That’s right—agave takes central stage in some of our favorite spirits and cocktails. For the huge role agave plays in making so many delicious things, we thought everyone could use a little background knowledge on the plant itself.
Let’s get everyone well-acquainted—consider this a “get-to-know-you” for all things agave.
First things first: the basics. Agave nectar comes from the agave plant. There are over 200 species of agave plants (not all of which can help us make alcohol, but they’re cool, too). Agave is a succulent-like plant, somewhat a cross between a cactus and an aloe vera plant.
Agave is native to places like Mexico and the southern United States, where the hot temperatures create the perfect environment. Their favorite habitat is the volcanic soils of Mexico, where this plant has been treasured by generations of families for thousands of years. The agave plant was historically seen as a gift from the gods and was used for medicinal purposes, cooking, and as a sweetener. Fast-forward to today’s time, and agave is most popularly used as a sweetener. This leads us perfectly into our next section: harvesting agave nectar.
Agave nectar is likely what you’re familiar with hearing when people talk about agave. Agave plants aren’t typically eaten on their own; the juice from the core of the plant is used to create agave nectar. This natural sweetener is commonly used as a substitute for sugar, honey, or artificial sweeteners. (Perhaps most importantly, though, liquor. But we’re getting there, we promise).
Good things come to those who wait, and agave nectar is definitely worth the wait.
The harvesting process begins anywhere between seven to ten years after the agave has been planted. That’s right, these babies take their sweet, sweet time.
Agave begins growing as a quiote, which is a stalk that shoots up from the middle of the mother agave plant when it is ready to reproduce. As it matures, bright green flowers begin to blossom all over the quiote. Big, bright, green flowers are the sign that it’s time for pollination. Hummingbirds, bees, and bats work together to help pollinate the baby plant, producing seeds that soon become the baby agaves.
After the pollination process, the mother plant dies and leaves us with the nurtured baby agaves. After the baby agaves bloom, it takes another two to three years before they’re ready to be planted in the field. Once planted in the field (carefully and with love, of course), it’s only another seven to eight years until harvest time!
Patience is a virtue, remember? The best things in life simply can’t be rushed. BTW fun fact: mature agave plants are 5-8 feet tall, 7-12 feet in diameter, and have a lifespan of 8-15 years.
Leave the Leaves.
Ok, so now it’s been seven to eight years. We’ve been eagerly waiting on our baby agaves to ripen, and it’s finally time.
Once all the baby agaves have matured into full agave plants (we’re proud parents), it’s time to start harvesting. We look for the oldest, largest plants because these agaves usually have the highest sugar concentration.
We cut off the leaves (pencas) to reveal the heart of the agave plant (the piña). It’s good practice to first shear off the thorns from the leaves of the agave plant because, well, no one likes getting poked in the process. A large knife, something machete-like, will make this job more manageable. Cutting from the bottom of the leaf and working upward to the tip is the best way to do this. We do this to all of the leaves that stand in the way of the center of the plant (the piña).
Leave the leaves: all the leaves should be removed, so that we’re left looking at the piña—jackpot.
Remove the Piña.
The piña is a long bulb-like shape in the center of the plant. Piña means pineapple in Spanish, which is perfect because it is the sweetest, juiciest part of the plant. Plus, the piña kind of looks like a giant pineapple too, so that works.
Although it’s now right in our reach, we don’t want to pull it with our hands. Instead, we use the machete and cut it from the bottom. Now we can pull it towards us and remove the piña.
Did you know the piña can weigh anywhere between 80-200 pounds? Talk about having a big heart—that’s probably why we can taste the love in everything it helps us make!
Extract the Nectar.
To extract the nectar, juice is expressed from the piña.
Before actually extracting the nectar, the piña is usually steamed or roasted. When the agave is harvested for tequila production, steaming is the standard method. This entails steaming the piña in above-ground ovens and then distilling the liquid in copper pots. This steaming not only helps soften the piña but also helps concentrate the sweetness of the final product.
Using a large knife, we want to take off the top (the base) of the piña and hollow it out. Once it is emptied of its natural white meat inside, we place a cap or a siphon in the hole and allow the nectar to drain out. This process is similar to extracting maple syrup from a tree.
What happens next with the nectar really depends on what the agave will be used for. Making sweeteners, tequila, and Mezcal all have different next steps in the production process.
What Does Agave Nectar Taste Like?
Agave nectar is probably most comparable to honey.
It is sweet, but in a unique way; it has a more neutral flavor than honey and a thinner consistency. The neutral taste and liquidy consistency make it the perfect sweetener for alcoholic beverages; it adds a touch of sweetness without overpowering the other ingredients of the drink.
Agave nectar is available in a variety of different colors and flavor intensities.
Lighter grades of agave nectar are like simple syrups. They will be best for cocktails with other flavors that you do not want to overpower. Our Rule of Three Margarita is an all-time favorite that uses agave nectar.
Medium agave nectars have a more robust flavor, not yet as strong as molasses, but around the intensity of honey. Medium agave nectars are perhaps the most versatile and will work well in any cocktail where you want a hint of agave flavor. We suggest using this type of agave in stronger drinks or fruit cocktails. Our Old Fashioned uses 1 teaspoon of undiluted agave nectar is the perfect candidate and all you need for a cozy night in.
The darkest nectar is definitely a bump up in sweetness; this nectar is most like molasses. Dark nectar is used lightly in cocktails and more commonly in cooking. If you have a sweet tooth and want to give dark nectar a try, we’d recommend trying it in our All Buttered Up cocktail. You can substitute a bit of the brown sugar that goes into the batter of this cocktail for dark agave nectar for a full agave experience.
Now for the Fun Stuff!
The best thing about harvesting agave is that it’s the key ingredient in our beloved Mezcal.
Remember how the production processes for agave nectar and Mezcal begin to differ once it’s time to cook the piña? We’re about to break down the differences for you. When making Mezcal, we use a true artesanal method so you know you’re getting Mezcal that tastes the way it was meant to be.
We slow-roast the agaves in under-ground pits filled with pinewood logs. This slow-roasting process takes up to five whole days and creates the perfect smoky and multi-dimensional taste. It’s well worth the wait if you ask us.
Next, it’s time for the milling. We use a tahona mill to take the juice and fiber out of the agave plant. Now it’s on to the fermentation process, where we add water to the agave’s juice and fiber. Fermentation takes up to eight days.
The last step is our double distillation process. The process separates the water from the alcohol, capturing the purest alcohol into the final spirit of Rosaluna.
And That’s the Magic of Mezcal.
Rosaluna Mezcal is crafted with nothing but agave, water, and lots of love.
Our hand-crafted Mezcal comes from a family who has spent over six lifetimes perfecting the craft. We’re also 100% vertically integrated, meaning we grow, farm, ferment, and distill our own agave from start to finish.
From us to you, we hope you enjoy.