The agave plant was never destined to become tasteless, cheap tequila.
All tequilas are mezcals; all mezcals are made from agaves; and every bottle of mezcal is the remarkable result of collaborations among agave entrepreneurs, botanists, distillers, beverage distributors, bartenders, and more. How these groups come together in this "spirits world" is the subject of this fascinating new book by the acclaimed ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan and the pioneering restauranteur David Suro Piñera. Join them as they delight in the diversity of the distillate agave spirits, as they endeavor to track down the more distant kin in the family of agaves, and as, along the way, they reveal the stunning innovations that have been transforming the industry around tequilas and mezcals in recent decades.
The result of the authors' fieldwork and on-the-ground interviews with mezcaleros in eight Mexican states, Agave Spirits shows how traditional methods of mezcal production are inspiring a new generation of individuals, including women, both in and beyond the industry. And as they reach back into a rich, centuries-long history, Nabhan and Suro Piñera make clear that understanding the story behind a bottle of mezcal, more than any other drink, will not only reveal what lies ahead for the tradition – including its ability to adapt in the face of the climate crisis – but will also enrich the drinking experience for readers.
Essential reading for mezcal connoisseurs and amateurs interested in unlocking the past of a delightful distillate, Agave Spirits tells the tale of the most flavorful and memorable spirits humankind has ever sipped and savored. Featuring twelve illustrations by René Alejandro Hernández Tapia and indices that list common and scientific names for agave species, as well as the names of plants, animals, and domesticated agaves used in the production of distillates.
Gary Paul Nabhan is a MacArthur "Genius Grant" Award-winning ethnobotanist and literary naturalist who has been recognized as a pioneer in the local food movement by Time magazine and Slow Food International. He coauthored, with Ana Guadalupe Valenzuela-Zapata, the first authoritative history of agave spirits in English, Tequila: A Natural and Cultural History. He lives in Patagonia, Arizona.
David Suro Piñera is a restaurateur and founder of the Tequila Interchange Project. He lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
"With agave spirits clearly guiding, Gary Nabhan and David Suro Piñera have blended fascinating science with a loving homage to a mystical plant and the wizards who tend it and extract its juices – and a timely plan for safeguarding its native origins, so we all might keep imbibing."
– Alan Weisman, author of The World Without Us
"Gary Paul Nabhan and David Suro Piñera combine years of expertise, research, and devotion to capture the artistic intricacies of an ancient drink now threatened by greed. Salud to a remarkable achievement and to the rescue of Mexico's emblematic drink."
– Alfredo Corchado, author of Midnight in Mexico, and reporter, Dallas Morning News
"Agave Spirits is [...] an inspiring, encyclopedic read about a complex and beguiling subject [...] It does this book a disservice to try and summarize it in a single paragraph; rest assured this is a bravura, capstone work from two giants in their field."
– Jay Babcock, Patagonia Regional Times
"The craft of agave spirits is part science and part art, but always about embracing where we come from to understand where we are going. This book, as with David Suro and Gary Nabhan's life's work, is a true celebration of how a community's respect for its biodiversity can create liquid magic."
– José Andrés, chef and owner, José Andrés Group and Oyamel Cocina Mexicana
"Agave Spirits invites the reader to a place of wonder and learning all at the same time. It is a captivating journey into the past, present, and future of artisanal mezcals. It's a book about Mexican history and archeology, plant botany and climate change, the promises of mezcal and its kindred spirits, with prose that leaps from the page."
– Pati Jinich, chef, author, PBS host of La Frontera and Pati's Mexican Table
"A thoroughly fascinating dive into all that goes into the spirits, revealing an elaborate web of biological and cultural entanglements, with rich biodiversity in terms of plants, microbes, and even animals, all mediated by skilled human practitioners, carrying out (and refining) cultural traditions. The authors also show how this biodiversity as well as cultural diversity is threatened, concluding with a call to action."
– Sandor Ellix Katz, fermentation revivalist and author of Fermentation Journeys, The Art of Fermentation, and Wild Fermentation
"A comprehensive, readable exploration of the history and science of tequila, mezcal, and other agave-derived spirits."