I am not ahead of the curve when I say that the next big thing in the alcobev segment is, without a doubt, Tequila and mezcal. Don’t believe me? Ask The Rock, Kendall Jenner, or even George Clooney, who sold his Tequila brand Casamigos to Diageo in 2018 for a good chunk of change. But don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that gin has had its day in the sun and it’s time for it to go home. What I am saying is that Tequila and Mezcal are the new kids on the block and they are here to play hard.
What the world is on to, is top class, sipping Tequila that will make you want more. It’s delicious, aromatic, flavourful and smooth with a rising number of followers here in India. The Tequila revolution is rising and tagging along is mezcal.
What is Tequila?
Let’s break it down. Tequila is a region-specific name for a distilled beverage made from the Blue Agave, a plant that is grown on rich volcanic soils. It is made in five specific regions, the most noteworthy of which would be the region of Jalisco, which also contains the town of Tequila. Tequila is a protected name, much like Cognac or Champagne. Only spirit made from blue agave in five specific regions of Mexico can be called Tequila.
It is important to note that all Tequila is mezcal but not the other way around. The difference? Mezcal can be produced by any kind of agave whereas Tequila must be made from Blue Agave. Mezcal tends to be smokier because of the manner in which it is made, while Tequila has a sweet, smooth flavour in comparision. Tequila is much more of a complex beverage than the world gives it credit for and yet actually it’s just so simple to produce. You need Blue Agave, water, yeast and patience! That’s it.
The Tequila sunrise in India
At The Wine Cellar, All Things Nice’s retail arm, I see Tequila and mezcal sales rising significantly. For example, we sold over 60 bottles of Don Julio 1942, priced at a cool Rs25,000 each, within two months of it becoming available. Since its launch in February 2021, more than 100 bottles of Codigo Tequila has flown off our shelves. And this is just at one store in Mumbai!
I’ve spoken to a couple of people in the know about this rising trend and they all seem to agree. Says Gauri Devidayal, co-founder of Mumbai restaurant, The Table, “Tequila and mezcal are the new gin! We even have an entire menu dedicated to these two sister spirits and cocktails made with them. The response to it has confirmed the popularity of this new trend. ”
This isn’t a trend limited to Mumbai alone, confirms Rachit Dang of The Quorum Club, a members-only club in Delhi and Mumbai. “With rising cocktail bars in India, especially in Delhi, Mumbai and Goa, it is the artisanal Tequilas that are making their way in the bars. The perception of a party spirit and those hazy memories of Tequila shots are changing amongst the Indian international travellers. Now, we see so many Quorum members selecting to enjoy añejo and extra añejo Tequilas on ice as an after or pre-dinner option rather than fine wine or Cognac. By far, the most common way we see equila being consumed is in the new age cocktails. We are still away from the times when guests would have a preference in style of Tequilas or mezcals but certainly, the trend is promising.”
‘Tequila had a bit of a bad reputation’
Just like whisky, there is so much variety within the category, that there is something for everyone. While guests at bars still enjoy a shot of Tequila, there is now a heavier focus on agave cocktails, with mixers or even enjoyed neat.
“With the spirit being known mainly for margaritas and shots, Tequila had a bit of a bad reputation and wasn’t regarded as a high-end spirit,” explains John Leese, the Group Beverage Manager of Bastian Hospitality, which owns Bastian in Mumbai’s Bandra and Worli. “It wasn’t until 2017 that India had a 100% Blue agave at an entry level price. I immediately listed it as my pouring Tequila and it became a brand that I went on to work with for many years. Slowly, guests started enjoying the cocktails. They stopped using salt and lime with every shot and started asking for recommendations on which brand to try next.” Lesse explains that by observing the rising trend, importers started bringing in more and more brands and different expressions of Tequilas (Reposado, Añejo and Extra Añejo) as well as mezcals.
The latest release Leese is most excited about is a brand owned by the king of country music in the US, George Strait. “A super-premium brand offering, Tequila Codigo 1530 has three distinct expressions and is a delight for agave enthusiasts. Now with a dozen or so 100% Blue agave brands available across the country, the category is booming and I look forward to seeing what comes in next,” he shares.
No piece on Tequila in India would be complete without speaking to Desmond Nazareth himself. After returning to Goa from the US in 2000, Nazareth noticed the lack of decent local Tequila and Margarita. Since then, he has set up DesmondJi and become one of the few significant producers of agave spirits outside of Mexico. While the company suffered some blows in 2020, Nazareth is quick to confirm the Tequila revolution. “I’m pleased to share that our DesmondJi Indian Agave spirits have bounced back nicely after the COVID downturn, and enjoy a heightened interest via our signature cocktails across bars in Goa. The brand is seeing an uptick in retail sales, akin to Mexican agave spirits internationally,” he shares, confirming that the interest in agave spirits across categories is rising.
‘A good Tequila can rival a single malt’
“When I first arrived in Mumbai in 2015, to work at a well-known Bandra watering hole, there was little movement by way of Tequila, save cheap bar rail paired with salt and lime and the sickly saccharine Patron XO café,” explains Nick Harrison, co-founder of the uber-stylish French cuisine restaurant in Mumbai, Slink & Bardot. “However in recent years, this has changed dramatically. No longer is it uncommon for consumers to sip a good Tequila or mezcal as they would a single malt; neat or with a single cube of ice. This is yet another indication that the beverage market is maturing in tandem with the increased variety of luxury spirits.”
Where mezcal shines is in its ability to make great cocktails. With consumers moving towards expertly-made cocktails, both Tequila and mezcal play an important role in giving bartenders the ability to create something that will make your toes curl in pleasure.
Parth Timbadia, who runs Mahe, a modern coastal cuisine restaurant in Goa, offers a robust beverage program for customers to enjoy. One of his bestseller cocktails is the Deccan Sour, which combines Tequila infused with hibiscus, honey, lime and black salt. Timbadia believes Tequila and mezcal are the new waves in the alcohol business. “With consumers being more exposed and gaining more knowledge about trends, they are trying more off-the-beaten-path products. Mezcal and Tequila have the right mix of complexity and premium perception to be able to hold an appeal with all types of crowds.”
But I’m not a gambling man, I believe in track records. In the US, Tequila and mezcal are already the ‘it’ drink and in Southeast Asia, the spirits have developed a major following. Say Hola to Tequila and mezcal folks, I bet my bottle of Tequila Codigo Añejo that you too will be onto this drink in a blink of an eye.