Vivir aims to take tequila into the mainstream

The team at Vivir is bidding to turn tequila into a mainstream spirits category in the UK by spreading the gospel about its craft, provenance and versatility.

Tequila is worth just £20 million in the off-trade (Nielsen) as it is dwarfed by the likes of gin and vodka, but that could change as Vivir continues to gain listings.

Co-founder Paul Hayes made his name as the first man to bring Bircher muesli to the UK. He only used natural ingredients and agave syrup was the sole sweetener he would add.

That led to him building up strong contacts in the agave industry and he saw an opportunity for a 100% Weber blue agave tequila to take the UK market by storm.

He cannot put his finger on what it is, but he knows he is allergic to something in the mixto tequilas that dominate the UK market.

He set out to produce a range of premium tequilas specifically for Britain, teaming up with the most awarded distillery in Jalisco to source the liquid.

The result is a blanco, reposado and anejo, retailing at £36, £39 and £44 respectively, all under the Vivir brand, which means life in Spanish.

The reposado is aged for six months in Jack Daniels casks and the anejo stays in cask for 18 months to take on oaky notes of vanilla and banana.

It started trying to get listings a couple of years ago and that there were obstacles to be overcome. Many Brits think of tequila as a shot they have drunk on wild nights out, requiring a slice of lemon immediately shoved into their mouths to prevent them from throwing up.

Yet the boom in gin sales and interest in its provenance has helped spark curiosity in tequila, and the Vivir team has won a number of listings already.

It first went into high-end on-trade accounts like Nobu and the Mayfair Hotel. It was then distributed through Speciality Drinks and Amathus and it has just picked up listings with Master of Malt and Fortnum & Mason, while it is in the final stages of negotiations with Harrods and Selfridges.

In September, the anejo will go into 200 Waitrose stores and this will be the first time an anejo tequila has ever made it onto a multiple retailer shelf.

Hayes believes that its specific focus on tequila and its position as the only independent UK tequila brand has helped it gain listings with relative ease.

He told DRN: “Big distributors like Diageo and Pernod Ricard have tequilas, but the reps want to push the high-volume vodka and tequila brands [to the trade]. We only deal with tequila, so people in bars and stores like us visiting. We go in and do tastings and masterclasses. They have been getting this with gin for five years and with whisky and rum now, but they say we are the first ones doing it with tequila. The boom for gin has helped us. We just hit the market at the right time.”

Keith Webb, a drinks industry veteran and consultant to the business, said: “The trade, both on and off, has been unbelievably excited by the combination of a fantastic product, provenance and packaging. In fact I’ve never seen such a reaction, and I’ve been around the drinks trade for quite a while.”

Hayes said that consumers are now willing to sip tequila. “Most people don’t have a clue about tequila, so there’s a level of curiosity,” he said. “It’s great for cocktails like Espresso Martinis and Manhattans. An Old Fashioned works really well.

“Tequila and tonic is great, particularly citrus-based tonics with grapefruit or orange. Tequila has more botanicals. We have converted a lot of people to tequila and tonic.

“Tequila is renowned for being the healthiest spirit. When you distil agave from sugars it’s one of the few things that keeps a high level of fiber, so your insulin doesn’t spike. When you get drunk off tequila it’s different to other spirits. People party more and they are more active.”