Meet the tequila and mezcal brands serving a new generation of drinkers

As interest and money pours into tequila and mezcal brands, consumers are getting more discerning with their spirits. What does it take to stand out?

Natalie Sportelli

Head of Content
Yola is a mezcal brand run by women. (Photo: Yola)
BRAND ROUNDUP

As bars and restaurants closed last year, people staying at home turned to ordering their alcohol online. Many of these amateur mixologists stocking their personal bars gravitated towards tequila. The spirit’s share of liquor sales grew 22%, while mezcal’s portion of sales grew 57% year-over-year in 2020. And as excitement grows for the upcoming vaccine-fueled summer in the U.S., all signs indicate that interest in the fastest-growing alcohol category won't see a slowdown.

A quick scan of tequila and mezcal brands on Thingtesting proves that these labels aren’t your great-grandfather’s booze. They feature bright colors and eye-catching branding targeting a younger demographic that favors clear spirits to their brown liquor counterparts.

A number of these tequila and mezcal brands have received outside investment to power growth, as venture capital dollars continue to pour into the space. There’s no question that there’s money to be made in agave-based spirits: one only has to look at the $1 billion sale price for actor George Clooney’s Casamigos tequila to see the exit opportunity.

Among the next generation, ready-to-drink mezcal cocktail Elenita raised $1.1 million in 2019; sparkling tequila brand Onda, designed for “a new generation of drinkers,” pocketed $1.2 million in summer of 2020; and Madre Mezcal collected $3 million in Series A funding last month. Per Nielsen data for the fastest-growing tequila brands (Q1'20 to Q3'20) shared with Thingtesting, Madre and Jaja both crack the top ten.

Madre makes an artisanal mezcal from the hills of Oaxaca. (Photo: Madre Mezcal)

“[During the pandemic] people got more excited about agave spirits, and mezcal in particular is just really exciting and fun,” says Madre cofounder Stefan Wigand. “Beyond Madre, there are hundreds of amazing mezcals and tequilas out there. It's a really fun hobby to learn about it, try different flavors and learn about different flavor profiles and notes. It becomes a fun exploration, once you get into it.”

At Room 9, the combination creative agency and venture studio that led Madre’s recent round, founding partner Anish Bhatia has backed two agave-based brands: Madre and Los Sundays. Storytelling is key, Bhatia says, for new alcohol brands to stand out. “[Big] alcohol brands struggle to innovate,” Bhatia says. “Alcohol has to come from an amazing origin story and that takes time to build. That's a special sauce and it's very important in alcohol brands for that story to come through.”

Meet Yola

It’s even better if that story has history to it. At Yola, founder Yola Jimenez’s eponymous mezcal brand, the house alcohol is made based on a 1971 recipe passed down by Jimenez’s grandfather. Agave has been cultivated over the past 13 years from a Oaxaca farm owned by her family since the 1960s. Today’s consumer, Jimenez is betting, doesn’t need the celebrity endorsement of a famous actor like Clooney to break out. Instead, consumers are more interested in a brand’s history and its makers, she says.

“[Consumers] don't want to just buy an idea or a lifestyle, but they want to know where things are coming from, who makes it, and is it an authentic product,” Jimenez says. “You're buying something that the person making it has a say in, with how it's really made and produced.” Yola, for example, pays local women in Oaxaca fair wages to bottle the handmade brand.

Amid the pandemic, a new generation of drinkers are taking the time to learn where their purchases come from, Jimenez adds. This is especially true for more artisanal categories within alcohol. “[They don’t] want to buy from conglomerates, they don't want a huge brand, they want to know where things are coming from,” she says. “They have enough access to information that they can understand the nuances and when something is just organic and done by a person."

With consumers growing more educated about the authenticity of their potential purchases (inside and outside of food and beverage), that can put pressure on brands to be more thoughtful about their production. “I think it's hopefully going to make it easier for the brands that are taking the time and concerned about the process, to stay alive,” Jimenez says.

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Thingtesting is a database of internet-born brands. We’re building the un-sponsored corner of the internet where consumers can come together to talk honestly about new things. Read more about Thingtesting.

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