Now that the first quarter of 2017 is in the books and we are well into spring and summer margarita season, here’s what were noticing at Tequila Aficionado Media Headquarters.
The Hits Just Keep on Coming!
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As we pointed out in The Agave Shortage of 2017 Is Worse Than We Thought, we are smack in the middle of a shortage with no end in sight.
Yet, here at HQ, since January 2017, we’ve solicited, and been solicited by, no less than 50 brands of tequila, mezcal and sotol for our widely viewed Sipping Off the Cuff© series.
Some are labels that have been around for awhile, or re-launched with extended expressions to their core lines, and presumably, flush with cash from investors (we’ll circle back to this subject a bit later).
But, most are start ups in the agave spirits arena.
At press time, agave prices have skyrocketed from 1.7 Mexican pesos ($0.089) per kilo in 2013 to 10 pesos at the end of 2016, according to this recent article in Barron’s.
Our own sources claim that agave prices in May 2017 have hit a high of 14 pesos per kilo. During the crisis of the late 1990s, agave prices reached an unprecedented 18 pesos per kilo!
The price hike has even taken a bite out of Jose Cuervo’s profits. They more than made up for it, though, with their successful IPO this past February.
You may ask, “Don’t these new brands know we’re in the midst of another agave crisis?”
Bear in mind that many of these labels have been in the works for at least 3 years or more, well before a shortage was predicted, and well before this happened…
The timing of an agave spirit’s launch is, more often than not, dependent on its financial forecasts.
If you’re one of these newcomers, just take a deep breath and jump in.
Don’t forget to send us samples, too!
The Resurgence of the Reposado
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I once asked Christopher Zarus, the innovator of the world’s only take home tequila tasting kit, TequilaRack®, why he chose to showcase only small batch, micro-distilled reposados from esteemed tequila making families in his collections.
He explained that a well made reposado was one of the most difficult tasks in creating a dynamic line of tequilas. He felt that it could literally make or break a brand.
When rocker Roger Clyne first entered the market with Mexican Moonshine tequila, he insisted on doing so with a reposado, even though he admitted, “…at the time, this was considered commercial suicide.”
Traditionally acknowledged as the ideal half-way point between a brilliant blanco and an elegant anejo, the reposado, for at least the past few years, seemed to have been treated by some brands as an afterthought, at best.
Not so in 2017.
Check out the reposado episodes of this season’s Sipping Off The Cuff© to see what we mean.
Especially take note of: Tequila 512, 4 Copas, Azunia, Amorada, Armero, El Consuelo, Pasote, Alderete and Don Pilar.
Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers
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Infused tequila is the new black.
But not just any infusions.
These are well crafted tequilas or agave spirits, sometimes laced with exotic spices, and simmering in off-the-charts heat from the Scoville scale.
We first encountered this trend with 2016’s lively Brand Of Promise© Infused Tequila winner, Soltado. A versatile and balanced anejo injected with Serrano peppers and cinnamon, it blew taste buds away.
With the popularity of pepper infused spirits like Fireball Whisky, and subsequent copycats, it seems only natural that agave spirits companies take notice.
Of the upcoming crop of pepper saturated agave is…
Spider Monkey Agave Spirit (Serrano pepper and ginger); Get Hot Tequila, a reposado imbued with Habanero peppers; and, speaking of Fireball, the man responsible for its immense popularity, Richard Alexander Pomes, presents Ghost Tequila, enlivened by the infamous, India-born ghost pepper.
Just remember that when you’re basking in the endorphins from having your salsa and drinking it, too, that the addition of alcohol on your tongue reactivates the oils inherent in the pepper’s capsaicin.
It’s like Groundhog Day for your palate!
Millennials are Stealing Your Cocktail Recipes
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Cocktail recipe photos are hugely popular on just about any social media platform that they are shared on. The follower engagement is off the chain, in particular with Millennials.
It’s a well known fact that the prevailing cocktail culture around the world is driving the Spirits Industry. But, once these concoctions and their ingredients are made public, they are being pilfered by these young people and served to friends and family at their cribs.
