Tequila Is A More Popular Spirit Than You Might Think

The United States may be known for its love affair with bourbon whiskey, and vodka may be the neutral-tasting superstar of the liquor world, but right now it's tequila that is taking over the country. If you haven't heard, tequila recently overtook whiskey to become the number two spirit nationwide, and is projected to overtake vodka within the next few years. Tasting Table spoke with David Yan González, Director of Tequila Operations at 818 Tequila, about the tequila boom. According to the expert, agave-based spirits were the fastest growing category of 2022, responsible for 70% of all volume growth for the entire U.S. spirits market last year.

Said González, "With its growing popularity, tequila is now consumed in many more ways than just taking shots. In fact, ultra-premium tequila sales are on the rise, indicating that consumers favor tequilas they can sip." This premiumization is behind tequila's growth, as it still remains far behind vodka in overall volume, but is catching up in sales. As recently as 2016, super-premium tequila made up only 13% of tequila's total volume, but that is predicted to reach nearly 40% in the next few years. You can clearly see it in the shifting sales of tequila brands, as more expensive names like Don Julio and Patrón have surged past popular budget-friendlier options like Jose Cuervo. That's an expansion that's being driven by more than just margaritas.

There are lots of different ways to enjoy a good tequila

If you're going to listen to González and consider tequila for sipping, you have plenty of options. All three popular tequila styles — blanco, reposado, and aged añejo — can be good enough to sip. Blanco has the cleanest agave flavor, while reposado and añejo get more funky and complex from barrel aging. A good sipping tequila should be lightly sweet and earthy; anything overly sweet or bitter is likely not high quality. It should also have a rich, smooth mouthfeel, with watery tequilas showing another sign of poor craft. While you don't need to spend a fortune, the best sipping tequilas do tend to come from premium or artisan brands.

If you prefer a cocktail, there are some great tequila showcases beyond the margarita, although nobody will blame you for sticking to them. Fresh grapefruit juice, not soda, makes a paloma as bright and refreshing as a cocktail comes, without overpowering your tequila. You can also turn to the cocktail making kits from 818 Tequila that come with everything you need for a tequila take on tried-and-true classics like a Cosmopolitan or an Old Fashioned. Lastly, you can always skip the mixing entirely and go with a ready-to-drink canned cocktail, another category where tequila is following in vodka's footsteps and growing in popularity. No matter your preferred style of beverage, the future of tequila is shining bright.