World Tequila Day is only days away and we caught up with Proximo Tequila Specialist, Hayley Dixon on everything agave. Read on to find out about her role, love for the spirit and the Tequila cocktail you should feature on your list this Wednesday July 24.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started in the industry?
My hospitality career came off the back of almost 10 years in retail and a failed attempt at University. After working in a few cafes and as a waitress, I decided I wanted to try bar work. I ended up doing one of those ‘bar schools’ and although I don’t think the school itself taught me a great deal, the manager of the bar where we were doing the classes offered me a job.
Since then I have been lucky enough to land jobs in some top bars and with some incredible mentors such as Linus Schaxmann, Joey Jones and Jorge Cervantes. I don’t think I would have made it to where I am today, working for the number one tequila brand in world, without these guys sharing their passion with me.
Tell us what your average day looks like in the industry?
No two days are ever the same. I could be out visiting bars on World Tequila Day, training bar teams on 1800 Tequila, organising events, behind a bar in the snow, serving margaritas at a music festival, or sipping on Jose Cuervo in Mexico. We have the broadest Tequila range in the world, so there are no limits to where or what I could be doing.
Do you remember the moment you fell in love with Tequila?
I am not sure anyone remembers that moment in their life! While I don’t know the exact moment, there have been a few times along the way where I have had a ‘pinch me’ moment. Driving up through the agave fields on the back of a ute holding on for dear life and getting to the top of a mountain overlooking all the agave fields at sunset, a giant jug of margarita in hand, was one of them. Just visiting the families and distilleries in Mexico is enough to make anyone fall in love with Tequila. Seeing the hard work and processes associated with the spirit is amazing. Anyone lucky enough to sit and sip on Jose Cuervo’s Reserva De La Familia understands how amazing all those processes can taste.
What are you doing to educate people on appreciating Tequila?
At Jose Cuervo we are putting a big focus on sipping, not shooting Tequila. Tequila is on two different levels when it comes to consumer vs industry, so education is still very much at the forefront of our priorities. We are still up against the perception that Tequila is the source behind ‘that one bad experience’ that sparks fear, even though we know it to be untrue. For that reason, at Jose Cuervo we spend time on the versatility and mixability of Tequila. Showcasing its place in cocktails and on menus and alongside different fruits, nuts and foods to help showcase its sweet and complex flavour profile.
Out of the 1800 range, what’s a good tequila to recommend for new drinkers to the category?
I think I say this in almost every masterclass I do: 1800 Añejo is my ‘stepping-stone’ Tequila. For anyone new to the category, it is the perfect Tequila to start on. It is very oak, vanilla, cinnamon and clove driven, causing it to drink very much like a fine whisky or cognac. For that reason, it is also a great go-to alternative for cocktails such as an Old Fashioned, Manhattan, or a richer, more complex Tommy’s Margarita.
How do you approach the creation of new Tequila cocktails? Where you do you start?
A few years ago, I would have responded to this question very differently. I guess people change and therefore, so does their style! I now look at cocktails in a way that initially may seem, more straightforward, but realistically tastes more complex. I rarely aim for more than four ingredients, and I avoid house-made ingredients if I can. Seasonal, fresh ingredients benefit a drink more than a smoked glass ever will. I will often start with a concept – for example, I will see flavour combinations in food, and try to translate that into a drink. Once I have my flavour foundations, I work back towards the Tequila that will benefit the drink the most. 1800 Tequila has become my staple range for cocktails as the flavours hold up incredibly well against other ingredients. From there, it is just like all cocktail creation – a lot of trial and error.
If you could save only one bottle of Tequila from your collection because of a fire, which ones would you grab?
This is an incredibly tough question. Do you go for the rarest or the one you enjoy drinking the most? Jose Cuervo Platino is undoubtedly my favourite. I never skip it in a tasting and if there was a fire, believe me, I would be holding as many bottles as I could. However, Reserva De La Familia is a vintage we release each year in very small amounts and with a whole new flavour profile each time so it would be hidden under an arm if I could manage an extra. That is based on personal preference. I am a silver, lowland Tequila drinker but I know plenty of people who would reach for an Extra Añejo or highland such as Gran Centenario.
The best part of your job?
Telling Uber drivers in small talk that my job is ‘Tequila Specialist’. Seriously, Tequila is quite new to a lot of people and getting the chance to change people’s perspective, would have to be my favourite part. We have seen visible growth and understanding of the category as of late. Recently we conducted a series of 1800 Tequila tastings in Dan Murphy’s stores and the International airport and just seeing people go from not even wanting to taste Tequila to buying a bottle makes my job worth it. Bartenders and suppliers are more vocal now than ever before, and the results speak for themselves. They want good quality Tequila, and after over 220 years producing at Jose Cuervo, the growth across our premium categories reflects this.
by Hayley Dixon
Glass: Coupe or Nick & Nora
Garnish: Grated coffee beans
30ml 1800 Añejo Tequila
10ml 1800 Coconut Tequila
15ml Dom Bénédictine Herbal Liqueur
5ml Oloroso Sherry
Stir down all ingredients until correct dilution and temperature is reached. Strain into frozen coupe or Nick & Nora glass. Top with thin layer of honeyed cream*
To make honeyed cream lightly hand whip 250ml thickened cream, 50ml honey and three sugar cubes until light enough to layer on top of drink