The Time of Tequila

October 8, 2021
By Ashley Pini

Mexicans have always known the power of the agave and the spirit it produces. Now the world is catching on. Ways in which consumers enjoy tequila are evolving. More drinkers are enjoying and appreciating tequila than ever before. The ‘Lip, Sip, Suck’ is becoming a thing of the past.

The Agave

The Mexicans have distilled tequila since 1795. They have distilled the agave to make mezcal for hundreds of years and made alcohol from the agave called pulque for millennia.

There is something unique about agave spirit. They say it gives a different buzz. The Aztecs believed the agave was a gift from the gods because of what it provided them. Not only did it produce liquid to drink, but they could eat it, build with it and make clothes and rope from it.

Legend says it grew from the remains of the goddess Mayahuel after the evil Tzintzimitl, goddess of the sky, killed her. Mayahuel’s true love Quetzalcoatl was so devastated the other gods gave the plant properties which would comfort his soul when he drank the plant’s elixir. The Aztecs believed this is how the agave plant came to be and how the properties of tequila comfort the souls of those who experience loss.

Tequila expert and bar owner Phil Bayley agrees something is healing and unique about the properties of the plant.

“The effect of tequila is euphoric, and that is because of the raw material,” Bayley says. “Going to the deepest level, it is one of the most interesting raw materials in the world to make spirit. It dates back millions of years,” says Mr Bayley.

The Pandemic

Tequila is the fastest-growing spirit segment in Australia. IRI Temple – Spirits – MAT to 08/08/21 shows total tequila annual growth of 34 per cent. Is it the unique qualities of tequila feeding our soul and comforting us because we have lost the normality of everyday life in a pandemic?

Bacardi-Martini Australia Brand Ambassador for Patron, Joseph Chisholm, says moving to cocktail making at home because of lockdowns has impacted the growth of tequila, particularly the popularity of the Margarita.

“We are finding consumers want to recreate the classic cocktails they had in barsbut at home, which is why the Margarita has been such a hit. The growth in triple sec of 34 per cent directly mirrors the growth in tequila, showing that consumers are maturing from shots and upgrading to sipping margaritas at home,” said Mr Chisholm.

Consumers in lockdown were saving money on international travel, eating out, and spending on premium spirit products to stock home bars. They were spending more time on social media and online searching cocktail recipes and posting the results.

Despite how easy it is to make, the Margarita was a big player in this mix as one of the most googled cocktail recipes globally. If you can remember two parts tequila, one part triple sec and one part lime juice, you pretty much have it.

CEO of Sesión Tequila, James Gosper, says the power of social media cannot be underestimated in the success of his brand.

“It really amplifies the messaging and branding and speaks to the target audience. The tequila category is on fire, and there is certainly something about lockdown and the Margarita,” says Mr Gosper.

One of Sesión’s key customers, Francan Brasserie in Potts Point Sydney, sells more tequila than any other spirit.

The Awareness

Perception around tequila has shifted. Unlike other spirits, its highly regulated production due to the tequila appellation of origin ensures quality. Tequila must be produced in the region of Jalisco from the blue Weber agave. The appellation established in 1974 gradually changed consumer sentiment towards the once nasty tasting party shooter to a sippable quality liquid to savour.

Consumers are coming to a greater understanding of tequila’s diversity. It can be blanco, reposado, añejo or extra añejo. It can be aged on wood and filtered to remove colour but not flavour in a Cristillano. It can be smoked or aged on sherry casks, chardonnay casks, bourbon and whisky casks. It can be an extra añejo – aged and complex to be savoured like a Scotch, or it can be colourless and fresh like a blanco and perfect for cocktails.

Education has played a crucial role in bringing consumers over to tequila. Remarkably for the first time, agave-based spirits have overtaken bourbon and rum in the US as the biggest selling spirit by volume after vodka and whisky to become the third largest spirits category according to IWSR.

Mr Chisholm from Patrón says the boom of cocktail making at home and the premiumisation of the product in Australia, the attention the category has been receiving from both the total US market and from celebrities is a significant factor.

“This is seeing a trickledown effect for our market as we look to other countries for what’s hot and trending,” he says.

Mr Gosper says the Millennials and females are the demographics embracing premium quality tequila and tequila-based cocktails.

“It’s going to be an exciting five years for Sesión; tequila is the next big white spirit,” he predicts.

The Terroir

Like wine, terroir is a significant factor because, like wine, tequila is the product of a plant that reflects the environment and microclimate. In Jalisco, where tequila is made, there are two main areas within the appellation producing different styles of tequila.

In the Highlands, where it is 1800 metres above sea level, the days are hot, but the nights are cool, so the tequilas are fruity, floral and sweet.

In the Valley or the Lowlands, the days are warm and so too are the nights producing tequilas with vegetal, savoury and earthy characters. Then there are single-estate tequilas reflecting microclimates, such as tequilas from the Ocho tequila range.

The World

But it’s not just tequila; the growth of agave spirits, in general, is having its day. Other countries, including Australia, South Africa, Spain and southern California, are planting the blue Weber agave and making agave spirit. Parts of northern Queensland have very similar climatic conditions to Mexico.

In Bowen, Queensland, more than a million blue Weber agaves are destined for distillation in three to four years. It will not be tequila, but Australian agave spirit has a certain ring to it.

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