A decade ago, you might have been hard-pressed to find anything other than a $20 bottle of Jose Cuervo at your local liquor store. Back then, there probably wasn't even a shelf dedicated to tequila. The dominant perception of Mexico's signature spirit was that of tequila as “firewater,” a cheap liquor best reserved for budget drinkers, college partiers, and those who generally cared less about mouthfeel and artisanal production methods than about, well, getting drunk.
Today, though, the landscape is entirely different. A decent liquor store may well have a dozen different brands and specialty spirit shops may have as many as a hundred, with a variety of styles (blanco, añejo, reposado) and flavors (jalapeño, cocoa, tropical) represented.
And there's another difference: price. While you can still find a $20 bottle of firewater, the price for a good bottle of tequila in the U.S. has been spiraling upward. Of the 185 types of tequilas and mezcales sold by New York City's Astor Wines and Spirits, for example, 39 are over $100 a bottle. Fifty-six are between $51 and $100.
Is the escalating price merely a reflection of increased demand and clever branding?