Sazerac has hit an unmitigated grand slam home run with their Fireball Cinnamon “Whiskey”. The liqueur has become a national sensation, dethroning other shot-focused champion brands like Jägermeister and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey. Fireball has not only been a major success financially for Sazerac, it also represents a win with a product that isn’t confined into a specific market segment. Middle-aged men and women have been shooting Fireball side by side with millennials, and both in massive amounts.
But Sazerac realizes just how quickly the party could be over for Fireball. Its skyrocketing success has quickly transformed it from being hip and appealing to millennials to something extremely mainstream. Do college aged kids really want to be shooting what suburban housewives are drinking? Enter Tijuana Sweet Heat, a new shot-focused product from Sazerac.
Tijuana Sweet Heat is a tequila liqueur that takes a gold tequila (NOM 1143) and mixes it with agave nectar at an ABV below traditional tequila (35% vs 40%). The bottle does a little bit of misdirection with the words “Tequila” and “100% Agave Nectar” – enough to hit all the right buzzwords while still being labeled correctly if you actually read the whole label.
Sazerac has done a good job of creating a brand that conveys a similar brand promise to Fireball while still being very representative of the base tequila. The bottle’s colorful striking rattlesnake will surely make it stand out on the back bar, and its bottle shape is absolutely designed to live on top of a chill shot machine.
Tijuana Sweet Heat (35% ABV, 70 proof, $15.99) – Sweet agave syrup is quite clear right from the start and it’s complemented by white pepper, bell pepper, dill, and roasted agave. On the palate Tijuana Sweet Heat is very sweet. The thick agave syrup is right there in the entry overshadowing the other flavors in the mix. It isn’t until the midpalate that the underlying tequila qualities start to emerge, with soft white pepper and cinnamon backed by roasted agave and agave syrup. The finish holds on to a touch of the spice with a very small pepper kick, but manages to lose a fair amount of the sweetness from the opening.
Tequila aficionados will surely see Tijuana Sweet Heat as a dumbing down of an amazing spirit, and it very much is. The agave syrup covers up much of the depth and range of flavors in the base tequila and presents a highly sweetened tequila experience with an anemic pepper kick. But this isn’t tequila, it’s a liqueur, in many of the same ways that Fireball isn’t whiskey (it’s also a liqueur). For millennials looking to move on from Fireball, Tijuana Sweet Heat is going to be a revelation.
Tijuana Sweet Heat is everything that a shot brand needs to be: it’s sweet, easy to shoot, with enough flavor to feel like you aren’t just shooting pure sugar and alcohol and enough rounding of the alcohol that you can quickly take another shot. The tequila flavor underneath all that agave syrup is fairly textbook, and perhaps it’s enough to be an on-ramp for some drinkers from the shots world to the world of true agave spirits.
Even though Tijuana Sweet Heat is overly sweet, it’s still an extremely savvy move on the part of Sazerac, who is clearly reading the tea leaves and seeing an immense opportunity in the tequila space as well as an opportunity to extend their dominance in the shots space.
Like Jack Daniel’s did with their Tennessee Fire and Jim Beam did with their Kentucky Fire, Sazerac is rolling out Tijuana Sweet Heat in select markets to start, with Maryland, Georgia, Tennessee, and Missouri getting the liqueur in March, New Jersey and Wisconsin in April, and Texas in May. There’s no word on the exact date that Tijuana Sweet Heat will go national, but we expect if it does well in the initial markets, it should be rolling nationally in June.
Grading Tijuana Sweet Heat as a spirit, it gets docked serious points for being way too sweet, covering up the fantastic flavors that tequila brings to the equation, and being under proofed. A clear 74 point spirit. However, this is a situation where a grade isn’t going to matter. For the shot-focused consumer who wants something overly sweet, easy to shoot, and fun, they’ll be quite pleased with a purchase of Tijuana Sweet Heat.