With Labor Day behind us, we get a little breather at Tanteo and find some time to reflect on where we’ve been over the busy spring and summer seasons. What a year it’s been! Growing faster than ever before, and adding a number of new members to the team. Some of this is due to things that Tanteo does especially well, like growing great agaves, using traditional cooking and distilling methods, perfectly macerating and blending our tequilas, and focusing on making the best tequila for spicy cocktails. This also has something to do with the macrotrends of tequila, which are growing as quickly as we are. Below, I wanted to talk a bit about why the tequila industry is growing, problems this growth could create and what we’re doing to future-proof Tanteo.
According to The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, tequila — and specifically super-premium tequila — has witnessed a prolonged growth spurt over the past 18 years, and it’s showing no signs of a slow down. There are many reasons why this is the case:
First, overall spirits sales are growing, as many Americans move from beer to spirits despite overall alcohol consumption slowing in America.
Second, the craft cocktail renaissance has inspired new cocktail combinations, many of which play well with tequila. While 20 years ago was a frozen margaritas and or tequila sunrises reigned supreme, today we make tequila cocktails with avocados, green juice, and pumpkin.
Third, Americans are looking for healthier choices when they drink, and whether real or perceived, tequila has found a fanbase in the cross-fit and paleo communities that find plenty of flavor — and less sugar — in a jalapeño margarita than the alternative.
Fourth, the Mexican influence in the American diet continues to see an uptick, with taco stands and tequila restaurants cropping up everywhere from Maine to Hawaii. Even here in cosmopolitan New York City, we’ve seen some changes: High-end Mexican restaurants on every corner that did not exist a decade ago — now it’s impossible to miss them.
But lastly, and probably most significantly of all, Americans want authentic experiences when they drink, and 100% agave tequila provides that better than just about any spirit we can think of. With no mechanical methods of harvesting agave, small-batch cooking, fermenting and distilling techniques, a properly made 100% agave tequila can best showcase the story, character and flavor profile of a truly handmade spirit.
However, this increased demand has caused some problems, the biggest of which is the sustained agave shortage we’ve seen for the last 3 years, where the price of agave has grown 10x and caused many tequila manufacturers to cut corners. This is manifested by a) industrializing production methods and b) harvesting unripe agave.
To make tequila, you need to cook the agaves to convert the starches into fermentable sugars that can be used to create alcohol. While the traditional distilleries (like Tanteo) cook agaves in brick ovens (or “hornos” as they’re known Spanish), tequila output per KG of agave is dramatically improved through autoclaves (large pressure cookers) or diffusers, which press the starchy agave liquid before cooking and then cook the liquid for the most efficient agave-to-tequila conversion.
The problem with autoclaves and diffusers is that they can both add unwanted chemical aromas to the final product, as well as dramatic reduction to the agave flavor in the final product. The shortage of agave is prompting distillers to get every ounce of tequila out of their agaves — which, in turn, lowers the quality of the end product .
The shortage is also prompting farmers to sell younger and younger agave, and distillers to lower the acceptable sugar content of the agaves they use to make tequila. Not only does this compound the problem by harvesting agaves that were originally planned to be harvested at a later date, it also affects quality, producing lighter-bodied tequilas with less fruity and floral aromas.
At Tanteo, we have not allowed this shortage to affect our way of making our tequilas. A big part of this is the cooperative at Juanacatlan that we partner with at every step of the harvest. While most distilleries purchase their agave from 3rd parties, we only purchase our agave from members of the cooperative, who also happen to be the owners of the distillery.
This cooperative allows us to share profits with more stakeholders in the business, but it also protects us against some of the price gouging elsewhere in the industry so that we can continue to make our agave the traditional way: cooking our agaves in brick ovens, using traditional pressing, fermentation, and distillation methods while growing the local workforce. The cooperative also gives us access to agaves from the 85 members, meaning that as long as we plan correctly, we’ll always have plenty of agaves to harvest, and can wait until they reach peak maturity and optimal sugar content before picking.
Tequila is hot — that’s a good thing. So are spicy cocktails — even better. The future looks bright for Tanteo, but this collective growth still provides new challenges we’re working hard to meet and exceed. Every day at Tanteo is an opportunity to maintain the quality and integrity of our production process.
Para la Buena Vida