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Behind the label: Agave Spirits
Using the agave plant to produce alcohol in South America predates European colonialism by centuries, with the Mexicans as the first turning to the plant to make liquor from the plant that the Aztec and Mayans had used for medicine and building for centuries.
At first, these ancient indigenous people had a tradition of making a kind of beer from the sap of the agave plant, an original inspiration for agave spirits, before distillation arrived on Mexican shores, leading to the invention of tequila and mezcal.
As these two spirits made their way around the world, various international distillers began trying to replicate the offering. But, without the many years of expertise held by Mexicans, the resulting liquors were often sub-par. Today, in a push back, Mexico asserts its intellectual property rights and, in order to be called tequila or mescal, the spirits must be made in Mexico following strict recipes.
Anything made elsewhere, goes by the generic of agave spirit. Just as many brandies rival the famed Cognac, or local MCC can stand up to any champagne, this does not necessarily mean the agave spirits are not worth adding to your shelf. South African agave spirits, like Leonista, are proving that as much as a particular name holds centuries of heritage and expertise, great taste can be replicated with the love, care and respect of artisans elsewhere in the world.
Much like with tequila, the cheap-and-nasty, bottom shelf versions (which really should be avoided) are typically shot with salt and lemon. But better-quality agave spirits are designed to be sipped at leisure. They also make for excellent cocktails.