The world of agave spirits continues its trajectory with tequila, mezcal, and other agave spirits breaking records in all directions. 2022 was full of ongoing trends, including the never ending barrage of celebrity backed brands, more cristalinos, and spirits that fall outside of any established denomination of origin. For better or worse, here are four additional movements I’ve seen picking up across the industry that I expect we will see grow in 2023.
USA grown agave
Agave spirits made in the United States are relatively new, with most launching within the last 5-10 years. Most of these spirits are made from processed agave (agave nectar) that is easily imported. The agave base is fermented and distilled, and the spirit comes out with a ‘100% blue agave’ statement. Without getting mired in conversations about quality, heritage, and appropriation (all worthy conversations for another time), it’s important to draw the distinction between United States made agave spirits from imported processed agave, and United States made agave spirits from United States grown plants.
Agaves have been central to many civilizations of the Americas long before California’s borders existed, and it is no surprise that agaves can grow there and in other regions of the United States. For the last 10 years there has been considerable investment made in planting agave in California, no doubt banking on the rising interest in agave spirits and anticipating a healthy market for ‘local versions.’ California even has a California Agave Council complete with legislation that requires anything labeled as California Agave Spirit to be made from 100% California grown agave.
The explosion of craft distilleries plus the natural obsession that spirits makers and lovers develop for agave has created fertile ground. This is one of the reasons Craig Reynolds founded the California Agave Council. One of the most interesting projects to feature California grown agave is Jano Spirits, using Agave Americana grown by Mexican born farmer Regino Garcia.
The way we think about and categorize agave spirits arguably has more to do with politics and laws than tradition. If we look at historical records we see common ancestors for all agave spirits, and while the common roots may challenge our generalized understanding of the different categories, it is also the impetus for brands to embrace old and experiment with different techniques. Siembra Spirits Tequila Ancestral is at once a tequila, a mezcal, and most interestingly, a taste of history. The same can be said for Caballito Cerrero. Along with the growing number of ‘uncategorized’ agave spirits, these delicious and interesting examples have whet the appetite of those who are thirsty for historical spirits, and spirits that blend elements of different categories. As the craft tequila market continues to grow, this relatively untapped approach is likely to expand in the form of special releases and maybe new brands. While we may also see some ‘mezcal that is made/tastes like tequila’ my expectation and hope is that we see more ‘tequila that is made/tastes like mezcal.’
As the rise of agave spirits deepens into the mainstream market (and potential money to be made increases) we’ve seen a huge boom of mostly young attractive people on instagram and tiktok who have claimed the role of ‘agave influencer.’ As with any and all influencers, it’s important to get to know someone’s taste to make sure it aligns with your own before blindly following recommendations. It’s also a good idea to know which recommendations may be sponsored or paid for by brands. Typically I like to rely on recommendations by people who are not paid by brands, like friends and liquor store clerks, though there are exceptions. As the market of craft agave spirits grows, I expect a bombardment of attractive young people posting soon-to-be-iconic pictures of distilleries, bars, and cultural sights. Remember, the experts have always been and always will be the people and communities who have been in relationship with agave for generations, regardless of how many likes or follows. This is especially important to understand for any of us wanting to engage in agave tourism of any kind.
Agave has been a significant driver in the world of craft cocktails for the last decade plus with no signs of slowing down. Agave spirits are complex and work well with a wide range of flavors, it’s no surprise that many of the forays into savory cocktails feature agave. Broth, mushrooms, miso, ferments and spice find natural flavor pairings in complex mezcal and rich tequila. Many of us agave lovers are thankful for this new angle that highlights savory instead of the sweet or sour flavors that traditionally dominate cocktail menus. By Cinco De Mayo 2023 I suspect we will see a wave of staple savory agave cocktails on menus of forward thinking bars and restaurants.