When Peckham-based duo Tom Bishop and Jack Vereker decided to launch their new tequila El Rayo in May it was to occupy the middle ground of the market. The UK is the fifth largest importer of tequila and yet they believe the drink is either positioned as a quick way to get drunk or else so aloof as to feel unobtainable. El Rayo’s positioning is to be an alternative to gin, based on a belief that with gin market saturation will come drinkers looking for new experiences. Bettina Hepburn caught up with them to find out whether they can seriously challenge the G&T with their T&T?
Bishop and Vereker believe the unique blend of highland and lowland agave makes El Rayo ‘the tequila to get you drinking tequila.’
Peckham-based Tom Bishop and Jack Vereker describe how their journey began when one night in Peckham, the two sipped from a bottle of Siete Leguas Añejo that Tom’s brother had brought back from Mexico. This was unlike any tequila the two had tasted before, and as they delved deeper into the category, Bishop explains they “didn’t feel that there was a brand [they] could truly engage with.”
Bishop continues, ‘You had two ends of the spectrum; the cheap end that relied on lots of intent and basically getting as drunk as possible as quickly as possible, then towards the more premium end, the offering was aloof and exclusive and about sipping tequila in armchairs and you weren’t really sure if you were allowed to do it. We wanted to create something that was going to invite people into the category, to be the tequila to get you drinking tequila.”
El Rayo Tequila comes to the UK at a time when tequila consumption is on the rise. The National Chamber for the Tequila Industry revealed through local newspaper El Economista in December that exports of tequila had hit record highs for the ninth year in a row, reaching 222.7 million litres. The United Kingdom is the fifth largest export market.
Bishop and Vereker worked with Maestro Tequilero Oscar Garcia to produce a unique and modern tequila made from a blend of highland and lowland agave. The combination means the tequila harnesses both the citrus and floral notes of the highlands alongside the peppery, vegetal flavours commonly associated with the lowlands. The agave is grown over the course of eight years, and then the blend is roasted for 12 hours before being shredded and crushed. Finally, it is twice distilled in 105-year-old copper stills.
El Rayo has released two expressions into the UK market: an unaged No.1 Plata (RRP £39.95) showing a buttery texture and notes of pepper and pineapple, and a No.2 Reposado (RRP £43.95), aged for seven months in American white oak whiskey barrels. With the Reposado, expect a burst of salted caramel and a subtle hint of smoke as well as gentle flavours of almond with orange zest.
The brand’s name, El Rayo or lightning, alludes to the Mexican folk tale of lightning striking the blue agave. Myth describes how a local campesino witnessed this moment and followed the burning glow in the distance. The cooked agave plant was discovered and tequila was born.
Bishop and Vereker spent a lot of time in Guadalajara and Mexico City as they developed the brand. The bottles of El Rayo feature lightning against a colourful backdrop of Mexico’s landscape.
“Modern Mexico has the most amazing culture of creativity which is exposed through vibrant expressive colours and beautiful street art.” Bishop says. “We wanted to present an authentic story in the most contemporary and desirable way possible. Using the key symbol of lightning (from the story of the origins of tequila) was our nod to its heritage and by presenting it in a colourful and contemporary manner it was our way of saying there is a chance for a new direction for the category.”
And so what exactly is the new direction that the duo wants to their tequila to take?
Creating a highball alternative
Bishop and Vereker reveal that they will champion the tequila-and-tonic as their chosen serve. When asked about how they plan to embark on this ambitious task, considering the popularity of the G&T (the WSTA revealed that UK gin sales had surpassed £2bn in 2018), Bishop believes that saturation in the gin market will naturally lead discerning consumers to tequila.
“The consumer now craves new experiences, and young adults in particular are keen to experience something different from the norm. They are the earliest adopters of trends. These drinkers have grown tired of trying their twentieth new gin innovation and will seek a new spirit; enter premium tequila. Enter tequila and tonic,” Bishop explains.
Bishops also says that El Rayo aims to make the tequila and tonic a fresh alternative to the modern drinker’s repertoire and admits that education will play a part in this. Education will help consumers “understand the nuanced natural flavours that the agave develops over eight years of growing, much like gin with botanicals.”
Bishop adds, “There is a combination of factors that make now the perfect time for tequila to wrestle some market share back from gin. Going after the G&T is a bold move but we anticipate a bold response from a younger consumer that craves new experiences.”
El Rayo has already got formidable on-trade presence
El Rayo has already landed exciting listings at some of London’s top bars and restaurants including newly opened agave bar Hacha in Dalston, as well as TT Liquor, Gymkhana, Shrub & Shutter, and Chiltern Firehouse, to name a few. The brand will be running activations across these accounts in order to push the T&T, as well as digital campaigns to reach new audiences. You can also find El Rayo at the Tequila Show and any interested buyers can also reach out to Tom for samples by contacting him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can the T&T take on Britain’s favourite highball serve head on? Time will tell.