Tequila expresses itself

There’s also the fact that most of the spirit being consumed as shots and slammers was mixto – not the high quality 100% agave tequila that is currently at the heart of its new-found popularity, and which outsold mixto in the US for the first time last year, hitting 51% of total tequila sales, according to Rodolfo Aldana, director, tequila reserve, Diageo North America.

Diageo last year took full control of super-premium Don Julio in an asset swap involving its Bushmills Irish whiskey, proving its continued dedication to top-tier tequila.

Aldana says: “We are very encouraged to see great momentum by Don Julio. It’s helping premiumise the category and we are one of the fastest-growing brands in super-premium. In the last years Don Julio has had a consistent approach to growth drivers.

“One is the recruitment of consumers through sampling, using certain vehicles to connect them with the story of our founder, Don Julio Gonzalez.”

Aldana is convinced one of the main category drivers is demand for true brands with a genuine backstory: “There’s a consumer trend for authentic brands and those that are made with quality. There’s the way tequila is made – the planting, harvesting, putting in ovens, distillation. And the ageing takes many years, sometimes more than scotch.”

Gomez points out that tequila is one of only five spirits categories to enjoy a designation of origin, with all the regulation that goes with it, adding that, in terms of raw material, agave is already a quality product, being that it needs to be at least five years old before harvesting.

“Every other spirit comes from a weak raw material, which is why the producers have to age them and add botanicals, because you can’t drink a white spirit without botanicals.”

The excitement among brand owners about premium tequila’s sudden perceived potential is palpable, but where exactly is the increase in 100% agave’s fortunes coming from and what is causing the turnaround?


Certainly some entrants to the category are the result of 100% agave cannibalising mixto, but El Jimador’s Mark Grindstaff says research points to vodka being a casualty. The vice-president/group brand director for tequilas at Brown-Forman says tequila’s the kind of white spirit that is appealing particularly to the millennial consumer: “It has more flavour than vodka and, more importantly, real depth of story in terms of heritage, the way it’s made – it takes years to mature the agave, it’s cooked in china ovens, pot stills, barrel aged…”

So that production story certainly seems to be piquing consumers’ interest, but how are they getting to hear about it in the first place? Popular culture is a tough concept to avoid – when celebrities get involved in anything, everyone tends to hear about it, and tequila has had its share of big names vying to get in on the act.

“There are definitely celebrity brands and they are only at the upper end and ultra priced,” says Grindstaff, pointing to George Clooney’s Casamigos and Justin Timberlake’s 901 and he says that, although the drinks may not be seen much outside the US, “there’s no question it can’t hurt. It helps for rediscovery”.