Tequila’s new Mexican wave crests in travel retail

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“One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor.”

“Tequila: a Spanish word meaning ‘I don’t remember doing that…’”

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘tequila’? Shots? Slammers? Seriously debilitating hangovers? If so, time to reconsider a) how you think and b) how you drink, because at the top end at least, tequila has evolved big-time. And it has set its sights firmly on developing further in the travel retail channel.

How I used to feel after slamming tequila in my misspent youth
The first of many excellent Mexican meals

That was broadly the message from Brown-Forman and Patrón Spirits, who jointly hosted a media visit to Mexico after last month’s IAADFS Duty Free Show of the Americas. The ‘tequila immersion’ trip included a tour of both Brown-Forman’s Casa Herradura distillery and the Hacienda Patrón; a horseback ride through the Jalisco agave fields; many wonderful tequila tastings; and more fabulous food than I would normally consume in a week. I admit, I’ve had tougher gigs.

Ready to ride my roan through Casa Herradura’s agave fields

Ambrosial al fresco breakfast with the jimadores

Joking aside, this was more of a privilege than a press trip. Throughout our three days in Mexico we were treated like royalty, wined and dined in Guadalajara’s best restaurants, shown round fascinating facilities and plied with so much ultra-premium tequila that at one point I feared we’d cause a national shortage. On a personal level, I also learned a lot about a spirit I haven’t much indulged in since my student days. It was a real revelation.

Heavy going: the tahona at Casa Herradura’s preserved Taberna factory

100% agave sip-grade tequila, as produced by Brown-Forman and Patrón, is as far removed from the mixto salt-and-lime concoctions of my misspent youth as Lafite is from Lambrini. Ultra-premium tequila is smooth, sophisticated, versatile – and every bit as worthy of respect and appreciation as a decent single malt or XO Cognac. It’s an all-round refined class act that lends itself to cocktails and cuisine, to solitary sipping or imbibing with food. Everyone knows I’m first and foremost a gin girl, but the Old Fashioned with Gran Patrón Piedra I consumed at the Hacienda was the closest I’ve ever come to ecstasy outside of the Millennium Stadium. I’d trade my favourite Louboutins for another in a heartbeat (ditto the accompanying brownie with agave ice cream).

A monogrammed glass? Or roller mill tequila?

That Old Fashioned formed part of an exquisite six-hour lunch that saw the assorted media fully explore (and quite possibly seriously deplete) Patrón’s extensive portfolio. Another equally memorable meal was the al fresco breakfast we consumed at Casa Herradura, following an early morning horseback ride in Jalisco. That trek through the house’s agave fields ranks among my all-time favourite experiences in travel retail (and don’t forget I’ve air-kissed Enrique Iglesias). The scenery was stunning, the atmosphere so tranquil – and we even got to harvest our own agave at the end of it. The freshly-cooked Mexican breakfast (washed down with cans of el Jimador Paloma for the hard core) that followed the ride was utterly ambrosial.

My favourite Old Fashioned made with Gran Patrón Piedra

Much respect to Brown-Forman and Patrón for teaming up this way with an eye on the greater good – I’m struggling to imagine two such powerhouse companies in any other sector being brave and bold enough to do the same. The two houses are very different in terms of history and heritage. Yet both see a bright future for ultra-premium tequila in travel retail, and are prepared to work together to get that message out there, and make that future happen.

Black Magic Woman cocktails = one happy Mann

Their tequila is not about shots and slammers. It’s about tradition, quality, authenticity and taste. It also represents much untapped potential and significant incremental growth opportunities within the industry’s spirits sector, for those retailers with the foresight to stock and suitably showcase it. Salud!