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Tequila: Never a dull moment
Published:  24 October, 2018

While it might be facing stiff competition from fellow agave-based spirit mezcal, there are still areas of excitement that keep tequila in the limelight, reports Clinton Cawood

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THE RAW MATERIAL used to produce tequila, the plant that makes this such a compelling spirit, has a way of ensuring that there’s never a dull moment for those involved in this category. Whether it’s the seemingly unavoidable cycle of oversupply and shortage brought about by its long growing cycle, or the risks associated with the use of a single variety, agave certainly knows how to keep everyone on their toes.

Just as the situation in the fields is ever changing, though, so is the world around it. The global spirits industry isn’t the same as it was just a few years ago, let alone two decades past when total tequila exports were little more than a third of what they are now, and when the premium segment, 100% agave tequila, accounted for an almost negligible amount of that total.

Much of that growth was achieved before the global gin craze we’re still in the midst of, and before mezcal’s meteoric rise in popularity, with other agave spirits – raicilla, bacanora and sotol – on the way too. The upward trend for tequila continues – exports for 2018, according to the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT), are not only up, but show 100% agave tequila to be marginally in the lead for the first time. But there are both challenges and opportunities ahead.

THE MEZCAL EFFECT

Tequila and mezcal probably have as much in common as they have differences, and opinions about whether the effect of the latter’s recent success will prove to be a positive or negative one for tequila varies.

“Mezcal supplements the category of agave-based spirits in an exceptional way and helps to further promote Mexican lifestyle in intriguing ways,” says an optimistic Dr Tina Ingwersen-Matthiesen of Sierra Tequila’s German owner Borco. The company put this approach into practice recently, taking on global distribution – aside from the US, Canada and Mexico – of mezcal brands Marca Negra and Meteoro at the start of 2018. “In our daily work we see tequila and mezcal as separate spirits in their own right and with their individual charm,” she adds.

At London’s Cafe Pacifico, general manager and director Carlos Londoño has seen mezcal encroach on tequila’s share of back bar, growing from 10 bottles to 50 in three years. He considers both categories to have benefited from each other. “It seems to me that whenever someone talks mezcal, tequila pops up in the conversation, either in a good or bad light. Nevertheless it’s talked about and compared with mezcal,” he says.

For others, it’s the differences between these two Mexican spirits that limit the impact they can have on each other. “Mezcal has its own taste profile – we don’t feel that it’s impacting on tequila consumers,” says Raffaele Berardi, chief executive of Fraternity Spirits, which includes Tequila Corralejo and Los Arango Tequila in its portfolio.