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Escaping tequila's "aggressive" reputation

Published:  17 June, 2016

Despite it's growth in the on-trade, tequila still has a way to go before it shakes off its happy-hour, £1-a-shot towards midnight reputation.

The biggest proof that the world is ready to embrace premium tequila is Don Julio, represented by DIageo in the UK, and currently the biggest producer of tequila in Mexico by volume and by value.

Surprising and unsurprising at the same time is the fact that their biggest export market is not Mexico, but the United States.

But tequila was not always comfortable in the premium market as Don Julio's master distiller, Enrique de Colsa, attests.

"We've been making Tequila in Mexico for 500 years, but 40 years ago it had a terrible reputation," he said.

"It had bad flavour, was aggressive and very alcoholic and in some cases a little dangerous. Don Julio was a special guy. He didn't drink it himself but he set out to make the best tequila in the world."

According to IWSR 2015, the UK is the 6th biggest tequila market worldwide (5th in terms of super premium).

The top six in order are the USA, Mexico, Germany, Russia, Canada and the UK.

According to De Colsa, tequila has undergone a "revolution" in recent decades, helped by the bartending boom and social mobility.

He said: "The younger generationin Mexico has the money to buy premium. They are aspirational and if they can't afford it they will save for a party to buy Don Julio."

The brand is also gaining ground, he says, by taking advantage of a gap in the domestic market for premium.

"Scotch is also doing very well, but the premium stuff doesn't make it to Mexico," de Colsa added.

The brand was founded by the eponymous 15-year-old Don Julio in 1940.

Don Julio set about making small changes, such as altering the distance between the agave plants and harvesting only when the plans were very ripe.

But de Colsa insists that the whole is greater than the parts.

"Every part of the process is as important as the other. It's when it's taken together that it is special."

On the subject of Don Julio's far-reaching influences, and how much it has shaped tequila as a whole, he says, "There are between 3,000 and 4,000 tequila brands out there. They could all do what we do but if you don't have the capital and the infrastructure in place then it is very difficult. It's not a secret what we do, but quality costs."

De Colsa told Harpers he is also keeping an eye on another Mexican spirit, Mezcal, which is quietly gaining market share.