Few things are as consistent as the strength of tequila imports into the U.S. market. Encouraged by a seemingly insatiable thirst for the agave category, brands are embarking on bold new experiments to capture and retain consumers.
Since 2002, tequila imports have grown at an average rate of 6.2% per year, according to a date compiled by the Distilled Spirits Council of America. The category as a whole marked a staggering 180% growth from 2003 to 2019, the data of recent years are available for.
What’s the next big thing in tequila? Some producers are betting on cristalino, an expression by clarifying anejo or reposado, which is growing steadily in popularity in Mexico. Several brands have introduced cristalino to the United States, including the Volcan de Mi Tierra, Don Julio (who was the first to create the spirit) and the Maestro Dobel. One of the newest names in the category: Dahlia Tequila Cristalino, a brand dreamed up by the creators of El Silencio Mezcal.
“When we started mezcal, nobody talked about it,” said Dahlia and El Silencio co-founder Fausto Zapata. “Nobody was looking in that direction. I think cristalino will be the next big thing here. ”
To stand out from the crowd and generate buzz, Dahlia just launched an angular ad campaign, “Find your dahlia,” which is more fashion-driven than the stodgy wooden-barrel-and-stone glass image typical of most liquor marketing. Fashion models are soaked in red and radiate the shiny sex appeal from Gucci ads from the Tom Ford era.
“We really wanted to create with that fashion-lifestyle element,” Zapata says. “Marketing campaigns are travel. This is the first chapter in that story. ”
Zapata acknowledges that the US market is not yet as familiar with cristalino, but he is genuine that it, like mezcal, will eventually find its footing. “There will be an educational process. We are not the only ones out there, ”he says. “Just like we started with mezcal and helped build that swell, cristalino will be the same thing.”
Given that Zapata has already found success with mezcal, his interest in cristalino is a well-educated bet on the changing tastes of the global agave enthusiast. According to data from the Mexico Regulatory Commission, s of mezcal tripled from 2015 to 2020, growing by an average of 26%. The latest data puts 2020 mezcal s at 4.8 million liters.
“We started El Silencio in 2013 and no one had mezcal except in very nerdy mixology bars,” says Zapata. “I predicted that this would happen, that it would become its own category.” Nielsen data ranks El Silencio as the best-selling mezcal by volume in the United States with a growth of 57% from June, year to date.
El Silencio offers strong sales and puts a lot of effort into the return of spirits after the pandemic. “We wanted to do two things from the start,” says Zapata. “To create truly exquisite, beautiful mezcal, but at the same time we wanted to create a brand and tell a story.”
Inspired by brand-designed hotel-distillery properties such as Scotland’s famous Glenmorangie House as well as historic French cognac and champagne houses, Casa Silencio will be a luxury boutique hotel with six bedrooms connected to the El Silencio distillery in Oaxaca, Mexico. It is set to open to the public this fall.
“We’re talking about how obsessive we are about creating a beautiful spirit, now you can see it being made while staying at this beautiful hotel,” says Zapata.
“We do not bottle mezcal, we bottle stories,” he adds.