El Bandito on agave's constantly changing position in the UK on-trade

17 May 2017

Liverpool is normally their stomping ground, but last month the El Bandito guys were in London for a pop-up (what else?), passionately waving the agave flag.

For those of you who don't already know, El Bandito is the brainchild of business partners John Ennis and Matt Farrell, who have built a sizeable six-bar empire. Since they started blazing a trail, Ennis and Farrell’s agave-loving work has received a lot of attention and impressed Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal so much it was awarded the ‘Mezcaleria’ status – one of the first bars in the UK to receive such an honour.

The team has seen a seismic change in agave’s status in the UK on-trade and further afield. 'As a category the saying goes you don't find mezcal, mezcal finds you,' Ennis, co-owner of the Graffiti Spirits Group, of which El Bandito is a part of, told Imbibe. 'Both Matt and I in our early years were big rum fans but eventually tequila took over as our preferred spirit. Since then we've learnt a lot about the category and appreciate its honesty and simplicity. Also over the years we have developed good relationships with producers and importers so it helps that we are always keeping up to date with future developments.'

John Ennis
John Ennis

El Bandito had a mammoth 50 tequilas and 25 mezcals at the pop-up, so it's fair to say they know a thing or two about stock. When it comes to choosing which products to stock, Ennis says they keep it simple with three considerations. 'First, do we like it? Second, does the brand and product have a good integrity that we can stand behind? Third, will our guests like it? It doesn't really get more simple than that unless you are being told what to sell, but as most brand companies and agencies will tell you, we speak our minds and aren't afraid to call out things which don't sound right.'

All change please 

'The biggest things to effect the agave category in the UK recently are the statement 100% agave, education and a surge of mezcal brands on the global market.

'The statement of 100% agave gave way to educating bartenders about the product and what's in it. Believe it or not, there was a time when the average bartender couldn't tell you how most products were made, never mind going into intricate details of soils, farmers and distillers. I think this development fell at a time when bartenders were more susceptible to being educated.'

Ennis attributes thirst for knowledge to the likes of Diageo, Bacardi and Pernod. 'They've spent mucho dinero in the past decade on comps, trips and seminars – all obviously designed to sell more product but there's no harm in that.'

Another change, Ennis says, is down to availability. 'Ten years ago mezcal was a hard to get hold of, unless you were buying tequila. Since Ron Cooper brought Del Maguey to a more mass market, a lot of other people have followed suit. And with people like Phil Bayley and Tomas Estes constantly touring the world spreading the good word it has become, more than ever, a category that intrigues all who it finds.'

In terms of the future, Ennis thinks change is in the wind.

'I think we'll see more regulations hit mezcal as a whole and the industry clamping down on cowboy producers that are only in it to make a quick buck. I think we'll also see a turn-around in how consumers treat the category. In El Bandito LDN we are already seeing the average consumer ordering tasting flights with the wanting to know more and being fascinated with some of the facts of the category. It's been a very positive few years for agave.'

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