The World of Agave Spirits - And What They Aren't Telling You

How much do you know about tequila? A ubiquitous spirit on any speed rail across the world, it is a truly global drink - yet the processes behind it are totally unique and largely misunderstood.

Tequila is a type of Agave spirit, the broader category of which are called “Mezcal” (more on this later). Agave is a pretty interesting plant - presenting as a cactus made from a semi-organised mass of spiky blades, which hide a “piña” - a massive heart which can weigh up to 100kg when fully ripe. This ripening process is not fast, mind you, with Blue Weber Agave taking up to 10 years to reach maturity (some Agaves take longer). 

Once these Agave plants are ripe, they are harvested by hand. To do this, the “jimadors”, as they are known, slice off the sharp green leaves with a tool known as a “Coa”, then cut the piña out from the ground and load it onto trucks, where it is shipped to the distillery to be steamed, mashed, fermented and distilled.

It sounds like a lot of work, right? Hand harvesting in the blazing sun, 10 years of ripening, trying to maneuver giant cactus hearts from the earth to a truck. It sounds crazy to think that all that work goes into producing a tequila which is then poured as laybacks in college bars across the world. How do they manage to keep it so cheap?

The answer - it’s not all Agave.

Mexico has never been the wealthiest country, and Tequila has been a big business for them. But the Mexican government saw that demand for Tequila was outstripping supply, and, not wanting to miss out on those export dollars, they changed the rules around Tequila. Bit by bit, they allowed progressively more non-agave sugars to be permitted, whilst still legally labeling the product Tequila, Today, Tequila only requires 51% Agave sugars, the rest being able to be made up from other sugars, commonly cane or high fructose corn syrup.Additionally, these tequilas may have other flavours or colours added. But this cocktail of ingredients is far inferior to the real thing, creating a drink that is much rougher, less complex, and arguably, giving a worse hangover the day after.

At Yatbui, we only stock 100% Agave Tequila - that is, Tequila made from 100% Agave sugars, with no additives. 100% Agave Tequila is the purest expression of Tequila, something that can be drunk neat, on the rocks, or mixed into cocktails. Shots, of course, are also fun, but lemon and salt aren’t necessary here. Interested? Search for "Tequila" above and you will find all our options.

When we talk about Agave though, it would be remiss not to spend a moment to speak about Mezcal. A wild spirit, made from many different types of Agave, some cultivated, and some foraged. Production of Mezcal is done on a micro-scale, especially if you compare to Tequila, and is even more rustic, with most of the work being done by hand or by mule. Although production of Mezcal is hugely varied, one key difference between Tequila and Mezcal is that the Agave is roasted, not steamed, creating a distinct, smoky tang. We will have a full article on Mezcal in due course, to further explore this incredible spirit, but if you want to do some exploring yourself, search for “Mezcal” in the search bar above and see our collection of unique and interesting drops.


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