FEATURE: A growing taste for luxury

Premium tequila is increasingly becoming a regular ingredient in cocktails. Premium bed & breakfast bars as well as and bars in luxury boutique hotels are becoming motivated to experiment with tequila in cocktails, as they are interested in the way the spirit can enhance the flavour of the drinks. Bill Lumley looks at the emergence of the premium spirit and with it a new market surported by both sexes and all ages.

For decades the main perception of tequila was of a spirit knocked back by the intoxicated drinker at the end of a heavy drinking session, in short measures, and as quickly as possible, followed immediately by sucking on a lime with salt.

With premium tequila, which has been emerging onto the shelves of higher-end bars worldwide over the past couple of decades, the true story could not be more different.

Over the past two decades a growing number of brands have been producing premium tequila, among them Alma Mia Blanco, Aqauvira Premium Reposado, Arette Gran Clase, Casa Noble tequila Anejo and Casa Viejo Reposado.

It was back in 1989 that Patrón introduced the world to ultra-premium tequila. The spirit was the brainchild of two entrepreneurs, John Paul DeJoria and Martin Crowley, whose love of tequila and desire to create the best tequila in the world led them to the Highlands of Jalisco, Mexico. There they found tequila industry veteran Francisco Alcaraz and asked him to produce the most extraordinary, highest quality tequila possible.

Greg Cohen is marketing director for Patrón, which is Spanish for “the good boss”. He tells Luxury B&B magazine that the first thing to recognise with tequila is that there is a marked difference between a high quality tequila and a ‘mixto’.

“Under Mexican law, in order to be allowed to be referred to as tequila, the drink must firstly be produced in Mexico, and secondly it must be made from at least 51% agave, a genus of monocots native to the hot and arid regions of Mexico and the Southwestern United States.

“The higher-end tequilas – the ultra-premium tequilas – are made from 100% agave. The result is a very pure, well-made tequila that gives rise to a vastly different drinking experience, whether consumed neat or mixed in a cocktail, as compared to using a 51% agave, or a mixto, tequila,” he says.

By using 100% agave in the distillation process it means that no other sugar is used during fermentation to create the alcohol. This means the end product has more body, more flavour, and a stronger agave aroma.

In fact 100% agave can turn a strong blanco tequila into a respectable drink, with a peppery bite and a powerful agave-sharp tang.

The mixto tequilas tend to be a lot less expensive, Cohen says. “They are certainly of a lower quality and at the same time more readily available, drunk quickly and followed straight away with salt, lime and a grimace.”

By contrast mixto tequilas are very different spirits to a premium or luxury tequila, he explains. “It’s very easy to spot whether it is a 51% or a 100% tequila because by law it also has to state the percentage on the bottle’s label.”

He stresses: “I would urge anyone who is interested in tequila to seek out the 100% agave brands. They are just two different categories of spirit. It’s all called tequila, but not all tequilas are equal.”

Cohen contends Patrón is probably the most well-known of all the 100% agave tequilas.

“Patrón’s standard is fervently maintained by the brand’s master distiller, Francisco Alcaraz. He and his highly talented production team create every drop of Patrón at our distillery in Mexico. One of Francisco’s strong beliefs identified early on that has been maintained as we have grown into a worldwide brand is that his philosophy in expansion was not just to build bigger ovens and bigger fermentation tanks and bigger pot stills.

“That may be how some choose to do it, but he has always been adamant that in order to maintain the quality and consistency and to ensure that the product never changes. So he replicated or cloned the process: we have a small oven, a small fermentation, small distillation unit. He uses exactly the same size and process. We now have a large distillery but it is really made up of lots of small distilleries that ensure the consistently high quality spirit. By replicating the process, not by expanding or changing the recipe, the bottle you drink today is exactly like the one you’d have drunk the day we started.”

Profile of tequila drinker

“We are fortunate to have a product that appeals to so many different types of people, appealing appeals to every kind of man or woman across all demographics and all walks of life,” he tells Luxury Bed & Breakfast magazine. “We’re not just a tequila brand for one subset of people.”

As tequila has broadened in consumer appeal, Patrón itself has produced a growing number of varieties of the spirit for a wide variety of consumer tastes including a fondness for aged spirits, with whisky aficionados broadening their tastes to include it, and therefore lending itself to a bar tender in a luxury bed & breakfast bar, says Cohen.

