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After Hours Battle Royale: Bourbon Versus Tequila

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Battle Royale! In this corner hailing from Kentucky, welcome “The Pride of America” – Bourbon! And in this corner, hailing from Mexico, welcome “Mexican Fighting Water” – Tequila. Now, Let’s get ready tooooo ruuummbbbllle!! Ok, maybe a bit dramatic, but at times the discussion comparing these two can get pretty frisky. I believe it is time we do a side-by-side and see who is king. The only thing I am sure of is that I am going to make somebody mad in the end. With that, let’s get to it–bourbon versus tequila.

Bourbon Versus Tequila

To be fair to both, we need to crunch the numbers. If we look at overall U.S. sales, Tequila seems to win round one. In 2023 Tequila sales exceeded 31.5 million 9-liter cases sold with sales reaching nearly $13 billion. Bourbon in comparison sat at just south of 30 million case sales at close to $10 billion. According to the IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, tequila has just surpassed American whiskey to become the second most valuable spirits category in the United States. In 2021, tequila overtook bourbon and rum to become the third-largest spirits category in the U.S. Now, market analysis is predicting that tequila will overtake vodka in 2023 to become the single biggest spirits category by volume. So round one goes to Tequila.

(Photo by iStock)

Round two will be much more interesting. While my head explodes when I hear this discussion, there seems to be great angst over which is healthier. Really?… It’s Bourbon and Tequila for God’s sake. We are not talking about Kale. Ok, rant complete so let’s see what the booze doctors have to say. Well, Tequila is often celebrated as one of the healthiest hard liquors due to its lower calorie count and pure agave base, which means it’s naturally gluten-free. Additionally, the fermentation process of the agave for tequila production is believed to produce prebiotic and probiotic-like benefits, which can aid in digestion. While that may be the case, “What Whiskey Will Not Cure…There Is No Cure For!” Ok, that’s an Irish proverb but I am certain it’s true. So, it looks like round two also goes to Tequila.

Spirit Profiles

The third and final round is going to look at the profiles of Bourbon versus Tequila drinkers. It’s been said that Tequila drinkers are the definition of “I’m here for a good time, not a long time.” They tend to be in party mode and look for companions to do shots with as they sing at the bar. These bouts lead to questionable dance moves and late-night phone calls to their exes. Mornings following this are completed with five cups of coffee, Gatorade, and cold pizza.

Bourbon drinkers, on the other hand, generally drink in a sipping fashion to appreciate the taste and experience. While they are certainly in search of an enjoyable evening, rare is the night that gets out of hand. Well, OK…that may be a bit of a stretch. If you have ever attended a country music festival, you would see what I mean. So round three is a tie.

A good pour of Kentucky bourbon.
(Photo by iStock)

As we gather in the center of the ring, it grieves me to say it, but it looks like Tequila wins this match. However, I have seen massive growth in the spirit market in the past. First, it was with Scotch. Every hipster under the sun wanted to be cool and drink Scotch. The market exploded as did prices. In time they realized that they didn’t like Scotch. Then they turned to Bourbon as a demonstration of manhood or womanhood. And like Scotch, they eventually moved on. Now they are into Tequila and that market has exploded. Time will tell if that is where they will settle.

Beyond Jim & Jose

The little secret is that serious Bourbon drinkers also drink fine Tequila and vice versa. Any spirit that is expertly produced and aged correctly can be exceptional. This is a lesson I learned with Tequila years ago. All I knew was Jose Cuervo and the horrible morning that followed. A man much wiser than myself introduced me to fine tequila and I never went back. The key is to educate yourself and choose high-end spirits. Yes, they are more expensive, but it is worth it. I am personally a big Bourbon fan, so I will say this. While Tequila is the winner of the match-up, Bourbon drinkers will not care. They will just stay at their table sipping aged Bourbon, eating a steak and then smoking a cigar. Tequila drinkers will party all night and wake up missing a shoe. Enjoy your choice but be responsible.

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