Shot in the arm for bars

Perceptions of tequila are changing, offering opportunities for licensees

SOMETIMES just one word is all it takes to provoke a strong reaction and in the on-trade ‘tequila’ has often proved to be such a word.

While the Mexican spirit has always benefited from a few classic cocktails, such as the Margarita, the drink’s primary serve in pubs and bars has been as a shot.

However, times are changing and sales of tequila and mezcal have grown as part of the UK’s resurgent cocktail culture. Drinks firms told SLTN the ways in which people are now consuming the drink made from the agave plant are increasing, bringing more opportunities for operators.

“Consumers are becoming more aware of spirits categories based upon exploration driven by the explosion of the gin category,” said Mike Beavan, sales director of Indie Brands, which distributes four agave spirit brands in the UK, including Fortaleza.

“Tequila and mezcal offer such a varied range of flavours through the many expressions available from Mexico and there is now more willingness to try different brands.

“These spirits have always been bartender favourites and this has driven volume, however with the move away from a shot as the standard serve there is more buy-in to the category at a consumer level.”

The move away from a shot as the standard serve means more buy-in at the consumer level.

And this wider selection of serves is something that licensees should look to take full advantage of reckons Dan Bolton, managing director of Hi-Spirits, whose distribution portfolio includes  Monte Alban Mezcal and the  Corazón tequila brand.

He said: “We see real potential to broaden the tequila market if operators bridge the gap between the premium end and the big night out shots market with a broader range of mainstream serves.

“Many of the great tequila cocktails have a ‘sunshine’ feel that gives them strong customer appeal; alongside the classics, bartenders should try serving a Paloma or an El Diablo.”

When considering how to utilise a selection of tequila in their outlets “quality should always be the starting point” for licensees, said Beavan of Indie Brands.

Beavan added: “There are many brands available within the UK market, choice should be made dependent upon flavour profile and also how the product will best benefit the consumer experience.

“Best practice would be to have a range available that will be suitable for single shots, qualities that would work well in a range of cocktails but also those that are designed for sipping.”

Alongside an assortment of well-considered tequila serves, the public’s increasing awareness and fondness for Mexican food and culture means there are opportunities to pair tequila cocktails with the cuisine of the land it originates from, said Bolton of Hi-Spirits.

The popularity of Mexican dishes creates a chance to pair tequila cocktails with food.

“The popularity of Mexican dishes certainly creates opportunities and cocktails with food in general is an area where there are opportunities for the on-trade,” he said, adding that pairing a tequila with Mexican beer can also work well.

“As an alternative to a classic boilermaker, a shot of tequila served with a Mexican beer and a few slices of lime on the side is a simple way to add value and increase spend,” he said.

Indie Brands’ Beavan agreed.

He said: “In some ways this is the best option to encourage trial of new brands or qualities within any specific range.

“A suggestion would be a range of small bitesize tacos with a range of tequilas to go alongside.”

And while mixology is transforming the market for tequila, the traditional shot serve shouldn’t be forgotten, stated Hi-Spirit’s Bolton.

“Don’t underestimate the power of the rituals associated with tequila,” he said.

“It’s part of the big night out for many people, whether it’s a shot with a slice of lime and salt or the challenge of a mezcal with the agave worm to follow.”