Tequila represents one of the fastest-growing spirit categories in terms of volume, with growth projections that could continue to climb significantly given its low penetration in much of the world: roughly 90 per cent of tequila produced is consumed in North America.
But, while the spirit distilled from the Blue Weber agave plant is poised to go global, its growth continues in Canada. The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission reports total cases of tequila sold and the number of tequila products available have both increased by more than six per cent since 2015. In Ontario, tequila sales growth has steadily increased from $44 million in 2013/14 to $70 million in 2017/18.
“Consumers are becoming more aware of higher-quality tequilas and understand the different aging processes, terroir and where the tequila is produced and are choosing to trade up,” says Kevin Ethier, LCBO product manager.
What’s happening with tequila is similar to what happened with whiskies, according to Tim McChesney, senior vice-president, Marketing and Strategy at beverage-alcohol importer Kirkwood Diamond Canada in Oakville, Ont. “You’re seeing the premiumization of tequila,” McChesney says. “It’s being viewed as less of an ingredient in drinks like Margaritas and more as a beverage you’d enjoy on its own or as an after-dinner drink.”
Production techniques involving reposado and añejo tequilas being aged in wood for a longer time are partly responsible for fuelling growth, he says. Previously, agave had been harvested, quickly processed and then sold as a relatively coarse alcohol. “The profile of tequila has been elevated now,” McChesney adds. He estimates two-thirds of tequila sold in Ontario costs more than $40 a bottle, with about $10 million of the tequila market in Ontario in bottles priced at more than $50.
Significantly, good tequila remains pure — and premium: unlike gin and vodka, tequila has not seen much in terms of added flavours. The premium is certainly on aging and care of production, according to Nick Benninger of Taco Farm Co.
in Waterloo, Ont. Since 2013, the restaurant has hosted “Tequila School” evenings featuring a five-course meal paired with premium tequila. The ancillary effect has been boosted interest in the spirit where an informed customer is seeking high-quality distilled Blue Weber.
“We’ve obtained interesting products like reposado tequilas aged in old red-wine barrels, añejos aged in five different barrels and then blended and bottled when the master distiller is happy with the balance,” Benninger says. “We’ve seen tequila availability at the liquor store go up. That’s from customers asking LCBO-store managers for more selection after having an eye-opening experience at a restaurant or cocktail bar.”
Written by Andrew Coppolino