Is Agave The New Gin? Exploring The Rise Of India’s Next Big Drinking Trend

In recent years, Indian drinkers have shifted from gin to exploring agave spirits like tequila, mezcal, and the homegrown Agavepura. Influenced by global trends, consumers are embracing the unique qualities of premium agave spirits, despite past misconceptions. We spoke to some experts to know more about this up and coming space.
mezcal

Agave spirits, the latest trend in drinking horizon

For the last few years, the average Indian drinker has been mainlining gin like their lives depended on it, but the winds of change are blowing in a potential contender in the form of agave spirits. In the last few years, there’s been a steady uptick in the consumption of tequila, mezcal and most recently a homegrown spirit Agavepura (a term coined by Maya Pistola, but more on that later). The bracket of agave spirits has always hovered on the sidelines of mainstream appeal, giving way to more familiar ones like rum and whisky, but post the gin revolution, it seems like the Indian audience is primed to explore more adventurous drinking circles.
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Agave Plants

What Are Agave Spirits?

Understanding where their appeal comes from means understanding what agave spirits are at a fundamental level. Most of us associate the term with Tequila (and probably some terrible college hangovers), but the true tequila is very different from what most Indian consumers have been drinking.
Agave spirits are made from the hearts or pi?as of agave plants, large, unfriendly looking, hardy desert shrubs that have all the raw beauty of cacti and about the same thorny nature. Slow growing and hazardous to harvest, but prized in many regions of the world.
The plant contains a core bulb called the pi?a. Tequila producers remove the pi?a, bake it, and extract the juice, which is then fermented in barrels with yeast before being distilled into the final spirit. This process transforms the plant into an agave spirit that is then further refined into different categories.
Typically agave spirits are designed to drink neat, or with a little water or ice at the most, however they also make a wonderful cocktail spirit in the right setting, although it all comes down to the profile of the individual blends.
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(L) Rakshay Dhariwal, creator of Maya Pistola, (R) Kimberly Pereira, COO of Maya Pistola

The Difference Between Agave Spirits

Mexico regulates the regions authorised to produce tequila, limiting production to specific municipalities, including Tamaulipas, Michoacán, Guanajuato, Nayarit, and the state of Jalisco. “Tequila can only be made in Jalisco state,” adds Nitin Tewari, aka Mr Bartrender, an expert on Indian alcohol, “It's like how you have sparkling wine and then you have champagne, which can only be made in a small town called Champagne in France, it’s very geographically specific. Also, it's made primarily from a very particular type of agave plant called the Blue Weber Agave. For a spirit to be called tequila, it needs to be at least 51% Blue Agave.”
Mezcals meanwhile are the more smoky counterpart to tequila which is produced in other regions of Mexico and doesn’t necessarily have to have the same levels of Blue Agave to be considered pure. Tequila and Mezcal are the two main agave spirits that we’ve experienced in India, but there are some more on the rise which since they are produced outside Mexico get sorted under the ‘agave spirits’ category.
It’s this sweet spot that new homegrown brand Maya Pistola has occupied with their Agavepura, a 100% additive free range of spirits which are made from Agave Americana (the same agaves used for Mezcal) which are being grown in parts of the Deccan Plateau and have been raking in awards from around the world, “You can think of Agavepura as a mix between a tequila and a mezcal. However, you can't call it either. That's why we call it agave pura.” says Rakshay Dhariwal, creator of Maya Pistola.
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Nitin Tewari aka Mr Bartrender, an expert in the Indian alcohol space.

The Rise Of Indian Agave Spirits

India has always had a habit of being a couple of years behind the global trends and we’re seeing that happen again in the case of premium agave spirits. “This trend has been coming along since 2017. And if you actually look at it, over the pandemic, it just exponentially blew up. In the U.S. alone, mezcal rose by over 600%, for instance,” says Rakshay, “And the trend in India, it's, you know, it doubled. The sales in India reached 128,000 cases last year, which was almost doubled from around 65,000 cases the year before”
Nitin Tewari agrees that though we may have homegrown brands, the trend itself is an import. ”First, I think mostly, because people are travelling from here to other countries and their experiences with drinking in the USA, because Tequila, Mezcal and all these are quite popular in Agave, in the USA. Second, companies are following the trends so Tequila brands have come into India market as well. So, a lot happens when alcohol companies also focus towards selling or promoting a particular type of liquor.”
With international brands making more inroads in the country as well as local entrepreneurs pushing towards innovation in the space, the potential for the spirit has been opening up. But there’s still one hurdle to overcome first, and that’s the infamous reputation agave spirits has held among Indian drinkers for decades.
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Maya Pistola's Extra Anejo variant

Reshaping The Conversation

“I think that the biggest misconception has been that tequila will give you a hangover,” says Kimberly Pereira, COO of Maya Pistola, addressing the fact that tequila has previously been treated like a second-tier spirit. “I think the fact that people have mostly consumed it as a shot, as opposed to being able to sip on it or to put it in a cocktail or to use it instead of a whiskey or bourbon, even a gin or a vodka has given it a bad name. ”
But in most cases, what the general consumer has been drinking in India till now, may not have been pure tequila at all. “A mixto is a tequila that is made with 51% sugars derived from the agave plant and 49% of the sugars from any other source. So a lot of the time cane sugars are used,” explains Rakshay. “These are called mixtos. On a bottle of tequila or mezcal or agave pura, if it does not say 100% agave, then all the time, and this is a blanket rule, all the time it is a mixto. And mixtos are the ones that have given the bad name to tequilas and mezcals because this is what tends to get you hungover.”
Nitin adds that although top-shelf agave spirits are ideal to drink neat or opened up with a little water, it’s been the rise of certain tequila cocktails that has been increasing the visibility of the spirits overall. “Tequila cocktails have become quite famous, he says, “Some names like Margarita, Picante, Paloma. Currently, Picante is the most trending drink in the country. You pick up any cocktail menu of a good cocktail bar, you will see a nice Picante.”
Though tequila and mezcal are a space that is still somewhat unknown, like we saw with the boom around gin, there is always potential for it to pick up and from the Maya Pistola team’s experiences, drinkers are more than ready for a change. “I think Indian consumers become more discerning with the increase in craft brands that have now sprung up in India. People are looking for a unique spirit,” says Kimberly, “They're looking for something that's, you know, more something apart from what they usually drink. They want to experiment.”
Indian consumers, influenced by global trends and increased travel, are beginning to appreciate the nuanced qualities of premium agave spirits, moving beyond the misconceptions associated with lower-quality versions. With both international and domestic brands driving this trend, the future of agave spirits in India looks promising, as consumers seek novel and sophisticated drinking experiences.
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