F&B Insights

The Stories Behind Your Restaurant Beverage Program: The History of Agave

I recently moved to the highest town in Texas, a small unincorporated community where plant and animal life far exceed humans. One of the plants that thrive in this area is the agave, which got me thinking: If I dig up the piña or heart, can I make tequila? 

The answer to that odd question is a resounding no unless it’s a blue agave. However, any agave would do if I was in the mood for mezcal. It only requires the piña, which can weigh up to several hundred pounds, and an earthen pit for cooking. This is the main differentiating factor between mezcal and tequila. Mezcal possesses a distinct smoky flavor because the hearts are roasted in underground pits before being distilled.

So, I need the piña and a pit to roast it in for several days. Then, I mill it to extract the juices or, as an artisanal producer, macerate them by hand. The fibers and juices are placed in a stone, trunk, wood, masonry, clay, or animal skin container where the fermentation process takes place, lasting from just a few days to a few weeks. 

Then, the distillation process occurs when wood or clay stills are heated by live fire. Lastly, the mezcal rests in oak barrels for a few months to several years. The longer, the more complex the flavor. 

That’s quite a process. Do you ever wonder how it all began? Was a conquistador wandering through the desert and stumbled upon a Mayan digging up a piña to make pulque, an ancient alcoholic beverage? And did he think, “That’s the answer to our dwindling brandy supply—fermented blue agave!”

While we may never know what exactly transpired, we can investigate the history books and glimpse the beginning—the moment the beautiful agave plant transformed into some of the most popular alcoholic beverages on our planet.

Giving Thanks to Agave

Long before the conquistadors landed in present-day Mexico in 1519, the indigenous people had celebrated the plant, whose name means “illustrious” in Greek. Agave has been used for at least 10,000 years for fiber and food. It was sacred to many of West Mexico’s inhabitants as it represented Mayaheul, the Aztec goddess of nourishment and fertility.

Pulque was the first alcoholic beverage to be produced from the agave. Since about 1,000 B.C., the Olmecs and then the Aztecs created this fermented beverage used in religious rituals. The agave plant, however, did more than intoxicate. Its fibers were used to produce footwear, clothing, paper, and building materials. 

The 1500s began the distillation process and the creation of mezcal, an act primarily accredited to the conquistadors. In 1531, some of the first documented mezcal was produced. By 1600, Don Pedro Sanches de Tagle established the first tequila distillery. Then, in 1795, José Cuervo arrived on the scene, and the rest is history. In the 2000’s, agave farming is the predominant agriculture in Jalisco. Today, it represents about 50% of their agricultural economy.

The Success of Tequila

Tequila was introduced to America in 1893 at the Chicago World’s Fair and today outpaces all other distilled liquors in popularity. It’s estimated that the global tequila market will reach $6.36 billion by the end of 2025.

Unfortunately, the growing demand resulted in some unsustainable farming methods. Tequila is a spirit distilled from the blue agave, a plant that grows predominantly in Jalisco, Mexico. These plants take approximately eight years to mature and die when harvested. As the demand for the beverage grew, producers began harvesting the plants early, before they could flower and seed. 

Before this time and for thousands of years, the blue agave and the lesser-nosed bat led mutually beneficial existences. The bat counted on the flowers and seeds as a major food source while scattering the seeds and pollen, allowing for natural propagation. In essence, you cannot have tequila without bats.

Fortunately, this realization has led to more sustainable farming practices, including regenerative farming. It’s a reminder of the interdependency of plants, animals, and humans and how we count on each other for sustainable growth. 

Three Types of Tequila and Mezcal

  • Silver or Blanco spirits are clear and typically unaged. Sometimes, it may rest in stainless steel for up to two months.
  • Reposado, which means rested, is aged for two months to one year in an oak barrel.
  • Añejo tequilas and mezcals are aged in oak barrels for at least one year. Some extra añejo tequilas are aged for up to three years.

At F&B Insights, we work with suppliers, bars, and restaurants, enabling suppliers to map brand performance and understand customer behavior while offering additional revenue to the venues they supply. Direct integration comes from the POS system, providing cocktail and consumer analytics. Suppliers gain a monthly report with incredible insights, and the establishment receives a monthly payment.

Are you ready to learn more about the in-demand spirits and how your sales and performance align? To learn more about F&B Insights or to schedule a consultation, contact F&B Insights today.


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