It’s apparent that Millennials seek to drink better than their older relatives. Given that, signature cocktails are still a valuable commodity to agave spirits brands, but not necessarily for bars and restaurants.
So, you mixologists—carry on.
Millennials are stealing your cocktail recipes!
Tequila has Outgrown Riedel Glassware
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Tequila–and most all agave spirits, for that matter–has outgrown the Riedel Ouverture tequila tasting glass.
Don’t get us wrong. It’s still a viable tool. But…
The level of quality craft agave spirits flooding liquor store shelves, and the emphasis on single estate and organic tequilas and mezcals, now demands a better sipping glass in order to enjoy their unique, regional properties.
This fact had not been lost to oak heads.
For several years, whisky and scotch drinkers had opted to use the Glencairn glasses to not only enjoy anejos and extra anejos, but blancos and reposados, as well.
It can also be argued that the use of inadequate tasting and nosing glasses in the past few years has influenced–and possibly skewed–the results for valuable medals awarded by some of the most respected tasting competitions around the country. So much so, that the judges’ final decisions are laughable.
To that end, we’re excited to be working with Romeo Hristov, proprietor of Chisholm Trail Craft Glassware, testing glasses produced by Stolzle, Luigi Bormioli, and his own more historically accurate vessel prototypes for tequila and mezcal.
You’ll be seeing a lot of these new glasses throughout the 2017 season of Sipping Off The Cuff©.
Watch for a future Open Bar where we’ll visit with Mr. Hristov, in depth.
Tequila Brands: It’s a Buyer’s Market Out There
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Earlier, we hinted about some dormant tequila brands that have suddenly been revived by wads of money.
It seems that every other day, family-run investment firms contact us at HQ looking for hot tips on where to park their cash that’s burning holes into their conservative, yet very deep, pockets.
We were also recently offered a fee by a well known celebrity to taste test the newest version of his tequila, versus the Usual Suspects. We gracefully declined.
But it got us thinking. Whether you’re a megastar or a moneybags…
Why go through all the trouble of launching, or relaunching, a tequila from scratch when there are so many labels out there for sale?
As predicted by Patrón tequila’s Chief Marketing Officer, Lee Applbaum in this article, the Great Agave Shakeout has begun.
The road to Tequila Nirvana is currently littered with brands that could not sustain the required 5 year threshold of longevity, let alone a 10 year marketing plan.
Many have withered away consumed by mismanagement, overwhelm, lack of distribution support, or simply investment underestimation.
Instead of going through all the trouble of conceptualizing and heavily funding a whole new agave spirits marque with a least a dozen other investors, why not take a page from Jim Driscoll, owner of Ekeko Wines and Spirits, and importer of Demetrio tequila?
Seek a distressed brand that had something going for it, and that you can make better.
You may find, after some thorough due diligence, that before hitting the skids the brand showed considerable promise and can be purchased—lock, stock, and barrels—for a song.
Or, you may discover that the concept for the juice was designed exclusively for the international Duty Free market, completely escaping the drudgery of the Three Tier System.
The road to the Kingdom of Agave Heaven won’t be any easier, but at least some of the requisite start up costs could be minimized.
Warning: The Quality of Your Mass Produced Tequila is about to get Worse
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Word on the streets of the Highlands of Jalisco is that the Big Boys have bought up all the 3 year old agave in the region. Younger plants simply do not contain the minimum amount of agave sugars (measured in brix) required by the normas to make tequila.
As soon as 2 year old agaves turn 3, they are sure to be snatched up by coyotes (agave middlemen).
Coyotes for the Usual Suspects are desperately seeking magueys from reputable growers who are now sitting in the catbird seat, ready to hike agave prices even further.
Those boutique agaveros who are holding 4 and 5 year old plants are poised to make a killing in the agave market in the following few months and years.
Meanwhile, back at The Lab…
Analyzed samples of these mass produced tequilas are being rejected because they reportedly contain too little alcohol from blue weber agave, and too much from added sugars.
Watch for increased use of diffuser technology to extract maximum agave juices and sugars in order to fulfill worldwide demand, and—
Tequila quality to plummet.