I like a good tequila as much as I like a great pair of Birkenstocks. Just as there are many classifications of tequila, there are various collections within the Birkenstock parent company. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to tour the Tequila region in Mexico. I visited tequila distilleries and learned about the classifications of tequila. When I tried to better understand the collections under the Birkenstock parent company, it helped me to categorize them, as one would classify a tequila.
The reason I started to research the various Birkenstock collections is because I came across a pair of Papillio sandals online. The Papillios looked liked a Birkenstock Gizeh yet had a different name. I thought they were fakes and did not purchase them. I could not stop thinking about the Papillios and Googled the name. This led to an overwhelming amount of information about the Birkenstock family of brands.
Before classifying the different collections, it is important to first provide a brief history of Birkenstock to better understand why these companies were created. The brand of Birkenstock has evolved over the course of 230+ years. Birkenstock was created in 1774 by Johann Adam Birkenstock. Before making shoes, the Birkenstock family sold specialized footbed insoles for factory made shoes. Karl Birkenstock created the original Birkenstock sandal by attaching leather straps to an updated version of the original footbed. According to Birkenstock Group, in 1963 “Karl Birkenstock launch[ed] the Madrid model, the first fitness sandal with a deep and flexible footbed, thereby laying the foundation for today's comfort footwear market.”
After the invention of the original sandal, Birkenstock continued to grow its shoe-making business into what it is today. Karl Birkenstock’s three sons joined the shoe-making business in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Each son created their own brand within the Birkenstock parent company. The three main brands were Birkenstock, Papillio, and Birki's. Additional companies were created over the course of many years. Birkenstock Group notes that at one point there were over 38 companies within the Birkenstock family.
Each of the different Birkenstock companies were run by a different Birkenstock family member until 2013. Per the Birkenstock Group, “2013 heralds one of the most significant turning points in the company's history: Birkenstock becomes a corporation...The group is led by an executive team, which for the first time is not composed of family members – an unprecedented event in the company's almost 240-year history.”
Putting the pieces together of all the companies would be a difficult task. To make things easier, I am going to focus on four different Birkenstock shoe collections that I have seen sold within the US. I will classify the collections into certain categories, just as tequilas are classified.
Here is a chart I created to help you better understand the type of shoe in relation to the tequila classification, along with “Gina Mama’s Ranking System”. Each level has its own unique properties that make it great a product in its own right.
As tequilas age their qualities improve. They become more complex and smoother to drink. An Añejo Tequila is made from 100% Blue Agave. It has been aged more than 1 year and less than 3 years in barrels with a maximum capacity of 600 liters (www.tequila.net). Añejo Tequila is your top shelf tequila.
Think of a Birkenstock as an Añejo Tequila. A tequila labeled “100% Blue Agave” is a certificate of product quality. A shoe embedded with “Birkenstock” means it has been made with premium materials. A tequila is classified as Añejo if it follows certain distillation guidelines. A Birkenstock shoe is made only from the highest quality materials. According to Birkenstock, their brand "represents top-notch products manufactured with close attention to detail and a high level of hand-crafting. Eco-friendly production and the use of select, high-grade, long-lasting materials all help to protect our environment.” Birkenstock makes superior quality shoes for women, men and children. Birkenstocks and Tequila Añejo are both costly because they are crafted in a time honored traditional way.
One shelf down from the Añejo, a connoisseur will find Tequila Reposado. A Tequila Reposado also uses 100% Blue Agave. However, a Tequila Reposado is still in the first step of the resting process compared to a Tequila Añejo. This classification of tequila, according to tequila.net, “is aged in wood barrels or storage tanks between 2 months and 11 months. The spirit takes on a golden hue and the taste becomes a good balance between the Agave and wood flavors. Many different types of wood barrels are used for aging, with the most common being American or French oak. Some Tequilas are aged in used bourbon / whiskey, cognac, or wine barrels, and will inherit unique flavors from the previous spirit.” While not as smooth as Tequila Añejo, a Reposado Tequila has it own distinct qualities and many people prefer it over an Añejo Tequila.
I would rank the Papillio collection at the same level as a Tequila Reposado. There are many reasons for this ranking. First, the Papillio brand uses high quality materials like Birkenstock but the uppers tend to be more colorful. Second, Papillio use many different types of materials to create their vibrant uppers. Similar to how tequila makers use many different types of wood barrels to age the tequila when creating a Tequila Reposado. Third, the Papillio brand inherits the look of Birkenstock styles, but are unique in their own right because of the more trendy uppers. This is akin to how a Tequila Reposado takes on unique flavors from the various barrels in which they were aged. Fourth, Papillio is also downgraded one shelf on my ranking because they only make these shoes for women, whereas Birkenstock designs shoes for women, men, and children. Finally, the footbed of the Papillio is similar to a Birkenstock, but has a rounder toe area and a more square heel area, thereby providing a slightly wider footbed. The Papillio is a great choice of shoe for women with a wider foot because the footbed offers a little more space compared to a Birkenstock. Just as some people prefer a Reposado Tequila over an Añejo Tequila, some people prefer the Papillio collection over the Birkenstock styles.
