In focus: Tequila and mezcal trends

The T&T

As well as celebrities, the growth of Tequila has been driven by the cocktail market. With the Tequila-laced Margarita still proving the most popular cocktail in the US, according to Nielsen, serves such as the Paloma and the T&T (Tequila and tonic) are gaining ground. The focus, according to producers, is on simplicity and preserving the natural vegetal flavour of the agave.

Bishop, of El Rayo, says: “We feel that the biggest trend will be the T&T, or Tequila and tonic. We see the T&T as the trend that can galvanise the category and take it into new territory, crucially in attracting new consumers to the category.

“We are all about showcasing the natural flavour of agave that is prominent in Tequila and we felt that sometimes this can get a little lost in cocktails. Pairing El Rayo with tonic enhances the flavour of the Tequila while also providing a refreshing experience at the same time.”

Patrón, which was bought by Bacardi last January in a US$5.1 billion deal, is such a fan of the T&T serve that it even has its own name for it: the Patrónic.

Lee Applbaum, global chief marketing officer for Patrón Tequila, says: “The bar community has really been at the forefront of introducing consumers to new ways of enjoying Tequila, both through putting a Tequila twist on classic serves as well as creating more experimental, innovative offerings. Recently the success of long classic drinks along with their twists has helped us spread interest in and demand for serves such as the Patrónic, our signature Patrón Silver Tequila and tonic. This trend is set to continue in 2019.”

In September 2018, Patrón teamed up with mixer brand Fever-Tree to launch a citrus tonic water flavoured with Mexican limes, tangerines and bitter orange, which was specifically designed to be paired with Tequila. Such has been the demand that recent months have witnessed a proliferation of such products, including the Artisan Drinks Company’s agave lemon tonic water and Sekforde’s Tequila and mezcal mixer.

The rise of gin, and the omnipotence of the G&T, could work in Tequila’s favour, believes Gillett, of Mangrove. He says: “Premium Tequila is now appealing to a young adventurous audience, as people seek out new trends and flavours. The jump from gin to Tequila is less challenging on the palate than vodka, so it is increasingly coming into people’s drinks repertoire.”

But what about Tequila’s elusive smoky cousin, mezcal? Taking up the equivalent of 1% of the Tequila category, according to IWSR, mezcal remains a fledgling sector, albeit one that is championed by the trade and bartenders. Not restricted to being made from only blue agave, Tichenor of Brown-Forman believes the spirit’s more relaxed production regulations allows for greater experimentation. “There are opportunities to experiment with blended and wild agave sourcing to develop unique taste profiles and further the craft heritage of mezcal,” he says.

Gillett anticipates a shift towards different bottles so that cost is not prohibitive. “Mezcal is an expensive spirit, so we’re anticipating a trend towards smaller bottle sizes to enable consumers to try it,” he says.

He stresses that while the bartender community champions and showcases the spirit’s smoky character, it is a harder sell in shops.

“It has a challenging flavour profile – think peaty whisky – and is yet to break into the UK consumer market, and isn’t stocked in major supermarket chains yet, with the exception of Waitrose,” he says.

Exerting influence

However, while still an outlier, mezcal has exerted some influence on the super-premium Tequila category. The launch of the US$199 Gran Patrón Smoky last year could be said to have been partly inspired by the unique qualities of the spirit.

Patrón’s Applbaum explains: “The smokiness of mezcal can be challenging for some consumers, therefore, the best producers create a delicate smokiness, which adds complexity to the liquid, making it fully integrated rather than just one-dimensional. We have recently launched Gran Patrón Smoky as a limited release, currently available in the US, and although it is absolutely not a mezcal, it has a unique and wonderful profile that plays with the classic style of Patrón and traditional production techniques to create its distinct, natural smoky notes.”

Agave on the rise

Rarely a month goes by without the threat of some form of shortage. From avocados and Prosecco to Provence rosé and carbon dioxide for fizzy drinks, db has seen it all. However, rather than an overblown news story designed to grab headlines, the agave shortage is proving a major threat to an otherwise buoyant sector. In 2015, Mexico’s National Committee for Agave Production stated that “volumes of agave do not provide enough for the Tequila industry”, with subsequent price rises ensuing as a result.

According to Berardi of Fraternity Spirits, agave prices have risen more than 10 times in just three years due to a shrinking supply of the plant.

In general, blue agave used in the production of Tequila is harvested when it is over seven years old, meaning that planting more does not yield immediate results. This, Applbaum says, has led some producers to cut corners, with knock-on effects on quality.

“With the growth of the premium Tequila category, keeping up with the very high demand is a challenge for producers who don’t have a guaranteed agave supply. As such, some have had to cut corners and harvest immature agave, which ultimately results in an inferior product for consumers,” he says.

Patrón, however, has long-term relationships with a number of reputable agave farmers ensuring it has a guaranteed supply that can also meet rising demand.

El Rayo’s Vereker believes there needs to be greater regulation in the supply of agave to prevent wild price fluctuations. As a result, he predicts that sustainability will be a growing trend.

“I think we will see sustainability continue to play an important role in the category, given its reliance on the agave plant and the threat that the species is currently under because of challenges to biodiversity,” he says.

Therefore, while global demand for Tequila is growing, plans to guarantee future supply need to be implemented to ensure that the current quality-driven approach is maintained.

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