So here’s the thing about tequila; it’s pretty straightforward right? You make it from the juice of a cactus, it has a worm in it, it gives you a hangover and really it doesn’t taste very nice but that’s ok because you would only ever drink it as a shot anyway, and the wedge of lime washes the taste away…
Ok, maybe that’s an exaggerated version of peoples perception of this spirit, but let’s face it even with good tequila being much more widely available than it was even 5 years ago, it’s not a million miles off the mark of what many consumers think when you mention tequila. It’s a misunderstood spirit with a generally undeservedly bad reputation (although in truth some tequilas may have earned that rep fair and square). So here’s the REAL thing about tequila; it’s a spirit category split in half like no other I can think of, and because of this, good tequila is fantastic, and bad tequila is the worst kind of spirit imaginable.
The reason for tequilas split personality is simple, there are two kinds, governed by a set of rules that is necessarily flexible enough to encompass both types. This flexibility in the rules means there are also two kinds of producers. On one had you have those who want to make and promote lovingly crafted and traditionally made tequila, a spirit that can be complex and elegant, and is deserving of our respect. The other type of producer, unfortunately, wants to make something inexpensive, that only vaguely resembles the agave-based goodness of the other side of the industry.
Sometimes it seems like the drinks industry has become a little bit formulaic, especially when it comes to spirit brands. New Gins come to market shouting about their unique botanical, new Whiskies find a story to make up for their lack of heritage, Vodkas find a funky spelling for their newest flavour… it’s all a bit predictable all too often. Of course there are exceptions; not everyone follows the usual routine, but there are too few passionate individuals who find pioneering ways to launch something new to market. So when a couple of years ago I was told by a friend that I really needed to meet some guy named Stephen and try his new Mezcal, I’ll admit I was expecting a run of the mill story behind his brand.
Unfortunately for me I missed that chance two years ago in New York, but I was lucky enough to get a sip of his Ilegal Mezcal and thought ‘well at least it’s good liquid’. Fast forward to July this year and you’d find me stood outside a firing range in New Orleans drinking Mezcal from a bottle with the man behind the brand, Stephen Myers. The first thing to mention is that Stephen is one hell of a nice guy, the second is that his Mezcals are fantastic, and the third is that there’s a real story behind the liquid. You see Stephen is a modern day bootlegger, a passionate advocate of his category of spirits, and a dangerous man to drink with…
Tequila is perhaps the most maligned of spirits, whose reputation over the years has seen it associated with ending your evening in hospital, a police cell or a gutter. It’s true that there are plenty of tequilas on the market that leave a lot to be desired but it’s also true that there are plenty that are smooth, well balanced and a pleasure to sip.
For the past five years I have been hearing people say that tequila is going to be ‘the next big thing’ in terms of spirits category, but somehow it has never really made it. Certainly the selection on most back bars has grown, and there are more tequila-based cocktails on drinks lists, but from a consumer point of view it hasn’t taken off in the way that other spirits have. Maybe it’s a slow burner or maybe all those late night shots of Jose Cuervo have just put people off forever.