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What is Agave and What Are the Different Types of Agave Spirits?

You may not be super familiar with the term “agave spirit,” but you’ll almost certainly recognize its most notable variation, tequila. Tequila is a crowd favorite across the continent but it’s just one of many types of agave liquor—the others are equally as enticing and exciting.

Despite the let-loose vibe that surrounds tequila, it’s actually one of the most heavily regulated industries, especially as it pertains to what you can and can’t label a certain beverage. That’s why many of the agave variety subtypes are only a technicality away from their counterparts. Still, there are differences worth mentioning that make each agave spirit its own unique drink.

#1 Tequila

Let’s start with the basics. Tequila is made using similar ingredients and processes to many agave spirits, yet the title can only be given to distilled spirits that meet these two basic criteria:

  • Made with the Weber blue agave plant, or agave tequilana Weber
  • Made in Jalisco, Mexico, or parts of Guananjuanto, Tamaulipas, Michoacan, or Nayarit1

Tequila ranges from blanco—clear spirits, practically unaged—to extra añejo—gold liquor, aged for at least three years. In the U.S., this 80-proof alcohol is one of the most popular choices for mixed drinks and shots alike, the latter taken between a lick of salt and a lime wedge. You’ll find it in many tropical cocktails from a classic Margarita to a boozy Tequila Sunrise.

Margarita

#2 Mezcal

If tequila is the head of the household, mezcal is the entire family. Technically, all tequilas are mezcals, though not all mezcals are tequilas.

That’s because the two are made from the same primary ingredient—the agave plant—but mezcal production can be made from any agave species while tequila is limited to just one. The mezcal designation also has geographical requirements, as it must be harvested and produced in one of nine Mexican states.

The mezcal production is known for their smokey flavor though there’s a wide variety within the drink type, and while they’re not as universally popular as tequilas, they’ve certainly been gaining recognition with a 32.4% increase in U.S. consumption.2 Mezcal cocktail purists are impartial towards sipping the drink neat, but you can always enjoy it in a creative cocktail, such as the:

  • Mezcalita
  • Mezcal Mule
  • Pineapple Mezcal Margarita
  • Mezcal Negroni

#3 Bacanora

With a flavor profile that’s been said to land somewhere between tequila and mezcal, bacanora is a lesser-known but equally enjoyable cousin of your favorite agave spirits. 

It’s another subtype of mezcal made from the agave plant, this time from Sonora in northwest Mexico according to an elaborate cooking, cooling, and fermentation process. And with agave spirits, the plant is just as important as the region. Experts attribute bacanora’s complex taste to the dry, desert climate.3 The dry yet spicy, earthy flavors can be enjoyed on their own but also provide an excellent base for cocktails, including:

  • The Bloody Baca Cocktail
  • Sunora Cream de Bacanora
  • Manhattan Blanco
  • Café Con Leche Cocktail

#4 Sotol

In the mezcal family, sotol is like the favorable son-in-law—although not technically an agave spirit, everyone treats him like he is. This often bright, earthy beverage is made from the sotol plant, a desert shrub, and can only be produced under the sotol title in Chihuahua, Durango, and Coahuila, in Mexico. 

Sotol’s aged varieties often take on the oaky flavor of the barrels with undertones of sweetness and spice. This tequila-relative is a great substitute liquor in some of your favorite cocktails, including martinis, mojitos, and Old Fashioneds. 

#5 Raicilla

Produced in Jalisco like tequila but made according to the same cooking methods as mezcal, raicilla is yet another member of the agave spirit family with a striking resemblance to each of its siblings. 

Somewhat uniquely, raicilla is made from a number of different agave plants, including several wild and local varieties. It has a similar smokiness to its family members but with more floral, fruity overtones.4 Maybe these bright flavors are the reason raicilla is such a popular choice for so many vibrant, inventive cocktails, such as:

  • The Prieteni
  • Passion Fruit Margarita
  • The Raicilla Siesta
  • Raicilla Rhubarb Sour

#6 Blue Agave Spirit

Remember when we mentioned the strict regulations around naming conventions? A “blue agave spirit” is the perfect example of what happens when you can’t call tequila, well, tequila

The name clearly indicates that it’s a spirit made from blue agave, just like tequila. But if the agave isn’t harvested and produced on Mexican soil—in the Jalisco and surrounding regions, specifically—then it can’t bear the name of its sister spirit.  

Many blue agave spirits are merely tequila disguised in a mustache and glasses, but some American distillers have chosen to distinguish themselves by putting a funky new twist on the blue agave classic.

Blue agave

SLIQ: Agave Spirits In An All-New Way

SLIQ Spirited hard freeze pops are made with premium 100% Blue Agave liquor—also known as tequila that isn’t technically tequila. Of all the types of agave spirits, these ready-to-enjoy frozen popsicles are about so much more than where the agave plant was grown or the liquor was distilled. 

SLIQ’s Agave-Infused Spirited Ice comes in three delicious frozen margarita pop flavors including classic, strawberry, and mango for tasty treats that surpass all expectations. You’ll enjoy more than a well-made agave spirit—you’ll enjoy the guaranteed good times that come along with it. Up for rum or vodka instead? We also offer frozen vodka pops and rum ice pops.

Sources:

  1. Decanter. Learn about Tequila: Everything you need to know. https://www.decanter.com/spirits/learn-about-tequila-403851/
  2. Wine Enthusiast. Breaking Down the Difference Between Mezcal and Tequila. https://www.winemag.com/2019/08/27/difference-mezcal-vs-tequila/
  3. Bon Appétit. We’re in Love With Bacanora, the Missing Link Between Tequila and Mezcal. https://www.bonappetit.com/drinks/article/bacanora-mezcal-tequila
  4. Thrillist. Raicilla Is Tequila’s Funkier Cousin (and You Need to Try It). https://www.thrillist.com/spirits/tequila/raicilla-tequila-spirit
  5. Liquor. 7 ‘Other’ Agave Spirits You Should Know. https://www.liquor.com/slideshows/the-other-agave-spirits/
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