Sammy Hagar Loves Making Tortilla Chips (And Told Us What’s In His Salsa)

Sammy Hagar goes hard. It’s clear even just from emailing with the longtime Van Halen vocalist and Cabo Wabo tequila founder that he’s totally committed to enjoying the best things in life—while some rock stars can’t really be bothered to open up, Hagar wants to explain in detail his recipe for homemade tortilla chips; or exactly how long before playing a show he and former Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony open a bottle of tequila; or which birthday party of his has been the wildest (he predicts his 100th will be “the greatest party I’ve ever been to”). Truly, whether he’s performing with Van Halen, building on five decades (and counting) of solo bangers, eating tacos with Guy Fieri, or drinking tequila out of a Champagne flute (that’s one of his go-to vessels), it’s obvious that Hagar is out here every day giving every day 200 percent. I can think of few figures in rock who have worked harder to simply enjoy their lives. 

In his free time—i.e., when he’s not singing “I Can’t Drive 55” and “Heavy Metal” for thousands of fans—he’s (hopefully) avoiding driving altogether because he’s probably chilling with Guy Fieri, tasting through their Santo Tequila portfolio. Indeed, after the success of Hagar’s Cabo Wabo tequila, he embarked on a new venture: to create a weird, Frankenstein tequila-mezcal spirit called Mezquila (as well as a bunch of hella good regular tequila) through Santo, which is distilled in Guadalajara, Mexico’s El Viejito Distillery. Beyond tequila, Hagar’s also an owner/investor in a ton of restaurants, including Cabo Wabo Cantina and Sammy’s Beach Bar & Grill. 

It’s rare that someone can rock so hard for so long and at least appear to be a well-adjusted adult. Yet, Hagar seems to walk it like he talks it. So, we caught up with him to chat tequila philosophy, Van Halen’s rider, his beautiful friendship with the inventor of “donkey sauce,” and what he’ll be snacking on during the Super Bowl.

VICE: Hey, Sammy! You’ve been called a “tequila visionary.” What do you look for in a good tequila?

Sammy Hagar: Pureness. I like simple, distilled twice blanco tequila. If that's good, I will move on to your reposado and añejo. But I like pure, old-style tequila.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy tequila? Are you a shots guy? Or more into cocktails? 

My favorite way to enjoy tequila is basically to sip—not, like, elegantly sip. You can take a quarter to a half an ounce in your mouth at once. I don't do shots because I like to taste the tequila. More than that, I'm not going for just the buzz, and I love a good margarita. But, I will sip an añejo or reposado after dinner. 

What’s the ideal glass for enjoying tequila?

I drink tequila in a nice Champagne flute or a port glass. I like to have a bit of a closed nose on the glass to get a good hit of agave on my nose. But I don't want it to be so tight at the top that it makes your nose burn.

What’s the craziest party you’ve ever been to?

My 55th birthday in Cabo at the Cabo Wabo, my own party. My 60th birthday was pretty crazy. My 70th birthday was off the charts, and my 100th birthday will be the greatest party I've ever been to. I guarantee you, and they will all be in Cabo.

Speaking of parties, the Super Bowl is next Sunday. What is the ideal Super Bowl snack for you?

I’ve got a thing for good hot wings when they're crunchy and crispy, not mushy. [You want] crunchy and crispy and just the right amount of good, old fashioned wing sauce. You know, like the Buffalo style.

Are you a nachos guy? If so, what’s your favorite brand of chips?

I'm not really a nacho guy, but I love good homemade chips. I [start with] homemade corn tortillas like I get in Mexico, [and] we make them at the Cabo Wabo Cantina ourselves. I leave them out for two days and then cut them up and fry them in peanut oil or a nice vegetable oil of some kind. Not olive oil, it's too much flavor! Those are my favorite chips. A little bit of sea salt. My goodness. Squeeze a little lime on there, and you're set! [Editor’s note: We love Masienda’s tortilla starter kit and heirloom corn masa harina for making homemade tortillas and chips.]

You’re about to go on tour. What snacks are on your rider these days? Can you talk about what was on Van Halen’s rider? 

On my rider, I have a bag of local tortilla chips. We have them make fresh salsa with my recipe, which is very simple. It's just cilantro, onion, tomatoes, and salt. I don't like garlic. A lot of lime and jalapenos and maybe serranos. I have local beer in my dressing room and then I have fine wine; if I have sold out [the venue], I usually get what I ask for, and if I didn't sell out, I'll get, like a bottle of Ripple. Hahahaha!

Van Halen's rider was all over the place. It was totally whacked out. What I did in Van Halen was I had a local chef come and cook for us after the show. I ate really well after shows because I can't eat after three before a show, and you go on stage at 9 p.m.. I'm starving by about midnight. So if a local chef wasn't available, we would cater from the best restaurant available and we did that every night with fine wine. 

What are you usually munching and sipping on right before you get on stage? 

Well, before I go on stage, I don't munch on anything—I do a little tequila-sipping. Michael Anthony and I, we always bust open the bottle about a half hour before the show, as we're really warming up and just start sipping then. You know, you don't want to overdo it. But I can't eat. If my throat is feeling a little scratchy, I will eat a crunchy, crispy, salty potato chip. A few just to get my throat all scratched up. I know it sounds crazy, but I know a few other singers that do the same thing. 

 OK, you’re having a dude’s night with Guy Fieri. You crack open a bottle of tequila. What are you guys eating?

Oh, if I'm with Guy Fieri, we're usually eating some kind of pork tacos. Gotta have hot sauce, you know. The other day, Guy and I were at an event and they roasted a pig. And I was eating the ear. You know, I just ripped it right off and put that on my plate with salsa. Guy was going, "Man. Dude. Is there another one of those?"

Last question: You can drink tequila with any person, living or dead. Who is it, and why?

Well, Guy Fieri and Michael Anthony are honestly two of my favorite tequila buddies. Somebody that's passed that I would have liked to have a drink of tequila with? I have no idea, because unless I've already done it and know it's a good experience, I'd rather not speculate on something like that. I'd just as soon stick with the tried and true.

Sammy Hagar's tour starts July 13 (tickets are available on Ticketmaster) and his Mezquila can be purchased at ReserveBar.

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