Premium tequila’s appeal has widened broadly in the past decade as innovative versions of the drink have become best-sellers such as Patrón’s XO Café. The 35% abv coffee liqueur is a blend of Patron silver tequila and the pure, natural flavour of fine coffee. It is a dark, rich, brown drink with an aroma of coffee, chocolate and vanilla, with a smooth yet dry finish and a taste of fresh roasted coffee with notes of coffee and light tequila.

The launch of the brand’s XO Café dark Cocoa a few years ago brought further appeal of the spirit to a wider female audience.

Cohen says: “I truly believe tequila appeals to people across the board. In a boutique hotel, luxury bed & breakfast or similar environment, you will have guests that know and enjoy the brand, are happy to see it on the shelf in the bar, and will order it. Secondly, for such a property that wants to offer its guests something unique – as most want to do – they can create a cocktail with Patrón and present an old-fashioned cocktail, but one made with Patrón Anejo, or a mojito made with tequila instead of rum.

“Instead of a gin and tonic they can even serve a Patrón & tonic, which we call a Patrónic, a delicious cocktail easy to make. You can surprise and delight guests if you have something like that on the cocktail menu. There is a way to broaden the product’s appeal by suggesting those kinds of cocktails with premium tequila such as Patrón, and at the same time creating something memorable for consumers visiting the property.

“There are simple cocktails, but if you have a bar manager that likes to experiment and put together different flavours it is remarkable what you can come up with,” he says. At a drinks conference in October in Berlin, he says, he encountered bar staff who were making incredible cocktails using tequila that he had never imagined possible.

“A lot of upmarket accommodation boutique hotels especially employ this type of professional, talented bar staff, and they and their guests can really have a lot of fun with it.

“Tequila is such a very versatile spirit. Truly almost anything you can make with vodka, gin or rum you can make with tequila, and it adds a new and unexpected but pleasant taste,” he says.

Environmental sustainability

Environmental responsibility is taken seriously by tequila producers in Mexico. Cohen says: “Something we have seen from a lot of our customers and bar tenders is an increasing interest in sustainability and knowing about the environmental practices and sustainable practices of the products they support.

“In the tequila industry we have always been a leader in protecting the environment, putting in place processes to ensure that we are controlling the environmental impact of tequila production. From the perspective of the barman of a small hotel it is a great conversation point. We have put in place several practices and we have been recognised by the Mexican government for introducing such practices that limit environmental impact.”

He stresses: “We do it not for the publicity but because it is the right thing to do. And while we do not give away to our competitors secrets about how we make our tequilas, we do share with them information on what we do to help the environment and often invite them to come and see what we are doing in this regard and discuss among the industry how we can all do better. It’s an important topic for us.”

John Paul DeJoria, a founder of Patrón Spirits International, is one of the world’s foremost advocates for environmental responsibility, committing time and money to help make the world a better place. This commitment extends to Patrón’s manufacturing, bottling, and packaging policies, and its charitable contribution efforts and practices within corporate offices worldwide.

The brand’s tequila is distilled and bottled at the Hacienda Patrón, nestled in the Highlands (Los Altos) of the Jalisco region of Mexico. Here the company adheres to strict practices to help limit the environmental impact of production. The tequila production process creates a leftover distillate, or “stillage,” by-product. Rather than discard this, one of the processes that Patrón has developed is a reverse osmosis system that recovers up to 70 percent usable water from the stillage. This recovered water is then used in the facilities’ cooling towers, and for cleaning.

Remaining stillage – up to 30% – is used to treat Patrón’s compost area. Tequila is distilled from the native Weber Blue Agave plant, but not every part of this is used in the distillation process. Instead of disposing of the leftover agave as waste, Patrón takes this agave tissue, or “bagasse,” and mixes it with the remaining concentrated stillage to create compost. This compost is then used to grow crops in the Hacienda’s organic vegetable garden, helping provide food for Hacienda staff and visitors. The compost is also used to fertilize the agave fields and is given free to the town to use in area recreational fields and other gardens and land areas.

Patrón’s environmentally responsible practices also extend into product packaging. For example, to help reduce paper usage and waste, Patrón has eliminated the majority of individual boxes for bottles of Patrón Tequila that are destined directly to bars and restaurants.