Posted on May 29th, 2012
April has been a very busy month indeed. Between spreading the world of Jose Cuervo Tequila across Turkey, preaching the 1800 Gospel in Abu Dhabi and carrying on with the development and tastings of the new Essence range from Marie Brizard, I hardly had the time to sit back and relax with my favorite spirit.
I have been working for various tequila brands over the past five years, with always the same request: to try to pass on my passion for tequila to fellow bartenders and consumers. While this may seem a bit of an easy task and a cushy number, especially in the U.S. or the U.K. where the category is well established and where consumers have a higher level of awareness, it can sometimes be a big challenge in smaller markets. One of these markets is France, which came as a big surprise. How can a country filled with such connoisseurs of fine food and wine fail to understand the finesse and quality of tequilas to such an extent? With a meagre 185,000 cases (9 litre) consumed a year, the vast majority of which is bulk-bottled tequila, one would expect a different set of numbers from the ever-so-sophisticated French. Is it because fine tequilas could become a challenger to the national spirit, Cognac or, as mentioned by a fellow French bartender, because the flavor profile simply isn’t within the French repertoire?
His comments triggered a whole lot of thinking and discussion, most of it taking place at my favorite bar in the world, the Forvm in Paris (the Mecca of the French cocktail world). The reasoning was as follows: I have been exposed to tequila from a very young age; the oily complexity and hearty flavors are an instant cause of satisfaction for me. Most of my social circle has been working in the world of spirits, and therefore is also able to understand, but not always appreciate, the multi-faceted aspect of fine tequilas. However, for the uninitiated, the flavor profile is a bit of a challenge.
This leads me to my favorite argument within the world of tequila: mixto versus 100% agave. I know the blogosphere will go up in arms against me for what I am about to write, but I think that the “elitism” that goes around the 100% agave tequila is a tad extreme. I agree, 100% agave tequilas are (for the most part) rich in flavors and mineral characters, are fabulously creamy, sweet and well rounded and have a luscious, long finish. But, these are not to everyone’s taste. The agave is rich and sweet but it also leads to some very earthy and spicy undertones that are not to everyone’s liking; these deeper notes can be a real turn off to your average consumers, especially when combined with its lighter and sweeter aroma.
Enter the least pretentious of all tequilas: the so-called ‘mixto’. Often regarded as the bastard child of real tequila, we tend to forget that the vast majority of all tequila consumed globally is just that: “mixto” (the fermentable sugars are a mix of blue agave, sugar cane and/or grains). This type of tequila has a much lighter, less earthy and more ‘basic’ flavor profile, and thus has a broader appeal outside of Mexico and the U.S. Unfortunately, they suffer tremendously from a lack of marketing ethics that surround the tequila category in general, where these products are portrayed as a cheap shot, and/or a rite of passage, and/or a party catalyst (which many are), yet their quality is never put into question. There are some true atrocities in the world of mixto tequila, but there are also some soft, well-balanced and well-crafted examples that have helped spread the word of tequila far and beyond the borders of Mexico. Because of this wider appeal and more commercial flavor profile, these tequilas have been able to add considerable financial sustainability to the entire category. I cannot help but draw a comparison to the meteoric rise in popularity of blended whiskies in the early 1900’s; don’t we say, after all, that the success of brands such as Johnnie Walker and Chivas Regal has allowed the entire single malt industry to survive until today? Would it be far-fetched to draw a similar comparison to tequila?