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By: Sonny Nagra 



Agave, a key ingredient in the production of tequila and mezcal, is facing a significant shortage that is leading to challenges in the production process. Agave plant shortage, which has affected the entire industry, is largely due to changing weather patterns and fluctuations in demand globally.


Agave plants take six to eight years to mature, meaning that the supply of raw materials for tequila and mezcal production takes considerable time to replenish, which makes it challenging to meet the demand. The shortage has been worsening in recent years, with analysts predicting that it could potentially last several years.


The agave shortage has affected the entire supply chain, from farmers and producers to large distillers. Many agave farmers are struggling to get the raw materials they need to sustain their businesses, causing the price of agave to skyrocket. The high price of raw materials has made it difficult for smaller, independent producers to keep up with bigger players in the industry.


At the same time, the global demand for tequila and mezcal is increasing, which is exacerbating the situation. As the market demand grows, the shortage is leading to increased costs, reduced supplies, and even the emergence of counterfeit products.


Despite the challenges, the agave plant shortage has led to innovations in the industry as producers look for ways to meet demand while maintaining quality. Some companies are investing in agave farming practices to increase yields while others are experimenting with new agave substitutes.


Some researchers are exploring the possibility of engineering agave plants that mature faster or are more resistant to disease, which could potentially address the shortage issue in the long term. Other possibilities include using genetically modified yeast strains to increase production volumes.


The future of the agave industry is uncertain, given the current shortage of agave plants, however, one emerging hope is that the situation will encourage more responsible and sustainable practices at all points along the agave plant and tequila and mezcal production supply chains. Through this, it is hoped that innovations will continue, leading to a more robust industry with a long-term supply of the essential raw materials needed to produce tequila and mezcal. 


In summary, while agave shortage can be attributed to varied causes including the changing weather pattern fluctuations in demand of global market, innovations and sustainable practices have started emerging to cope with the issue. It is hoped future efforts will improve industry sustainability and lead to long-term supply chain solutions.

As of 2020 in the United States, the agave spirit category has surpassed both the rum and bourbon categories collectively. Closing in on the top two spots, the agave spirit is now the third highest selling spirit in America, right behind bourbon and vodka. At this rate of growth, the sector will be outpacing all other segment competitors within the next three years.

Securely situating itself into a premium spot, and with the ability to pull multiple segments of consumers into its grasp, it has the luxury of being able to grow without compromising fiscal integrity. The category pulls from almost all customer segments and almost every background has their hand in the cookie jar in some way. Throw in some of the largest names in the world getting involved with the spirit, like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Kendall Jenner, along with George Clooney, and you have a recipe for a meteorological sized leapfrog in position sooner than later.

The fun part: So where is the next Pappy Van Winkle of the Tequila/Mezcal world? The chance of scarcity is not out of the question. Producers must wrestle with the fluctuation of the agave prices. Add in the logistics of the plant needing a decade or more to mature, and we may be looking at bottle necking issues. Is now the time to load up? Don’t start spinning your wheels to the local liquor shops yet, although I would advise picking up a couple key brands, I’ll share shortly.

Over the last 5 years, Single Barrel picks have exploded. Retailers are invited to their favorite distillery and are allotted a selection of private one-off barrels of their choosing. They select a barrel that yields a flavor profile that best fits with their customer base. In tandem, Bourbon groups all over the country share their love and fascination for the subtle differences between a bottle on the shelf and a unique private barrel via their local retailer. Sometimes sharing in the selection process via private samplings, which leads to cult like followings. Groups are formed, people get together, and large quantities of money and Bourbon are flying all over the place. It’s great for the industry, the craft movement and for the customer.

One can’t help but wonder what the next category or spin off will be and when it will begin to take off. Well, we are seeing it right now in slow motion, and that would be single barrel tequila picks. The method and process from distillery to consumer is no different with tequila than with bourbon, except the distance to distillery. An increasing number of Mexican distilleries let retailers select single barrels to bottle as “store picks” by shipping samples out to stores and restaurant potential customers. From there, the process is identical to single barrel bourbons and the rest is history in the making. If we take it one step further, with the rise of state side agave spirit producers, the distance will soon not be much of an issue for in person barrel picks. A quote circulating the country that captures this moment in time perfectly is, “Tequila drinkers are whiskey drinkers, they Just don’t know it yet” (Pura Vida Tequila, 2021).

Consumers who have purchased and enjoyed bottles of single barrel whiskey are more than open to enjoying the same process with an exploding category rich with flavor and complexities. Tequila is an easy transition, the general depth of flavors and subtle nuances can and has naturally appealed to whiskey fans. This migration has been years in the making. Corazon has been experimenting for about six years with their Anjos. Using their incredibly rare Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, (Expresiones del Corazón), they feature a lineup of tequilas that are barrel aged in super rare casks, such as: William Larue Weller, George T. Stagg, and Thomas H. Handy bourbon, that are aged for up to 22 months. Essentially laying the groundwork for transitioning bourbon to tequila drinkers seamlessly.

Like the Energizer bunny, the infinity bottle keeps going and going and going

As I write this, I’m sipping on a rum that’s not quite like any other I’ve had before. It’s funky and tropical on the nose, with notes of banana bread and fermented fruit. The palate is slightly sweet with vanilla, but also hot and high-proof, and hints of cinnamon and spice linger on the finish. If you’d like to try it, I’m afraid you’re out of luck: this rum exists only in my apartment, and it will taste different the next time I sample it, too.

The rum was poured from my favorite of my “infinity bottles.” The infinity bottle is a trend that has taken hold among spirits nerds as a way of creating a unique blend at home. The idea is pretty simple: You take an empty bottle and start creating your own personal blend of a chosen spirit, typically a whiskey. Then you keep adding to it over time. If you have an infinity bottle of bourbons, for example, you might drink some of it one night and then top it off with something new, creating a blend that continually evolves in the bottle.

