Sales remain sunny for tequila. The category grew 5% last year in the U.S., with the big premium brands leading the charge. Luxury brands are also booming, as are on-premise programs that feature the spirit.
U.S. consumers are thirsty for craft tequila, and want more information about the spirit. Consumer education is key, like the excellent alcohol classes held semimonthly at Yankee Wine & Spirits in Newtown, CT. Led by the store’s own Brian Hutcheson and Slocum & Sons sales rep Brendan Welsh, this week’s class delved into craft tequila, including four important facts:
1) The Category Repositioned Itself as Affordable
Most people with a bad opinion of tequila think of the spirit as the cheap sugary stuff of hazy college parties. Which remains a problem for the category: consumers still fear the deadly stuff they guzzled as undergraduates.
But as Hutcheson pointed out, there was another reason why craft tequilas were off people’s radars: their prices. “About seven years ago, tequila realized it was too expensive for people to buy,” he recalled. “So you saw prices drop by as much as $40.”
Take Tequila Espolon. For some time the brand maintained premium prices. Then it disappeared for a while and reemerged with SRP’s closed to $22. Now it’s a brand with staying power.
Tequila has figured out what modern consumers are willing to pay for the product.
2) Tequila is for More Than Just Whiskey Drinkers
“Every whiskey drinker is a tequila drinker — they just don’t know it yet,” TJ Douglas, co-owner of The Urban Grape in Boston, once told Beverage Dynamics.
His point is valid. The bourbon barrel-aged añejo tequilas, as golden in color as some whiskeys, display the same smooth vanilla oak notes that delight whiskey drinkers.
But there’s something to be said of the blancos and repos of the world. These unaged or barely-aged tequilas, spending at most a matter of months in barrels, retain the sharp grassy flavors of tequila proper. If you like a spirit with bite, go for younger tequila. If you like bourbon of Scotch, reach for the añejo. Tequila has something for everyone.
3) Every 100% Agave Tequila has a NOM
With many Jalisco distilleries producing multiple brands, it can be difficult to tell where a tequila comes from. That is, unless you look at the NOM.
Short for Norma Oficial Mexicana (or Normative Number), this is a Mexican designation that indicates that tequila (or 100% agave Mezcal) has met government standards set for the spirit. Each NOM is also specific to a distillery and will appear on bottles of whatever that distillery produces (assuming they meet government standards).
Thus, you can trace any tequila in your collection back to where the spirit was made. Now imagine if American whiskey was held to similar standards of transparency . . .
4) Tequila Ages Very Quickly
Tequila is a famously finicky spirit when aging in barrels. Leave it in too long and you can quickly ruin the juice. This is due in part to the extreme heat of Jalisco, Mexico. With temperatures that high, the barrel wood imparts flavors into the spirit much quicker than in a Kentucky rickhouse.
That’s why you typically see añejo’s spending only 12-18 months in a barrel, and extra añejos rarely surpassing three years. “Remove a whiskey from its barrel in that time period and they’ll attack you,” joked Hutchenson.
Reposados that spend only a few months in a barrel are “rested,” not “aged.”