Fans of aged tequilas, take note. You may be facing a shortage of your favorite drinks, higher prices, or both, as several sources report that they no longer have any añejo tequila for sale in the market.
“Producers have been reluctant to abandon alcohol with these high prices (of agave), thinking that the price would drop, but this is not the case and the reserves are running out,” explains Jake Lustigowner of ArteNOM selection tequila brand.
The price of the raw material used to make tequila has skyrocketed in recent years, reaching a high of 32 pesos per kilo, up from just under 4 pesos per kilo in 2016.
Agave prices have always evolved a cycle of price rise and fall, because producers often abandon their crops when they get almost nothing from them, only to replant when they see prices rise. But the latest price surge was unusually prolonged. We have recorded prices above 25 pesos per kilo since 2017.
Just to give you an idea of the capital required to make tequila, at 30 pesos per kilo, a large kiln load alone costs about US$40,000 (for non-organic agaves.)
This means that tequila producers have been facing a dilemma for some time. Should they wait a year or more (the time it takes to call a tequila “añejo”) while their product sits in barrels before getting a return on their investment, or just focus on making tequila blanco, or d a lightly aged reposado?
High agave prices meet strong demand
Although price pressures have weighed on production, another factor is affecting anejo supply: growing demand amid the pandemic. Tequila sales have increased 54% in turnover and 38% in volume in 2020, outperforming all other spirits categories.
The increase in demand has left additional reserves of añejo (XA), which requires at least three years of aging, significantly depleted. And now añejos are starting to get harder and harder to find.
“We have noticed that popular añejos and extra añejos, such as Don Julio 1942, Patrón Extra Añejo and Clase Azul Añejo, have been frequently selling out for extended periods since last year,” said Roman Romaia of Old Town Tequila in San Diego, California.
“Now we sell any añejo in the $100 to $300 range.” he says.
This may be because many customers still can’t go to bars, but also realize they can get a whole bottle for what they would have spent on a night out.
“They go to the top, to the house,” says Romaya.
Today, producers say the hunt for añejo is on.
“Every week I get calls from brands and distilleries looking to buy añejo tequila from me in bulk, but I only have enough for my brands,” explains Jaime Villalobos SauzaMaster distiller of Smooth tequila. “Right now it’s hard to find.”
Of course, increased demand and less supply lead to higher prices. According to Romaya, there is a general rise in tequila prices, and the situation is no better in Mexico.
“There is no more anejo”, says Emilio Ferreira Ruizowner of El Buho Tequilas store in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco. “And prices are rising, even for blancos – but not as much – since agave prices remain high,” he says.
An obvious competitor
Finally, there appears to be another factor causing the añejo shortage: crystalline. Typically, these are añejo or extra añejo tequilas that have been filtered to remove the color added by the barrels during aging, resulting in a clear or near-clear spirit that is marketed as “milder” or premium.
Cristalinos are one of the fastest growing tequila segments in Mexico, and they are now I’m taking off in the USA. Some producers used their aged stock to meet demand, leaving them with less unfiltered anejo.
We asked Ferreira Ruiz if the cristalino trend is depleting anejo reserves. “Certainly,” he said.
And there’s another twist: a wave of new crystallino tequilas made from reposado tequila, which can be aged for as little as two months.
“This is due to a lack of añejo,” explains Ferreira Ruiz.
We noticed 14 reposado crystals in our database – many have been added recently – and more are likely on the way.
What’s an Añejo lover to do?
Even if you can’t find your favorite añejos at the moment, the good news is that there are many brands on the market and not all of them have supply problems. Producers who have their own programs and barrel reserves (such as Tequila Fortaleza, Don Fulano, Casa NobleAnd Tapatio) report their usual activities.
“For future añejos and additional añejos, for all our brands, we have started to fill more barrels than initially planned,” explains Carlos CamarenaMaster distiller of Tapatio, Tequila OchoAnd The Treasure of Don Felipe. This was in response to the growing demand for añejo and extra añejo products.
So, take this opportunity to try some aged tequilas that you’ve never had before or would like to revisit. It probably won’t be long before older drinks reappear on shelves, but at a higher price.