glass over the salt and pepper mixture. Cut the jalapeño slices really thin. The best way to get the most out of your mint is by slapping it before using it in a dish or prior to drinking. Pour the drink in the cup and garnish with jalapeños and mint.

#neatornot always enjoy!


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