As store pick whiskeys explode in popularity, beverage alcohol retailers wonder what’s the next category to take off. One potential answer: single barrel tequila picks.
The process with tequila is no different than with whiskey. An increasing number of Mexican distilleries let retailers select single barrels to bottle as store picks. While still a small trend, SiB tequilas have recently gained steam.
Why? For one, tequila sales grew dramatically during the Covid-19 crisis. The at-home mixology trend had consumers buying more agave spirits. And tequila was already on the rise before 2020, riding the pre-pandemic trends of craft and premiumization.
You can add a new trend that’s benefitting the category. Consumers who have purchased and enjoyed bottles of single barrel store pick whiskeys want another flavor innovation to pursue. Tequila is an easy transition. With depth of flavors and vanilla notes, these spirits naturally appeal to whiskey fans.
“A lot of whiskey drinkers are tequila drinkers, they just don’t know it yet,” says T.J. Douglas, co-owner of The Urban Grape in Boston. This apt quote is from a profile six years ago. In the meantime, more whiskey drinkers have made that realization.
Accordingly, more retailers have responded by bottling their own tequila picks.
Single Barrel Tequila Picks
Moreno’s Liquors in Chicago is known for offering one of the largest mezcal and tequila selections in America. Currently, the store stocks five tequila single barrels.
“The single barrel trend came up first with whiskey, and now it’s blowing up with everything,” says Co-owner Mike Moreno. “People are looking for uniqueness. They’re looking for quality. They want to know that what they’re getting is not a typical tequila.”
At Moreno’s, that’s a Corazon SiB tequila finished in Weller bourbon barrels. Or a recent pick with Gran Mayan, a three-year-old añejo finished for six months in sherry casks.
“I think we’re the only retailer to do something like that,” Moreno says. “We even picked out the colors of our Gran Mayan bottle.”
Distinctive labels for single barrels are common with whiskey. Stores and clubs often place funny, colorful or irreverent stickers on bottles, increasing that product’s uniqueness. So too has Moreno’s improved the visibility of their Gran Mayan pick.
“It’s an orange clay bottle with a little bit of blue specks,” Moreno says. “It’s another way to differentiate it from the other bottles on the shelf.”
With the Corazon finished in Weller, Moreno tapped into both the SiB and red-hot bourbon trends. Weller remains among the most-sought-after whiskeys in the world. However, Moreno was not satisfied with simply stocking a trendy product.
“Most stores are receiving two-to-three samples when they request a sample nowadays. I requested more,” he recalls. “After eight barrels, I chose one that was super unique. People are really getting something that’s unique and hard to find.”
Overall, Moreno sees no slowdown in the consumer taste for tequila. “Except for the agave shortage,” he cautions. “There could be a hiccup, but I also don’t see the progression of single barrel tequilas slowing down, either.”
“There are still a lot of other tequila brands trying to get in on the single barrel trend,” he adds. “They’re just now working things out with the TTB. So there are a lot of brands still playing catch up.”
Many other retailers have just now entered into the SiB tequila space. Worldwide Wine & Spirits in Southington, CT, recently came out with their first store pick tequila — a reposado from el tesoro.
“With the market getting so hot for whiskey and bourbon single barrels, we thought, ‘Let’s do a tequila’,” says Worldwide Manager Taylor Deegan. “We wanted to do something outside of the box. I thought that we’d add something brand new to the store.”
As with whiskey picks, el toroso sent several samples, different variants for Worldwide to consider. “It was an exceptional liquid that we chose,” Deegan recalls. “We felt that whiskey drinkers would like it for the barrel flavors, and the agave notes blew us away.”
The demo for store pick tequila is broad, Deegan believes. Consumers accustomed to spending $50-plus for a bottle of whiskey will know how to appreciate a product of this caliber. And there are a niche-but-growing number of tequila aficionados.
“It was a one-of-a-kind experience picking this tequila,” Deegan says. “We’re excited to pick the next one.”
Finding Opportunity in Single Barrel Tequila
An important lesson with picking whiskeys holds true with agave spirits.
Years ago, the New Hampshire Liquor Commission and its Spirits Marketing Specialist Mark Roy visited Corazon Tequila at Casa San Matias, in Tepatitlan, Mexico. Following the facility tour, Roy sampled one of the brand’s rarest products — the Rey Sol 10 Year Single Barrel Tequila.
Only 35 barrels of this expression existed at the time. Only two had left the distillery for select customers. After sampling, Roy asked how New Hampshire could buy a barrel.
The answer: Sazerac — Corazon’s parent company — had to sign off on such an unusual purchase. Fortunately, the NHLC has a long, positive relationship with Sazerac. Roy was also friendly with Beau Beckman, the former director of Sazerac’s single barrel select program, and had Beckman’s number in his contacts.
Roy dialed Beckman from the tasting table. He said that he was at the hacienda, and wanted to purchase the Rey Sol.
After running it up the ladder, Beckman called back a few minutes later. He had authorized the purchase.
“That’s why you really want to do barrel picks in person,” Roy advises. “You just never know what you’re going to come across.”
Tequila Brands Welcome Interest
As more retailers and consumers recognize the potential of single barrel tequila, brands have welcomed the interest. One is Código 1530, which has already sold single barrels to a large amount of on- and off-premise accounts, including Moreno’s.
Código 1530 represents the future of single barrel tequila for its craft focus. Part of the problem with larger distilleries is the sheer size of their production makes single barrels difficult. It’s hard to have significant oak influence when the liquid rests in 23,000-liter pipons, or other large vessels.
But Código 1530 and other producers have the barrel inventory — and variety — to offer unique oak finishes.
“We get barrels from wineries, Napa Valley and French oak, single-use, single-harvest, so that the oak is still fresh,” says Brice Erichsen, senior director, North America.
For the single barrel program this includes both repo and añejo, along with the brand’s popular Tequila Rosa, finished for one month in French white oak Napa cabernet. (Most of the brand’s tequilas finish in barrels from French wineries.)
Transparency remains important for these kind of special products. “We publish the wholesaler notes from the cooperage,” Erichsen says. “What family made it, what wine was inside of it.”
The Código 1530 sampling kit typically includes three tequilas representing barrels from different cooperages and areas of France.
“This is such a unique process,” Erichsen says. “We’re also shipping in Cognac barrels. American consumers love that sweetness that’s usually added by the Cognac barrels. And it doesn’t overtake our agave notes.”
What about the agave shortage? Erichsen believes single barrel programs can help retailers. “With tequila being more sparse, this allows retailers to secure their own inventory,” he says.
In terms of consumer demo, Código 1530 draws from whiskey and bourbon. “We’re seeing the premiumization in brown spirits and the quick move to age-statement bottles,” Erichsen says. “Consumers are a lot more educated now. They know the different finishes and mash bills. They know all the little details now and they’re craving that. Same with tequila”
The result is almost certainly continued growth for tequila and single barrel offerings.
“Last year, just over 7% of our sales came from single barrels,” Erichsen says. “This year, we’ve already sold 40 barrels during the first four months, traditionally the slowest part of the year for us.”
Kyle Swartz is editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kswartzz. Read his recent piece What’s New With Louisville Tourism and Your Favorite Distilleries in 2021.