One will find Tequila Silver two shelves down from Añejo Tequila. Tequila Silver is made from 100% Blue Agave. A tequila classified as Silver “is the Blue Agave spirit in its purest form. It is clear and typically un-aged, where the true flavors and the intensity of the Agave are present, as well as the natural sweetness. It can be bottled directly after distillation, or stored in stainless steel tanks to settle for up to 4 weeks.” (www.tequila.net). Since Tequila Silver is not aged very long, it emits a much stronger flavor of the agave plant compared to any of the higher classified tequilas noted above.
Of all the Birkenstock collections, the most similar to an un-aged tequila would be that of the Birkenstock EVA. Birkenstock EVAs are available in a wide variety of vibrant colors. Like an EVA Birkenstock, a Silver Tequila is fresher and brighter on one’s palette. Although a Birkenstock EVA sandal does have an anatomically formed footbed, similar to a Birkenstock, they tend to use synthetic materials to produce these shoes. An EVA Birkenstock can even be classified as Vegan because they use no animal products in the making of the shoe. Some people prefer to have shoes made from non leather materials, which makes the EVA collection a good option. There are many styles of Birkenstock EVA available for men, women, and children. While EVA Birkenstocks and bottles of Silver Tequila are not as expensive as their counterparts, they are still rich in style and flavor.
The last shelf would display a Tequila Gold. Gold Tequila is not made from 100% Blue Agave. Tequila Gold is mixed from 51% Blue Agave and 49% other sugars. Tequila.net explains that Tequila Gold contains, “colorants and flavorings [that] have been added prior to bottling. These ‘young and adulterated’ tequilas are less expensive and used in many bars and restaurants for ‘mixed drinks’”. Tequila Gold is a much less refined spirit compared to the aforementioned classifications made from 100% blue agave.
If a Birkenstock brand shoe were like a Tequila Gold, that shoe would be the Birkenstock Professional. Birkenstock Professional shoes are specially designed work shoes. These types of shoes can be used in a wide variety of work environments because they include slip resistant treads as well as oil resistant soles. Even though the Birkenstock Professional shoes are placed on the last self, they are still a great shoe.
The main reasons that I placed the Birkenstock Professional collection on the bottom self is because they are only made for adults and there are few color options available. If you look at the Birkenstock Professional shoes you instantly recognize the Birkenstock-style uppers and footbed. However, the soles of the shoe differ greatly from that of the iconic Birkenstock sole. In other words, like Tequila Gold, a Professional style shoe is a large percent Birkenstock (uppers) and a smaller percentage other materials (the soles). Tequila Gold is a great choice when making mixed drinks, just as Birkenstock Professional shoes are the perfect option for those who work in an environment that require slip-resistant soles, steel toe shoes, or a shoe that can withstand oil and grease spills.
Under Lock and Key
On a side note, in 2006, a new classification of tequila was created. This is the Extra Añejo Tequila. As defined by tequila.net, an Extra Añejo Tequila is “a product that may be enhanced by mellowing, subject to an aging process of at least three years...” Extra Añejo Tequila is the best of the best tequila. This is the type of tequila that you don’t keep on your shelf. Instead, you keep it hidden away and under lock and key. The Extra Añejo Tequila only comes out on special occasions with your most cherished loved ones.
I can think of only one type of shoe within the Birkenstock collection that might be kept tucked away, like an Extra Añejo Tequila. This would be the Birkenstock sandals made with exquisite leather. According to Birkenstock USA, these specially made shoes are “handcrafted and the footbed is completely wrapped in premium leather”. A Birkenstock wrapped in premium leather is not the type of shoe that you would putz around in or take to the beach. This is the type of shoe worn only for special occasions.
With the addition of the Extra Añejo classification, “Gina Mama’s Ranking System” has been revised:
Tequila and Birkenstocks have been around for centuries. Tequila was first produced in the 16th century by the Aztecs. Birkenstock has been around since 1774. Tequila and Birkenstocks are only produced in the countries in which they were created. Tequila is made in Mexico. Birkenstock brand shoes are made in Germany.
Just as each individual may have his/her own preference of tequila, each person may like a different type of Birkenstock shoe. Some people prefer Birkenstocks, others might like Papillios, EVAs, or the Professional shoes. Birkenstock brand shoes and tequila brands each have their own unique qualities that make them special in their own way.
I Love Birkenstocks as much as I love a good tequila. How about you? What are your favorite shoes within the Birkenstock collection? Do you prefer a certain type of tequila? Leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts.