The Tequila Revolution: The Shots Heard Around the World

from Huffington Post

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Current political and economic tension between Mexico and the United States notwithstanding, there is one Mexican export that is being greeted with open arms in the United States: tequila. Since 2002, Mexican exports of tequila to the US have skyrocketed and have been growing at a rate of roughly 5.42% a year. The value of Mexico’s tequila exports to the US in 2016 were just under a billion dollars. The value of distributor and bottler sales to wholesalers was around $2.5 billion dollars while the retail value of US tequila sales, both off premise and on premise, represented a staggering $7.5 billion dollars in turnover. Tequila is now both one of the largest and one of the fastest growing categories of spirits in North America.

Historically, tequila was classified into two broad categories of products: mixtos and 100% agave. Mixtos referred to those tequilas that included up to 49% other sources of fermentable sugar in the liquid, referred to as mosto, that was fermented and then distilled. Typically, these other sources of sugar would have been high fructose corn syrup, molasses or sugar cane juice. Much of this product was exported in bulk to the United States for bottling. In some cases, it would be then reexported to Canada and other international markets. 

Extra Añejo/Extra or Ultra Aged is a new category of tequila, pioneered by Casa Herradura, that has gained prominence over the last several decades. The category was only recognized officially in 2006 and consists of tequilas that are aged for a minimum of three years. There is no maximum aging limit, although from a practical standpoint most tequilas reach their peak at somewhere between 3 and 5 years of aging. Ultra-aged tequilas exhibit even more wood influence including nuances of chocolate, coffee and even a Crème Brule note. 

They are rich in body with significantly more weight on the palate and are often referred to as “sipping tequilas”. In recent years, distillers also have been experimenting with alternative cask finishing, using casks that previously held sweet wines like sherry or port to add a broader range of flavors to their tequila. Good example of this category includes Herradura Añejo or Patron Piedra. Patron’s sherry cask finished tequila is a superb expression of the use of alternative cask finishing but is virtually impossible to find. 

The newest, although still unofficial, category of tequila is Cristalino. The category was developed by Don Julio’s Master Distiller Enrique de Colsa and released in 2012 as Tequila Don Julio 70 Añejo Claro to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the distillery by Don Julio Gonzalez. The spirit is an 100% añejo tequila that has been matured for 18 months in American oak barrels. Once matured, the tequila is filtered multiple times through a proprietary activated carbon process to remove its color. This was the first time that the process was applied to an añejo tequila. The CRT does not yet recognize Cristalinos as a distinct tequila category. They are identified based on their aging as either Cristalino Añejo or Cristalino Extra Añejo. In some cases, the designation claro/clear is also incorporated into the label. 

Reposado tequilas can also be filtered and packaged as a Cristilano. Maestro Dobel was the first tequila producer to produce a crystal clear, filtered reposado. It has since released Maestro Dobel Diamante, a blend of Reposado, Añejo and Extra Añejo that has been filtered to create a crystal-clear liquid. Clear, aged tequilas have also been released by Qui Tequila (the first clear Extra Añejo), Casa Dragones, Milagro Unico, Lunazul Primero, Herradura Ultra, and Alacram Cristal Tequila among others. 

The resulting crystal clear spirit retains the typical aromas and flavors of an añejo tequila and offers exceptional smoothness. The filtering process removes many of the overt wood influences, especially the oak and wood spice notes. The resulting spirit has a slightly resinous, somewhat piney note reminiscent of sandalwood. The agave notes are more subdued as well and are more herbal in character with hints of licorice, mint and anise. There is a noticeable, wood derived sweetness, with aromas of cotton candy and marshmallow. 

Cristalino has become the fastest growing segment of Mexico’s domestic tequila market. More significantly, sales of Cristalino tequila skewed heavily towards women. For the first time ever in Mexico, more women than men are now consuming tequila. Cristalino began to appear in the US in 2015 and is only now starting to make significant inroads. 

Tequila is a case study of what the spirits industry refers to as premiumization, drink less but better. Although in the case of tequila it has been a case of drink more and better. Historically, the bulk of Mexican tequila exports to the US were mixtos, what is now referred to as simply tequila. According to the Distilled Spirits Council in the US (DISCUS), in 2002, approximately 7.2 million cases of tequila were shipped to the US. Roughly 83% of those exports were mixtos/tequila in bulk form for bottling in the US. The balance, the equivalent of 1.2 million cases, was shipped in bottled form and consisted primarily of 100% agave tequila. By 2016, total shipments had more than doubled to just under 15.9 million cases but the percentage of bulk exports had dropped to 46%.

The tequila industry has had an impressive period of growth over the last two decades but is only now hitting its stride. With continued improvement in the quality of its production, more nuanced and complex maturation processes and more sophisticated marketing, it has considerable growth ahead of it until it assumes its well-deserved share of the global spirits market.



Original article here