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The Agave – A gift from the gods!

They grow in deserts and subtropical climates. They’ve got spines.
Pretty clear, Agaves are cacti, right? Wrong!

In fact Agaves are more closely related to Orchids and asparagus than to cacti.

Biologically Agaves make up their own genus and include about 200 different species of all shapes and sizes. Further, and this may only be interesting to the plant nerds among you, they belong to the subfamily Agavoideae, the family Asparagaceae and the order Asparagales.

As the Agaves inhabit different ecosystems such as deserts, bush and dry forests but also oak, pine or even rain forests, it is possible to find Agaves between the Southern parts of the United States and the Northern parts of South America. The greatest variety of Agaves can be found in – you probably guessed it – Mexico.

Agaves can practically grow anywhere: on plains and hills, among rocks, in slopes or vertical walls.

They are perfectly adapted to their environments which are mostly characterized by droughts and high temperatures. Their leaves grow in a compact spiral that maximizes the amount of water it can capture during the rainy season and also help to store the liquid as well as to capture solar energy. The terminal spines help to protect the plant and make the Agave pretty much immune to any possible danger – except, of course, us thirsty Humans.

Agave Espadin

 A gift from the gods!

If you are reading this, you probably already know that Mezcal isn’t exactly a new invention. Although Mezcal dates back for “only” about 400 years, archeological evidence such as chewed up agave fibers and excreta found in caves suggests that the Agave was of great importance to the livelihood of the first human settlements in the region. Regional cultures developed an enormous variety of uses for the plant, mainly as a nutritional source or the fermented drink “Pulque”, which is sort of the ancestor of our beloved Mezcal.

However the Agave was more than just a nutrient. The ancient civilizations saw the Agave as a gift from the gods (We do too!). The Aztec goddess Mayahuel represented the Agave plant, as a giver of life, endless source of mexcalli, aguamiel and pulque.

Agave & Mezcal

Technically speaking Mezcal can be made from any Agave species. But for various reasons “only” about 40 different species are used to produce Mezcal. (Taken into account that you can blend different Agaves, this leaves you with tens of thousands of different possible blends and tastes. And that doesn’t even include the differences in taste caused by different production methods and recipes. So don’t worry, you could probably try a different Mezcal every day for the rest of your life.) The most prominent Agave type used for Mezcal is the mighty Agave Espadin, the Agave we also use for Buen Suceso. The leaves of the Espadin can be as long as three meters and one piña can weigh more than 200 kg. Overall one Espadin can easily produce about 15 liters of Mezcal. In comparison the usually wild growing Tobala is a much smaller plant that will only yield about one liter per plant. Other notable Agaves used to produce Mezcal include the arroqueno, mexicano, madrecuixe or regional varieties such as the Agave durangensis.

Mature plants must be selected and cut just before the quiote or flower stalk sprouts and blooms.

Depending on the Agave, it may take decades until a plant is ready for harvest.

The Agaves we use, mature for about ten to twelve years, which is actually the longest growth cycle of any spirit ingredient. Only experienced Jimadores, the field workers who harvest the plant, know when the best time to harvest is. They first cuts the stalks with a machete or jima leaving the stem exposed. After the stem is cut in hard manual labor, it is dislodged from the ground with a large dibber and then the remaining stalks are cut. What is left is the heart of the Agave also called piña.

The piña is then used to fulfill the Agave’s destiny – the production of Mezcal! So next time you have a sip of Mezcal, toast to the goddess Mayahuel and appreciate the long history and the importance of the Agave to the people of Mexico.

¡Salud!