The unstoppable ascent of tequila

Featured in Financial Times, November 22nd, 2023

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It’s about to be the most valuable spirits category in the US. Can it conquer the world?


On the opening night of the Frieze art fair in London, the exclusive Maison Estelle club in nearby Mayfair is teeming with art scenesters, eating and drinking across its seven floors. Up on the plant-filled roof terrace, members sip Margaritas, bathed by the light of a bar bristling with expensive tequila bottles. This is not how Ennismore founder Sharan Pasricha had envisaged it. “We were going to do something focused on rum or champagne,” he says, “but then our members’ love of tequila just took over and our plans had to change.”


More than 70 per cent of alcohol sales at Maison Estelle (excluding wine) are now accounted for by tequila. Pasricha says the Margarita is its bestselling cocktail “by a country mile”. At the club’s Miami outpost, Hyde South Beach, tequila sales had already reached $1.8mn by October. And we’re not talking about the kind of tequilas that come topped with a red plastic sombrero. Bestsellers at Hyde South Beach include the ultra-premium Clase Azul Reposado; the digestif-style extra-añejo Don Julio 1942; and Casamigos, the tequila brand Diageo bought for $1bn from George Clooney and partners in 2017.


“They’re drinking it neat, over ice, in cocktails, with soda and lime and also sipping it after dinner,” says Pasricha (whose drink of choice, by the way, is a Casa Dragones Joven tequila over a single block of ice). “It’s not confined to one gender or age group; it’s a really broad demographic. It’s a spirit that’s found a way to appeal to everyone from cocktail lovers to more traditional whisky drinkers.” By the end of this year, tequila will have overtaken vodka and whiskey to become the most valuable spirits category in the US, with sales totalling $13.3bn – according to global drinks analyst IWSR. America and Mexico still drink the lion’s share, but the UK, Canada, Australia and Colombia are also “poised for growth”, with volumes forecast to be up seven to nine per cent in the next five years.




Casa Dragones’s calling-card is its small-batch Joven, a star-bright blend of blanco and extra-añejo tequila that combines the citrusy, mineral tension of agave with a silky, creamy finish. The Reposado ($170, is rested in barrels made from mizunara, or Japanese oak, an incense-y type wood that’s more often used in the maturation of upmarket Japanese malts.


“Casa Dragones drinkers are on a journey of adventure, of taste – they want to expand their taste profile,” says González-Nieves. “So we are always looking at new aromas, new finishes, and new ways of enjoying it.” González-Nieves chose to target sommeliers with a campaign focused on food-pairing – and her tequila now sits alongside fine wine on menus from the French Laundry in Napa to the Paris Ritz. The tequila comes in a hand-signed crystal bottle and even has its own dainty tasting flute, designed by the Austrian wineware company Riedel.


Tequila is increasingly becoming an important part of the portfolio even for more traditional drinks merchants. Berry Bros & Rudd spirits buyer Rob Whitehead says it’s been a crucial tool for recruiting the next generation of clients. “They want the best of everything: the best wine, the best whisky, champagne – and now the best tequila, too.”


Customers approach it with the reverence of a single malt, he says, but with one key difference: “If you have a really nice whisky you might pour yourself a dram every now and again and then put it back in the cupboard for another year. But if you put one of these tequilas on the table you can guarantee that by the end of the night that bottle will be empty.”