Good tequila could soon be extinct: Houston mixologist takes on the marketing machine

on 07/03/11 at 11:20 am

Spirits

“It’s not that I’ve become more picky,” says Anvil Bar & Refuge founder, owner and mixologist Bobby Heugel, “the quality has declined.”

It’s a sunny afternoon at Anvil, and Heugel is about to unleash on the state of the tequila industry today. It’s a topic he feels strongly — and knows a lot — about.

Heugel honed his palate as an undergraduate in Amarillo, where he tended bar at a restaurant that offered nearly 100 types of tequila. He says it was his passion for mezcal, another type of agave-based liquor, that got him into cocktails in the first place.

“In that college restaurant, there were 100 tequilas because there were that many worth carrying,” says Heugel, now 27. Today, “there are only 15 or 20 tequilas in Texas that are worth purchasing.”

Heugel says a number of factors have contributed to the severe lapse in quality over the last five years, but it starts with the agave.

The agave plant takes between eight and 12 years to reach maturity, separating it immediately from grain-based spirits like whiskey, which grow in a yearly cycle. Even the most experienced jimadors might see six harvests in a lifetime.

“Tequila’s heyday in the ’90s resulted in an agave shortage. There was a surge in demand that resulted in ton of people growing agave that don’t know what they’re doing. Now, the market is flooded and they’ve got to dump it,” Heugel says, meaning much of today’s tequila is distilled from immature plants.

And “immature” translates to cheap. Heugel says even brands he once respected taste different (read: worse) today than they did five years ago. “They pay so much less for immature agave, and they have the marketing — they have an established brand. Why on earth pay more if people aren’t going to notice?”

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