Beyond the Wine Aisle

Tequila Perceptions

High-End Tequila Sees Record Demand As Perceptions Change
By Jean Guerrero

Demand for 100% blue-agave tequila is breaking records as more and more foreign drinkers adopt a new attitude toward the liquor they once gulped down with grapefruit soda and a grimace.

Mexico's exports of the top-shelf tequila--made entirely from juice of the blue-agave plant--increased 24% in January through October 2010 from a year earlier, to a record 39.8 million liters, according to government figures.

Most exports of 100% agave tequila went to the U.S., where the market for the spirit has been growing steadily since 2001 as demand for high-end tequila has penetrated beyond U.S. border states.

"Few other spirits have re-invented themselves the way tequila has," said Greg Cohen, corporate communications director for Patron Spirits Co., a unit of Patron Spirits International AG. "Twenty years ago, most people's perception of tequila was as a low-quality, hard-to-drink spirit. Now it's a competitive, luxury product."

"The reality of tequila today is very different from tequila 20 or 30 years ago," said Francisco Soltero, president of the chamber. "People remember drinking tequila as a very intense, aggressive experience. They say, 'When I was young and on vacation, it didn't go very well. And ever since, no more.' So what we do is invite them to try it, and the change in perspective is huge."

Since 1974, tequila has been a denomination-of-origin product, meaning it can only be called tequila if produced in a specific region in the Mexican states of Jalisco, Nayarit and Michoacan. The agave plants used to produce the spirit must also be grown in the area.

Industry officials say global interest in ultra-premium tequila has become especially prevalent since Mexico's establishment in 1994 of the Tequila Regulatory Council, which took over the responsibility of ensuring the quality of tequila from the government.

Agave and tequila producers must register the number and location of their plants with the council. They must also document their harvesting methods, fermentation processes, and distilling techniques for evaluation. Tequila, in different stages of production, is often tested in the council's laboratories.

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