The Mexican-themed Basement Bar, part of Signature Pub Group, reopened late last year after a three-week refurbishment and now stocks 25 different tequilas – covering a range of styles and flavour profiles, and three mezcals, with tequila cocktails accounting for half of the bar’s cocktail list.
Speaking to SLTN, general manager Nicky Craig said the history and provenance of tequila brands encouraged the company to make the category a focus for the bar.
“I love the fact that most tequila companies are still using very traditional methods, and the whole romanticism behind it really appeals to me,” he said.
“When that much effort and passion has gone into a product I tend to respect it.”
The spirit’s versatility is another major factor in its growing popularity, said Nicky, who cites brands such as Calle 23 and Herradura among his favourites.
“I wrote our cocktail list while we were closed for refurbishment, and I’m pretty sure I could have written the entire tequila cocktail list using one [brand], because you get so many different flavours from the different age statements,” he said.
In addition to choosing from the bar’s range of tequila-based cocktails – which includes the classic Margarita, as well as originals and tequila twists on cocktails such as the Negroni and Manhattan – customers can also sip their tequila neat, accompanied by a traditional Sangrita chaser.
The Basement Bar offers three types of Sangrita (meaning ‘little blood’): tomato juice, pomegranate juice and apple juice. Customers receive a 50ml measure of Sangrita along with a 25ml measure of tequila.
“The main thing I wanted to do was to push people onto drinking it neat, much as they would do with malt whiskies,” said Nicky.
“Apart from cocktails, that tends to be the most common way for people to drink it – with an accompaniment of Sangrita, whether they are shooting the tequila then using it as a chaser, or sipping them alternately like they used to back in the day.
“There’s not many asking ‘can I get salt or lime like that?’”
Product knowledge is key at the Basement Bar, said Nicky, and training sessions are held on a regular basis, either by brand reps or by Nicky himself.
The importance of product knowledge was also stressed by drinks firms, who said the outlets with knowledgeable staff will be best placed to make the most of the category.
When that much effort and passion has gone into a product, I tend to respect it.
“It’s paramount that bartenders and waiting staff have knowledge of the brands in their bars,” said Jose Cuervo brand ambassador Gabriela Moncada.
“If you are trying to suggestive sell, you need to give people a reason to buy into that. It’s not just about trading up (though it’s great to increase spend per head), it’s about taking them out of their comfort zone with confidence.
“Consumers trust bartender and waiting staff recommendations.”
Ross Agnew of distributor Marblehead, who looks after the AquaRiva Tequila brand in Scotland, said staff knowledge is “vital”.
“Tequila is a very complex spirit and its range of flavours I would compare to wine, in the sense of terroir having a big influence over flavour,” said Agnew.
“It is as important as having a working knowledge of malt whisky.”
And confident bar staff will help outlets to steer customers on to new serves, said Craig Chapman, brand manager for Patrón Tequila.
“It is very important that bar staff can talk about the tequilas on offer and suggest different serves beyond the shot,” he said.
“The more knowledgeable bar staff are on the quality of the tequila they are selling, the more likely they are to be able to up sell consumers.”