We can't call them tequila, but these SA spirits are as good as the real deal

Local distillers are turning out top-notch 'tequila' from local agave

23 March 2019 - 00:00 By RICHARD HOLMES
In order to be called tequila, an agave-based alcohol must come from one of five states in the west of Mexico.
In order to be called tequila, an agave-based alcohol must come from one of five states in the west of Mexico.
Image: 123RF/tycoon751

Hot on the heels of craft gin, tequila is the next spirit to make its way into our cocktail shakers and highballs, as forward-thinking South African distillers tap into the growing demand for hand-crafted spirits.

Just one thing: we can’t call it tequila.

Like port, parmigiano-reggiano and champagne, tequila has geographical indication protection from the World Intellectual Property Organisation, which means only products produced in specific geographical areas can bear their name. For tequila that means it must come from one of five states in the west of Mexico.

Esperanza is delicious sipped on its own.
Esperanza is delicious sipped on its own.
Image: Supplied

That’s a little problem for local distillers though, who are creating their own take on the fiery white spirit using the blue agave plant.

Following the same methods as their Mexican counterparts, distillers use the heart – the piña – of agave farmed organically in the Karoo. The piñais roasted and then crushed, before the juice is fermented and distilled.

And it’s the label of “100% agave” that you want to look out for on local bottles, indicating that this home-grown “tequila” has been made in the traditional method.

In Cape Town, Salt River distillery Hope on Hopkins delivers the goods with their subtle Esperanza. Delicious sipped on its own, it’s also ideal for DIY cocktails, from classic margarita,to their bespoke TnT cocktail of Esperanza and tonic over ice.

Up-country, Leonista is the agave spirit to seek out. Long passionate about tequila, owner Sarah Kennan first dabbled in home distilling before deciding she needed to learn from the experts.

That saw her travelling through Mexico to learn the art of tequila and mezcal, an agave spirit distilled in other parts of Mexico. In late-2018 she launched the rebranded Leonista, with a trio of agave spirits on offer.

Leonista Reposado and Honey Reposado spirits have a notable smokiness, thanks to the piñas being roasted in a wood-fired oven.
Leonista Reposado and Honey Reposado spirits have a notable smokiness, thanks to the piñas being roasted in a wood-fired oven.
Image: Supplied

With the piñas roasted in a wood-fired oven, there’s a notable smokiness to the Reposado and Honey Reposado, which is infused with wild Cape honey.

Whichever you choose, make sure you sip it, don’t shoot it. And, whatever you do, don’t call it tequila.


This article was originally published in the Sunday Times Neighbourhood: Property and Lifestyle guide. Visit Yourneighbourhood.co.za


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