Agave Spirits in the United States

Tequila is one of the most well-known and widely appreciated liquors in the world, but did you know that it’s not really the only agave-based spirit out there? In recent years, tequila has grown massively in popularity, and because of this, many other players have joined the agave spirit game. As tequila moves forward into the new year and beyond, it is expected to continue to gain prominence. Because of this, other types of agave spirits are likely to emerge and flourish, too, and you may begin seeing them on the shelves of your local liquor store sooner than you might realize. Read on to learn more about what you can expect in upcoming agave spirits.

What Defines Tequila?

Before you can learn about the differences in tequila and agave spirits, you should first understand just what defines tequila and how it earns this label.
Tequila is an alcoholic drink that is distilled from the blue agave plant. This plant is grown in the Jalisco region of Mexico and is one of many different kinds of agave. Because of the altitude, climate, and natural pollinators that live in Jalisco and surrounding areas, the blue agave thrives in this part of Mexico and is difficult or even impossible to grow elsewhere, depending on location.

To get even more specific, only one type of blue agave can be used in the production of tequila. This type is called Agave tequila and is bigger than its next closest counterpart. The plant grows for anywhere from seven to fourteen years before it is harvested for the distillation process and, eventually, turned into tequila.

Liquor can only be called tequila if it is made of this type of blue agave and produced in Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. As you can see, there are a lot of specifics that go into designating a liquor as a tequila.

Other Types of Agave Spirits

Since tequila must be very specific to earn its title, other agave spirits cannot legally be referred to as tequila. However, this doesn’t mean other countries and locations can’t try their hand at making agave spirits at all, and many are starting to branch out into this unique and fairly unexplored realm of liquor distillation. Check out the list below to find out more about a few distilleries that are making waves by producing their own tequila-like agave-based liquors, specifically for use in cocktails.

• Mean Mule Distilling Company

Tequila is one of the highest-selling liquors in the United States, but even so, there aren’t a lot of US-based agave spirit distilleries. Mean Mule decided to change that when it launched. Focusing on a hearty love and appreciation of mezcal and tequila both, this distillery seeks to create an agave liquor known as Mean Mule’s Silver Agave American Spirit. This spirit is made from blue agave, just like tequila, and ends up being a clean, fresh, and very citrusy drink perfect for sipping or mixing into just about any cocktail you would usually use tequila for.

• Spirits of St. Louis

This is another United States distillery that’s trying to learn how to ferment and distill agave plants. It took several years for the label to perfect its clear agave formula, especially since the secrets of tequila production can sometimes be heavily guarded. However, it now produces both a clear and a reposado, although the reposado is the only one that can be purchased as of yet. It is called Agave Blue, and it’s made from imported nectar before it is aged in oak barrels to achieve a signature flavor.

Of course, these two distilleries are located in the United States, but Mexico has been working toward creating non-tequila agave spirits for decades. Some of these date back almost as long ago as tequila itself, and some are made with extremely traditional methods. As tequila becomes more popular, these alternate types of agave spirits also distilled in Mexico are sure to follow, and they’re likely to quickly find a place on the shelves of liquor stores around the world as well. If you’re looking for some options outside the US, here are a few other twists on agave spirits you might want to sample:

• Cocuy: This is a Venezuelan spirit made from agave cocui, which tastes a lot like mezcal when it’s finished being distilled.
• Aguamiel: This drink also hails from Mexico, but comes from outside the regions where tequila is produced. It is made from fermented sap from the agave plant, which transforms into a sweet, comforting beverage with very low alcohol content.
• Bacanora: This is an old, traditional type of agave spirit that comes from Sonora. It’s made from fermented and distilled agave that is put through the distillation process more than once, specifically in stainless steel. This liquor was not legal to produce until the 1990s.
• Sikua: Made in Michoacán, this agave spirit is basically a mezcal from a time before it could be labeled as such.
• Raicilla: This spirit comes from Jalisco, the same place where tequila is made. It’s made slightly differently from tequila and dates back centuries.
• Sotol: This spirit is made from a plant that is also called sotol, which grows in Chihuahua, Mexico. The drink is not technically made from agave but is very similar to those that are, and it is produced in more or less the same way as agave spirits.

Agave spirits may not completely take the place of tequila, but there’s a chance they’ll become acceptable sooner rather than later, especially as cocktail bases and mix-ins. It’s a good idea, if you’re a tequila fan, to stay up to date on information like this and know what to expect the next time you go shopping for your favorite liquor. And if you feel like giving another agave spirit a chance, don’t be afraid to branch out of your comfort zone a little and see what these other varieties have to offer!

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