Vintage Ad Archive: Tequila For All!

These days, Tequila is well-established as one of the "big five" spirits (alongside Whiskey, Rum, Vodka, and Gin), but when I decided to sift through my files and put together a Tequila-themed archival article, I was a bit surprised to discover that it hasn't always been that way – in fact, it seems that for the most part, Tequila was all but invisible to Americans through most of the 20th century.

In fact, while digging through my stacks of old liquor catalogs, I've only found one dated prior to 1974 that lists any Agave-derived product (and even then, only a single brand, placed all the way at the back with the cordials and "America's latest 'IN' drink, Campari").

Liquor store catalog, 1966
Liquor store catalog, 1966

Oh sure, there were occasional Cuervo ads in men's magazines, you could order Tequila-based drinks in many Mexican restaurants, and you'd read an occasional mention of Margaritas in magazine articles and short stories here and there…  But overall, it was more of a specialty item than a staple, and would remain so until the '70s.

A 1976 article from Time Magazine noted that "Before 1970, liquor stores used to stock Tequila —if they carried it at all—on a back shelf alongside ouzo and grappa…", before going on to discuss the sudden explosion of the market: "…where only a handful of brands were available north of the border ten years ago, some 250 labels are now registered, accounting for total yearly sales of more than 5 million gallons."

And once America caught the Tequila bug[Not to be confused with the Mezcal worm, which is something quite different and mostly mythical -Ed.], it did so in a big way.  Sales increased exponentially through the tail end of the '70s, and Tequila was the "in" thing to drink, an essential ingredient in all manner of cool cocktails, and the inspiration for a Top 10 hit single.  In fact, other liquors created new ad campaigns in an attempt to piggyback on Tequila's new-found popularity.

Grand Marnier, 1975
Grand Marnier, 1975

And once the '70s turned into the '80s, Tequila continued its march to the forefront of American tastes, and its sister beverage, Mezcal, began to find its own devoted audience.  Savvy distillers capitalized on their new-found visibility, and launched campaigns that branded Tequila as the beverage of beachfront party culture, cementing the salt/shot/lime delivery method in public perception, and in the process, inventing an image that the industry wrestles with to this day. This is because nowadays, Tequila has found a devoted audience in America, one that respects its time honored methods and traditions, eschewing the mixtos of yore and drinking quality 100% agave. And organizations such as the Tequila Interchange Project (TIP) are educating bartenders and consumers about the category to make more informed choices.

And to round out this trip down Mexicali-memory lane, here's a few pages from one of the coolest Agave items in my collection: an early '60s bilingual recipe booklet from José Cuervo, filled with beautiful illustrations of a Disney-esque cartoon crow.  (José Cuervo in English = "Joe Crow".)

 Vintage Cuervo Margarita Recipe

Vintage Cuervo Margarita Recipe

Sure looks good, doesn't it?  I'm thinking it's time to fire up the cocktail shaker, and make a few rounds of margaritas myself...  I'll be back soon, with more classic drink-themed visuals for your enjoyment!