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A Primer on Agave, Mezcal and More

Wednesday, September 30, 2015  
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Arthur Black at the 2014 BWS Trade Show For the unfamiliar, agave is a type of plant with several hundred known species, grown cultivated and wild, primarily in Mexico. Most plants take eight to 12 years to mature. Agave is somewhat well known as a natural sweetener derived from agave plants, too.


National expert Arthur Black knows his stuff when it comes to agave plant-based spirits, and can swiftly explain definitions, histories, plant species and the geography of Mexico where agave is cultivated. Perhaps that’s because he’s one of a few young beverage industry educational leaders in the country and has acquired numerous titles and accreditations over 15 years of study and travel. Black, a wine and spirits sales manager for Republic National Distributing Company, of Indianapolis and speaker at the 2014 Beer, Wine & Spirits Trade Show, has a lot to share on the topic.


He talked about a trip to one farm in the hills of Mexico where he had to drive through a shallow river to get to the “mezcalero’s” house, without electricity or running water. But he spent most of his time describing the unique ways the mezcal, sotols and bacanoras are made — and they standards each has to meet. One example: Mezcal Vago Ensamble en Barro has an organic, earthy, funky smell and flavor. “If I could crawl inside of one glass of spirit, this would be the one.” Black described the production of a $180 bottle of Del Maguey Pechuga. It smells of baking spices and cinnamon.


He said the Pechuga production process includes suspending a whole chicken breast (pechuga), with its skin removed, by strings near the still during a 24-hour third distillation process. Black emphasized three points about these spirits:

  • There is far more to Mexican-based spirits than tequila.
  • Quality mezcal is one of the most unique, laboriously hand-crafted spirits in the world.
  • Mezcal is trending hot in major cities.

Still, many consumers are unfamiliar with mezcals and other Mexican spirits. But he thinks consumers have never been more willing to try new products and are willing to spend money on the “experience” of drinking and not just drinking for “drinking's sake.”


He said mezcal always will represent a small market share, especially against spirit genres giants like vodka, whisky and rum. That’s in part due to the fact that of the 4,000 “mezcaleros” making mezcal, only about six dozen are branded and sold, he said.


Yet he said these agave plant-based beverages have good selling points, including their uniqueness and high quality. “Agave-based spirits are unlike any spirit in the world.” Drink Better Blue

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