For the Love of Agave

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Since it’s Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d talk about our current love affair with agave spirits and how it’s affecting the price/supply relationship. Shanken News ran a piece this week about how the demand for mezcal is driving up the price of agave in Oaxaca, similar to what we’ve seen happen with Tequila in Jalisco over the last few years. If you’re fluent in mezcal, then you’ll know that only some of the expressions on the market are made from cultivated agave like espadín, while the pricier and more boutique selections—tepeztate and madrecuixe, for example—are made from wild agave species that must be foraged. In layman’s terms, that means you can’t simply grow more when you need it. If wild agave becomes even more scarce, expect mezcal prices to go through the roof. The most telling line for me was this one:

“Many brands once used only wild agave, and now they’ve started to create seed banks after realizing they needed to change their ways due to the high demand.”

If you’re up to speed on what the agave shortage did to Tequila, I have one word for you: diffusers. That’s not to say that mezcal is going to become the next industrialized spirit, but rather that necessity is the mother of invention. Or desperate times call for desperate measures. Insert whatever adage you want, but know that the mezcal boom hasn’t even scratched the surface yet. As Tequila continues to get watered down from both mass and over-production, you’re going to see more and more everyday Americans turn to Oaxaca for a new twist on their Margarita. Mezcal is permeating American mass culture at a speed I’ve never seen in my career for what is most definitely a niche category. I remember when we thought finding 15-20 mezcales at a boutique retailer was a big deal. Now you can get mezcal at your local supermarket or bargain wholesaler.

Needless to say, whether you’re a Tequila drinker or a mezcal lover, you’re in for a future of price increases. Or questionable quality. Or both. I can tell you from behind the scenes that things are not looking pretty for those that purchase and contract 100% agave, non-diffuser Tequila, and now those same troubles are spreading south.

-David Driscoll