Friday, 5 February 2010

The Future of Tequila? El Tesoro @ Cafe Pacifico

What happens when you get a load of London bartenders together in a room, then fill it up with Tequila?
Well, probably not quite what you are expecting. This would be due, in part, to the bad reputation which still lingers (undeservedly) around the tequila category. And, to be fair, the reputation which continues to thrive regarding London's bartenders!
February 1st saw the launch of the El Tesoro Tequila competition, in which competitors can win themselves a trip to Mexico to visit the 'La Altena' distillery, home of not only El Tesoro, but also Ocho and Tapatio.
Gathering in Covent Garden's Cafe Pacifico were bartenders and managers from some of the most easily identifiable 'key' Tequila venues in the country: Crazy Homies, Green & Red, Navajo Joe's and, naturally, Cafe Pacifo itself, as well as a host of other influential cocktail bars.
The competition kicked off with a tutored tasting, hosted by Tomas Estes, the European Tequila Ambassador, followed by discussion of what the future holds for Tequila.
Having won the Imbibe Ice Awards taste competition by a Mexican mile, as well as being the proud winner of more awards than any other Tequila on the planet, I need not go into the details which came out of the tasting here (but will do so separately). 
Instead, the focus of this blog entry will be the ideas and comments of the group regarding the past decade of trends in the Tequila market, and where they see this leading in the coming decade.
Interestingly, Tom Estes pointed out that the UK (and London in particular) is really not a large market for Tequila, in global terms. It is, however, one of great kudos within the Tequilaros of Mexico, giving great status to those brands successful within the city. This apparent incongruity seems to stem from the high regard in which bartenders from our capitol are held worldwide. 
It is fair to say that, in this country at least, Tequila still suffers in the eye of the public from a relatively negative perception (see my previous article from a Tom Estes talk). Slowly but surely, this appears to be changing. 100% agave tequila is now the fastest growing spirit category in the country (although the agave itself isn't growing much quicker).
Evidence of this can be seen quite easily: there are now many venues dedicated to all things Mexican. And not just in a kitsch, 80's kind of way, either. The likes of El Camino, La Perla, Cafe Pacifico, Green and Red, Wahaca, and Cafe Sol are bringing serious quality to the market.
Furthermore, in Westbourne Park Road's Crazy Homies we now find a dedicated tequila bar! That's right, a venue which serves exclusively Tequila, and no other spirits. The public's increasing interest in the Tequila category can be seen here on a daily basis.The team were keen to point out that articles in mainstream publications such as the Guardian and Observer (oddly, seems to have passed them by...) are engaging the middle classes, bringing them through the doors actively seeking to know more about the spirit. And Homies are delivering, in a big way. They bought along for discussion a proof of their new, soon-to-be-launched menu / bible. In this mighty tome, we see a full four pages dedicated solely to Tequila; a full menu including tasting notes for each tequila on their shelf. It is very hard to imagine this happening ten years ago.
And it's not just happening in London. Leeds has a strong following emerging, with the likes of Azucar and Neon Cactus. Further afield, Glen Morgan (of Soho's Lab), recently back from Tokyo commented on the aptly named 'Agave' there, stocking more than 360 Tequilas and Mezcals.
All of this attention, and increased sophistication, is a far cry from the standard serve of a dirty shot glass, salt and lime of years ago.
But how is it happening? The marketing machine behind Patron Tequila has been credited with influencing the market to a large degree, especially when it comes to American customers. Many bartenders are also actively selling tequila, educating their customers, and passing on a passion for this much mis-understood spirit. Order a rum and coke in Crazy Homies, for example, and you'll likely walk away with a Batanga, a little bit more knowledge, and a smile on your face.
And that, we all agreed, is where the future lies.
Tom Estes may be the Tequila Ambassador, but everywhere he goes he seems to create small armies of ambassadors in their own right, each carrying the passion, and passing it on wherever, and whenever, they can.

By the way, if you're interested in joining the competition to win a trip to the distillery, it is running in February, March and April of 2010. You need to be a bar / restaurant / club in the UK, and be prepared to share some Tequila love! Contact for more details.