Last month, another home-grown spirit made news—and it wasn’t gin, rum or whisky. It was the Maya Pistola Agavepura. Rich gold in colour, rested in oak barrels and enjoyed on the rocks, it’s a 100% agave spirit from Goa—different from tequila, which may be derived from agave but can be mixed with other ingredients during the making process.
Rakshay Dhariwal, founder of Pass Code Spirits Co., created this spirit along with his sister, Radhika. It’s yet another product in the league of premium spirits—touted to be a big trend in 2022.
But it’s early days in the world of agave for India. The plant, which belongs to the family of succulents, is grown in limited quantities on the Deccan plateau, which shares similarities in soil and climate with the plant’s home, Mexico, that holds the geographical indication, or GI, tag for tequila.
Dhariwal, who owns a chain of bars and restaurants, such as PCO, Jamun and SAZ, across Delhi, Mumbai and Goa, claims 100% agave spirits are picking up owing to health reasons: “It’s low in calories, easier on the digestive system and doesn’t give a bad hangover.” A persuasive reason perhaps to make the switch. But agave can be low-calorie only when it’s drunk without mixers. In a cocktail, it’s best not to count calories.
“The Indian agave market is at ₹300 crore, with projected growth of 19.03%,” Dhariwal maintains. The gradual rise in agave spirits is driven by the global popularity of tequila, generally mixed with sugar-cane based spirits and other liquors, and its smoky cousin, mezcal; a 100% aged agave spirit is the purest version, revered like a single malt. All three started becoming popular when gin reached a saturation point and mixologists started experimenting with other spirits. The biggest push was by celebrities like George Clooney, Kendall Jenner and Nick Jonas, who invested in super premium tequilas.
There are certain Spanish terms, like reposado, añejo and extra añejo, to describe the ageing period of agave spirits. Reposado implies a spirit rested from two months to a year, añejo refers to one aged for one-three years, and extra añejo to one aged for three years or more. The Maya Pistola Agavepura is a reposado, and there are a few imported brands which fall in the category of añejo and extra añejo. One such agave spirits brand is the 1800, which has been brought to India by the Mumbai-based alcobev company Monika Enterprises.
“Whenever we pitch these bottles to newer audiences, we pick single malt drinkers,” says Kunal Patel, managing partner, Monika Enterprises. In Mumbai, the 1800 Reposado retails for ₹6,400 and añejo is sold at ₹8,900, although the prices are predicted to dip. Monika Enterprises is, in fact, partnering with leading restaurants such as The Bombay Canteen, Sammy Sossa and Masque to popularise agave spirits. Dhariwal serves cocktails like the Pistola penicillin, Pistola Martini and Pistola Manhattan in his bars. “I don’t need to do too much to create awareness about agave spirits. Guests who visit my bars are early adopters and it’s just a matter of time before it trickles down. Now, 100% agave are the single malts of the tequila world,” he says.
Maya Pistola Agavepura is not the first home-grown agave brand. In 2011, Goa-based DesmondJi created agave liquors with plants found on the Deccan plateau. The agave plant has a large pineapple-like fruit at the bottom known as the piña. The fruit is fermented, the spirit is double distilled and then aged. Dhariwal, like DesmondJi, gets his supply of the piña from Andhra Pradesh’s Chittoor district.
For more players to come in, the supply of plants has to increase—that will take time. “It’s too early for India because it’s all about terrains, soil quality and terrains. The agave plant takes about eight years to mature and then producers need to experiment to get it right,” explains Patel. He draws parallels with the wine industry. Plant saplings like Pinot Noir and Shiraz were imported and cultivated in India for fine wines. It is possible that a similar story will play out for agave spirits.