Mention tequila and you’re likely to be met with extremes. On one hand, agave spirit aficionados appreciate the nuances of terroir and artisanal production, while the other end of the spectrum shakes their head with a bad tequila story.
Tequila (along with other agave spirits) has struggled with cementing its identity as a serious sipping spirit. To many, it’s aligned with getting wasted, evoking memories of party shots, drunken nights and nasty hangovers.
When Sydney experienced a recent boom in Mexican food from taquerias to higher end restaurants, there was a glimmer of hope that Mexico’s spirit would follow suit. But when the fickle Sydney dining scene rode the Mexican wave fast, the agave category did not take off despite the availability of premium brands.
If the whisky category has succeeded in shedding its identity as a spirit enjoyed by old men in tweed jackets around the fireplace, and the gin resurgence means you no longer associate the white spirit with your great aunt’s favourite tipple, what would it take for tequila to be taken seriously?
Tequila: So Much More than a Shot
“We have a big hill to climb to get people to start taking tequila seriously and treating it with as much respect as whiskeys,” Jeffrey Frisk, Venue Manager at Barrio Cellar explains. “In our venue, I run tequila tastings about once a month in which I choose three different tequila brands, blanco, reposado and añejo from both lowland and highland and one mezcal. I make sure that people understand the range that tequila can be, how refined it has become, how delicious and complex it truly is. And be sure to explain the difference between mixto tequila and 100% blue agave tequila. That is a very important part.”
Alex Gilmour, Bar Manager at Tio’s Cerveceria is offering a sensory approach. “We are looking to associate the senses of our guests with more than just the knee jerk reaction to tequila. We have organised accompaniments for all our tequilas to enhance the flavour profile. The blancos arrive with house verdita, our reposados come with a slice of fresh granny smith apple and cracked pepper, and our añejo and extra añejo tequilas are accompanied by a piece of 75% cacao chocolate.”
Los Vida in Crows Nest has introduced a new role, Tequila and Mezcal Sommelier. “Our Sommelier’’s key focus is to share the way, us Mexicans, drink agave spirits which has a lot of similarities to wine, from softer and spicy expressions to sip on and open up the palate before eating, to margaritas or agave cocktails to match the food, and all the way to añejo tequilas or sweeter mezcal expressions as aperitifs,” Co-founder Octavio Gomez-Haro explains.
For Phil Bayly, Tequila Expert, “One of the most important ways to change people’s perceptions, and this is with a focus on the un-converted, is though presenting or offering it in a way that they are not expecting, to help remove the already ingrained perception of what they are thinking it will be.”
“One of the ways is matching it with a spirit that they are already familiar and comfortable with. If someone enjoys vodka, then I would consider using a somewhat neutral blanco tequila that does not have a dominant agave flavour and presenting it in a style of cocktail that they already enjoy. And of course, serve it super chilled. I tend to leave the history or production process out until some interest has been established. I often don’t even tell them it is an agave spirit if I can,” Phil Bayly explains.
With education, association and presentation, consumers are introduced to new ways of drinking tequila without taking the fun out of it. As Alex Gilmore puts it, “We, at Tio’s aren’t looking to stop people shooting tequila. “We are trying to focus their attention to what they are drinking so they can make an educated decision on what goes in their glass”.
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