Shooting to sipping

In just the last 10 years we have seen one category of spirit raised from the gutters and placed on the top shelves of the world’s classiest cocktail bars. That spirit is tequila. A few years from now it’ll be easy to forget that very few people used to savour the spirit. Led by Patron, tequila has quickly become a category with many mainstream brands capable of claiming ‘luxury’ credentials. Premium pricing, distinctive high quality packaging and ‘handmade’ production methods have helped to reposition the spirit. However, there was one crucial change required of tequila in order for it to substantiate its value as a ‘super premium’ spirit – it needed to change the way it was consumed. The spirit’s well known drinking ritual (lick hand, pour salt, lick hand, shoot tequila, bite lime) had always been a necessary one. The salt was used to combat the initial bitterness and the lime helped to erase the raw, burning aftertaste of a low quality spirit. It was always best drunk quickly. Super premium tequila brands have shucked these restraints, with communications and ambassadorial work suggesting a more refined drinking occasion. Looking at the next five years, we can already see where other ‘cheap’ categories of spirit stand to be revolutionised by premium leaders. Did you know that Sambuca’s on-trade value share of the UK market is 4.1%? That’s larger than White Rum (4%) and Tequila (2%).* It is a category that (despite its current image) is full of brands that care about their provenance and often have long, rich heritages (family run distilleries, with brands that have been around for more than 100 years). But can you name a brand of Sambuca? Right now, most people can’t. And they probably won’t, until a brand manages to lead the category from shooting to sipping.

James Lees