Cheers - March/April 2016

Cheers is dedicated to delivering hospitality professionals the information, insights and data necessary to drive their beverage business by covering trends and innovations in operations, merchandising, service and training.

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Page 16 of 59 17 March/April 2016 • F rom its reputation as a party-time shooter and ingredient in schooners of fruity, frozen Margaritas, tequila has upgraded its image signifi cantly in the past decade. The agave-based spirit has become a key player behind the bar, not only in Mexican-themed restaurants but in any place that's serious about cocktails. How strong is tequila? The entire category grew last year by 7.4% , according to fi gures supplied by the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS), with the two top tiers— high-end premium and superpremium—up 17.2% and 12.5% , respectively. (DISCUS includes brands such as El Jimador, Cazadores and Sauza Hornitos in high- end premium, while Patron, Herradura, Don Julio and Cabo Wabo are grouped in superpremium.) Tequila was in fact the fastest-growing, nonwhiskey category in terms of percentages, and second only to vodka in total volume growth. It was up more than a million cases in 2015. Mezcal, tequila's robust and rambunctious forebear, is also zooming, although volumes sold in the U.S. are still too small to be reliably calculated for the most part. But the mobile bar inventory app Partender, which gathers data from about 15,000 restaurants, recently reported that mezcal grew at a faster clip in the last quarter of 2015 among the operations the fi rm tracks than any other spirit category. A WIDE RANGE OF DRINK STYLES Growth of tequila and mezcal should come as no surprise, as Mexican-themed restaurants and bars with an interest in serving a wide range of agave spirits both seem to increase daily. And the types of cocktails go far beyond the Margarita and its offshoots. For instance, Chicago's South Water Kitchen serves a cocktail called You Remind Me Of The Babe, made with Espolon tequila, Chinese broccoli shrub, lavender syrup, and tonic. Head bartender and drink creator Dan Rook makes the shrub by charring Chinese broccoli, then steeping it in rice wine vinegar, coconut sugar, ginger, cayenne and Champagne vinegar. South Water Kitchen also offers a mezcal Old Fashioned, which is barrel- aged in-house. At Don Chido in San Diego, 14 of the 18 cocktails on the menu are agave- based. Providing a wide range of cocktail styles helps get novice consumers over any lingering perception of tequila as a harsh spirit, says head bartender Gabe Garza. "I always tell people the reason they don't like tequila is that they have never had a good tequila," Garza says. While he thinks many consumers still consider tequila and mezcal esoteric spirits, cocktails that offer them both in an array of fl avor profi les can open the door for more exploration. Don Chido stocks about 120 agave spirits, including mezcal and bacanora—which is produced from the agave Pacifi co plant in the Mexican state of Sonora. But Garza says it's still the major brands that are most familiar to customers. "We welcome guests with brands they know, and then get them to start swimming into deeper water with more of the smaller brands." Most cocktails at Don Chido are priced in the $10 to $13 range. Shots of tequila range from $8 to $175 for extra anejos Clase Azul Ultra, 1800 Collecion and Asombroso Del Porto. One of the bar's more popular drinks is a twist on the Paloma using house-made blood orange soda rather than grapefruit. Other cocktails include Mi Adelita (chili-infused El Jimador blanco tequila, strawberries, rosemary and mango with a chili-mango rim) and El Churro (cinnamon- infused El Jimador blanco, Licor 43, lemon, lime, agave syrup and cinnamon sugar.) The La Cazuela punch bowl, made with Milagro tequila, fresh fruit and Jarritos soda, is priced at $36. MARGARITA MAYHEM Don Chido lists a few types of Margaritas, including a Watermelon Ginger Margarita and the top-shelf Margarita "Tequila has become not just something to drink, but something people want to know about. So for us it's really important that we have so many with different flavor profiles." —Joanne Weir (shown left), co-owner of Copita Tequileria y Comida in Sausalito, CA. 7.4% Tequila category grew last year by

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