Tequila, it's time you grew up

Four top tips for drinking tequila

Ultra-premium tequila is growing in popularity around the world. Lee Applbaum from Patron Spirits explains his top tips for enjoying tequila. With vision from Patron Spirits

Tequila, we need to talk. You haven't been very well behaved. Too often a fun night out turns messy the moment you turn up.

We've had enough of your leading us into rounds of shots, your juvenile exhortation to 'lick, sip, suck', that silly little worm, the annoyingly catchy song, and the hangovers … oh, the hangovers. Just grow up.

Historical hangover

Not that it's easy for the wildest of spirits to amend its boozy ways. Regarded for decades as the quintessential party-starter, its image still draws heavily on the outlaw ethos popularly ascribed to its country of origin, Mexico.

Premium makers are working to overcome tequila's past indiscretions.
Premium makers are working to overcome tequila's past indiscretions.  Photo: Nata Vkusidey

The truth is rather different in Mexico itself, where agave farms carefully nurture and harvest fleshy green leaves that yield the spicy juice that forms the basis of the spirit.

Tequila's reputation as the least cultured of spirits is slowly changing, although a word association test among my Facebook friends still draws a majority of responses such as "vomit", "hangover", "slammer", "shots" and "rotten".

A handful of responders mention Patron and Don Julio, two of a growing number of premium tequilas dedicating huge marketing budgets to repositioning tequila as a spirit to sip and savour instead of shoot and slam.

It starts here: fields of agave plants in Mexico.
It starts here: fields of agave plants in Mexico. Photo: Getty Images

A spirit to sip and savour

Lee Applbaum, the chief marketing officer for Patron Spirits, acknowledges the uphill battle to realign tequila as an "ultra-premium" experience.

"Sadly to say, we all have our tequila story, right?" he says. "Sometime in our youth where we had a bad, not authentic, tequila, and maybe a little too much of it.

"That created that stigma at an individual level, as well as for the whole spirit. It was thought of as this cheap shot, oftentimes with a worm in it, none of which has anything to do with ultra premium (spirits)."

The first step for Tequila Patron was to create a premium spirit capable of transcending that stigma. Starting with highly-regarded Weber blue agave, it made a tequila that Applbaum says rivals Scotch whisky for complexity.

"Tequila is similar to Scotch in the sense that it can be aged and the flavour profile changes dramatically based on not only how long it was aged, but the type of barrels it sits in," he says.

"As a result you get a wide spectrum of experiences in tequila, from silver or blanco tequilas with bright, citrusy pepper notes to some of the very complex aged tequilas that take on the characteristics of the oak that they sit in.

"It results in a brilliant spirit that's incredibly versatile - neat, on the rocks, in a cocktail, even in a shot now and again."

Getting its swagger on

Repositioning tequila as a premium spirit of choice for celebrities and influencers has given Patron a "global swagger".

"What really differentiates us is this mix of style and substance," Applbaum says. "We're enjoyed by athletes and celebrities and entertainers, you find Patron in the lyrics of popular songs - never anything we've ever paid for, by the way. These things happen organically because we're beloved."

What about those who swore "never again" after a bad experience with cheap tequila? Applbaum says it helps to know what you're spending your hard-earned on.

"One of the things we encourage people to do is to learn about their experience, know about your producer. Learn more about the category. If you are going to spend your money on a drink and certainly on a bottle, that's a significant investment, so know what you are committing to."