Terroir has come to tequila.
Forget that gut-wrenching cheap stuff that gives college binge drinkers dreadful hangovers. The new tequilas, those that are handcrafted from the blue agave plant, have distinct flavors that change with variations in the soil, weather, and processing.
Berkeley businessman Barry Augus is trying to take advantage of the growing demand for high-end spirits. Augus, the former president of Cabo Wabo Tequila, launched a new line of estate-bottled tequilas called Tres Agaves in January. And while the tequilas have only been on the market for six months, they have already garnered a number of top awards.
“Tequila is one of the most refined distilled spirits on the planet,” said Augus, who is running his company out of the living room in his Southside home. “It has a bad reputation because historically people were selling impure tequilas.”
Berkeley Rep patrons will have a chance to taste the tequila themselves this week. In conjunction with John Leguizamo’s solo show, Klass Klown, Tres Agave is mixing up margaritas and pouring shots for theatergoers to taste. The drinks are free.
It’s all part of the Rep’s new push to bring artisanal foods to its customers, according to Terence Keane, a spokesman for Berkeley Rep. The theater revamped its food concessions a few years ago and now offers more organic and locally made products. Each weekend, the theater also invites a local company or chef to offer free tastings.
“Tres Agaves is one of the local companies that is putting a great deal of care into its product and it seemed to perfectly compliment John’s show,” said Keane. “You have the combination of the Latino artist who is talking about his work,” (and a product made in Mexico.) It seemed like a good match.”
Tequila consumption is rocketing, and Californians consume 23% of the world’s product.
Tres Agaves, started by Augus, Eric Rubin and Chris Alvarez, makes three tequilas, a blanco (unaged), reposado (required to be aged from two months to one year) and añejo (aged one to three years). It also makes cocktail-ready 100% agave sweetener and a margarita mix. They can be found at Star Market on Claremont Avenue or at Bev Mo.
The tequila is made from Tequilana Blue Weber agaves grown on a single estate in Tequila in the Mexican region of Jalisco. Blue agave plants take 8 to 10 years to mature. The pinas from the plant are cooked, converting the starches into sugar, and then fermented and distilled twice. So making good, hand crafted tequila is labor intensive, said Augus. The flavor of the tequila is influenced by the soil the agave is grown in, the weather conditions, and its ripeness when harvested.
“It’s much like terroir in wine,” said Augus.
Cheap tequilas use a blend of agave (not necessarily blue agave) and cane or other sugars, which is why many drinkers develop disabling headaches. 100% of all Tres Agaves tequila comes from the blue agave plant.
The Orendin family, which had been making tequila for five generations, is distilling Tres Agaves’ tequila, said Augus.
While Augus is running the company out of his living room, he is seeking outside financing and plans to find a Berkeley office soon. The company is selling its products in eight states and plans to sell 10,000 cases by the end of the year.