On Aug. 18, 2022, an unconventional yet aesthetically pleasing eight-shaped bottle of tequila debuted on the American market. From Kendall Jenner’s cult 818 tequila brand, the $200 release stirred strong reactions from the internet. Was this the intent behind the design? Or was this just another instance of a tequila brand shaking things up?
Take a glance behind any bar and you’ll find a range of bottles neatly positioned on display. From vodka to bourbon, their shapes vary in design, but none are more artistically diverse than those of tequila. Tall elongated bottles, hand-painted ceramic styles, and bottles adorned with weighty, metallic closures, the variation of tequila bottles is both novel and begs the question: When did these vessels get so artsy?
Tequila by the Numbers
Tequila, the spirit singularly made from the Blue Weber agave plant, is much more than alcohol intended for rounds of shots. Made only in Mexico, it showcases a sense of place, culture, and pride — a pride that extends to the entirety of the product, including the bottle.
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Mexico is known for its skillful glass-blowing artisans who first began production in Puebla in the early to mid-1500s. While glass was the most convenient choice historically, as tequila made its way to the U.S. and rapidly gained in popularity, standing out from the sea of brands became just as important as the liquid inside the bottle. This began a shift to presenting a product that conveyed finesse and oozed luxury.
Undeniably, tequila has led the pack in sales growth within the spirits industry in recent years. In 2021 alone, the agave spirit’s sales accounted for nearly one-third of the spirits industry’s revenue growth in America. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), 2021 delivered the highest number of sales within the category for premium (priced more than $12) and super-premium (more than $35) bottles.
Last year’s figures mark the continuation of a trend that’s been years in the making. A 2017 report issued by DISCUS showed volume sales of super-premium brands soared 1,042 percent since 2002 — the same year Don Julio launched 1942 in its famed brown bottle.
That particular packaging no doubt plays an important role in this tale. The success of this “unicorn” tequila, and its glass bottle shaped like an agave leaf, has led to many releases that confirm the old adage of imitation being the highest form of flattery. Just look to Michael Jordan’s super-premium tequila brand Cincoro, which launched in September 2019; Casa Noble’s Marqués de Casa Noble Añejo, released in 2021; and Patrón’s newest addition, Patrón El Alto, unveiled just this month. All three bear more than a passing resemblance to 1942 (see also: Bruno Mars’ Selva Rey in the rum category). But while Don Julio may have been the first and led the way for tequila packaging to become so creative, each brand has its own story and more importantly an individual aesthetic to please drinkers.
A Story of Heritage
When Carlos Monsalve, founder and owner of Grand Mayan Tequila, first launched his line in 2006, he wanted customers to see the quality of his tequila from the bar. Noticing that most of the tequila offerings on the market came in glass bottles, he opted for handmade, round ceramic vessels that were distinctly identifiable and visually stunning.
For Monsalve, ceramic packaging provided something glass couldn’t by allowing him to display symbols that run through Mexico’s culture. “I was very lucky to find a small factory and worked with them to create the Grand Mayan bottles we use today,” he says
Each of Grand Mayan’s bottles is painted with colorful designs featuring leaves and flowers, both of which symbolize the summer season that brings forth nature and happiness to the people. “It’s very important to keep the traditions alive and to honor the work of the many artisans and craftsmen that Mexico is home to,” Monsalve says.
A similar story can be found behind Clase Azul’s premium range of tequilas, which come housed in handmade decanters topped with a charming signature bell. The design was initially inspired by Mexican Baroque architecture, but the intention was for the vessel to offer a second life after its contents were consumed.
Just as unique in material and artistic display are Tequila Komos’s colorful porcelain bottles, which are crafted to cease water and bacteria absorption from air in order to deliver a premium taste. From Añejo Cristalino to Reposado Rosa, Tequila Komos’s unique styles are housed in similarly glamorous bottles handcrafted in Mexico, making them not only one-of-a-kind pieces of art but also a talking point and value-add for customers.
Why Tequila and Why Now?
For most spirit categories, special packaging represents exclusive or limited releases. But in the case of tequila, eccentric designs go hand in hand with premium quality and price points to match. In fact, most of these bottles hold permanent positions within the brand’s lineup. And with many of them retailing for $150 and above, these tequilas exude luxury and entice consumers with the allure of grandeur.
From Don Julio 1942, to recent releases such as Grand Mayan’s Ultra Añejo, Marqués de Casa Noble Añejo Tequila, and Patrón El Alto, the eye-catching bottles almost always house aged tequila. In 2006, the Mexican government added the extra aged añejo category to tequila, furthering the appeal of top-end tequilas — and, by extension, ornate bottles. This surely makes it easier for producers to justify top dollar for their releases. And they haven’t been shy about doing just that.
In the last two years alone, we’ve seen the launch of several premium tequilas with extreme price tags. Both Kendall Jenner’s 818 eight-shaped bottle ($200) and Elon Musk’s limited lightning-bolt-shaped Teslaquila ($2,000) have gone viral thanks in large part to their designs. (Their celebrity backers surely haven’t hurt matters, either.)
With the continued growth of high-end tequilas, the release of these lavish bottles comes as little surprise and shows no signs of slowing. In fact, data reported by Shanken News Daily has shown that super-premium tequilas have averaged 19 percent annual growth over the past five years.
Tequila lends itself to creativity, and despite soaring price tags, the heart of many of these creative designs lies in the artwork and innovation of real people and bonafide traditions. “It’s all about the passion and unbeatable storytelling that leads to interesting conversations and joyful moments of sharing and celebration,” says Miguel Hernandez, creative director of Clase Azul. “The silhouettes and colors are as exquisite as Mexican culture — and that is what makes tequila bottles unlike any other.”