The concept has been traced back to a 2012 YouTube video by Ralphy Mitchell, who compared it to the solera system of ageing sherry. The key to a solera is that it never runs empty: When a sherrymaker withdraws some wine for bottling, he tops the barrel off with sherry from a younger barrel. Individual solera systems can go back decades, growing more complex with time. You probably don’t have room for a chain of barrels in your own home, but you can have fun creating a similar effect within a single bottle.

Infinity bottles have become a niche hobby among whiskey enthusiasts, although there’s no reason to limit the practice to brown spirits. That said, it makes sense to decide on some constraints rather than just throwing any and all liquors indiscriminately into the same vessel. If you choose to make a whiskey infinity bottle, you’ll need to decide whether to focus on a single style — rye, Irish, Scotch? — or to combine them all into one weird blend.

You’ll also need to decide on your approach to blending. Are you trying to construct a specific flavor profile, carefully selecting elements to reach a set destination? Or would you rather add spirits willy-nilly, hoping for pleasant surprises while accepting some less than savory combinations? Some whiskey drinkers compromise by pouring the last ounce or so of every bottle into the blend, such that it develops as a kind of chronicle of the all the whiskeys they bring home over time. Many blenders also keep a running tally of all the ingredients they add to their bottles, if only for curiosity’s sake. (If you can’t bear to pour a rare, expensive or long-aged spirit into an infinity bottle, think of it this way: by doing so, you’re ensuring that traces of it live on indefinitely.)

I’ve experimented with different tactics to varying degrees of success. For my infinity gin, I took an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach, adding in a little bit of every gin I could get my hands on. The result is not great; the flavors are muddled and disjointed. I might throw it into a punch someday, but I wouldn’t drink it in a Martini. It’s noticeably inferior to just about any standard London dry I could buy at the liquor store.

I took a little more care with my infinity whiskey, which I’ve limited to American whiskeys. It’s mostly bourbons and ryes, which share the common element of having aged in new, charred, American oak barrels. This gives the blend enough unity to work well, with occasional additions like a wheat whiskey or bourbon finished in port casks to add interest. My one significant stumble was adding a dose of extremely flavorful mesquite-smoked whiskey. Even in a small amount, it drastically altered the taste of the blend. As I consumed some of the infinity bottle and topped it with new whiskeys, this smoky note gradually took on a more pleasant background character. Now I’d rate my blend a solid B-. It’s not something that would blow you away sipped neat, but it’s perfectly suitable for whiskey sours and other cocktails.

Infinity rum has been my best success. Rum strikes me as an ideal spirit for an infinity bottle: it’s a singular thing, but unconstrained by rules. “Rum embodies America’s laissez-faire attitude,” Wayne Curtis wrote in his book And a Bottle of Rum. “It is whatever it wants to be.” As long as it begins with sugar cane, rum can be made in myriad ways and take on all kinds of characteristics.

I took a very intentional approach to this bottle, seeking to a create a blend that combines attributes of my favorite rums. My infinity rum has been going since January 2017, and is now comprised of 31 different sugar cane spirits. Light, straightforward rums are the foundation of the blend, but these are heavily supplemented with funkier spirits like rhum agricole from St. Barth’s, clairin from Haiti, cachaça from Brazil, Batavia-arrack from Indonesia and pot-still rums from Jamaica. Sweeter, heavier demerara rums from Guyana round things out and provide depth. Though I’m constantly making new additions, I try to keep the basic profile the same. As a result, when friends come over, I’m able to offer them a delicious Daiquiri or Rum Old Fashioned they can’t get anywhere else.

The fun of making infinity bottles for individual spirits got me thinking about stretching the concept even further. What about an … infinity cocktail? Instead of blending just a single spirit, you could blend a batched version of all the ingredients that go into a drink. You wouldn’t do this with highly perishable ingredients like citrus juice, but it’s an intriguing possibility for spirit-forward cocktails. You could make a bottled Infinity Manhattan, for example, with an ever-evolving mix of ryes, bourbons and vermouths. Why not?

For my own experiment, I created an Infinite Negroni. The classic Negroni recipe is equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, but the cocktail has inspired an endless variety of riffs that make substitutions for some of these ingredients. My bottle started with a foundation of the classic Negroni, but I branched out from there with more exotic additions. My only rule has been that I always add to the bottle in strictly equal parts of spirit, aperitif/amaro and vermouth/wine. Regular additions of the standard recipe keep the flavor profile in the ballpark of the classic Negroni, while more esoteric ingredients take it in more unusual directions.

My Infinite Negroni, which I keep refrigerated to preserve the vermouths, has been developing for well over a year now and has more than 50 ingredients. Some of these are pretty close to the usual gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, while others are wildly different: mezcal, Fernet-Branca, sherry. The resulting cocktail is recognizably Negroni-like, but more complex. Most importantly, it works. It’s a tasty 50-ingredient cocktail that I have at the ready in my refrigerator, and all I need to serve it is a glass full of ice cubes and an orange peel to twist over the top.

As a working bartender and cocktail writer, I’m typically on the lookout for recipes with exact proportions that yield the right result every time. Making infinity bottles is an opportunity to embrace irreproducibility, to enjoy fleeting combinations that will never exist in quite the same way ever again. Like most experiments, they don’t always turn out perfectly. That’s part of the fun, however, and false steps can be adjusted over time with the addition of new ingredients. And when they work, they can work beautifully, a uniquely personal reward for putting your spirits at risk. Credit:

BY JACOB GRIER / APRIL 3, 2020 8:41 AM

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