Tequileros are not the sole connoisseurs of agave worship. Long before tequila was invented, the Aztecs viewed agave as a gift from the gods. They infused their food and drink with it, used it for healing wounds, and reaped the benefits of protein-building amino acids and alkaloids that occur naturally, particularly in the Blue Agave species.
Agave, although similar to the cactus or yucca plant, is a succulent, much like Aloe Vera, and thrives in the Mexican state of Jalisco, where volcanic soils provide the ideal turf for propogation. This spiky-leaved plant has an inner core that is visible when the upper leaves are cut away. This inner core, or “pina”, holds a sap that is extracted, filtered and heated, producing agave that may be light in color or darker, like maple syrup.
What does agave taste like? True agave has a distinctive flavor, just as strawberries or blueberries have a profile completely their own. Agave is mineral-like, earthy and musky. Some say it has a honey character, but any that strays too far into the flavors of sweet syrup may be overly-processed into high-concentrate fructose – clearly an unhealthy form of sweetener.
For adventurous brewers, agave presents yet another additive that makes crafting beer an art form. For Joe Short of Shorts Brewing Company in Bellaire, Michigan, agave adds interest to Shorts Agave Peach Wheat Beer. This fruity wheat wonder glows with an ephemeral, copper mistiness and displays a creamy, eggshell-white head. Aromas are of peach, melon, mango, earth, and a crisp, bitter finish that slinks-off into the background. Its drinkability factor wins high honors and may best be enjoyed with spicy crabcakes, nut-encrusted salmon, or quesadillas dripping with cheese.
Coloradans were the first to experience Breckenridge Agave Wheat Beer, a spiced Herb Beer with 4.2% ABV. Its hazy sunlit body supports a creamy head of sticky cream, while aromas of crackers, melon, lemony citrus, and tart fruit seduce the unsuspecting. On the palate, the tongue is grabbed by a silky fullness, drenched in subtle fruit and finished with the grapefruity scrub of left-coast hoppiness.
Uncle Billy’s Brew & Que in Austin, Texas has created the lightly complex Agave Wit at 4.6% ABV. Little particles float through the densely hazed body of yellow, while the air encircles your head with herbal coriander and cloves dipped in lemon honey and B-B-Bats. The tang of wheat dances across the tongue, while tart orange lingers in a body that approaches fullness. This is no “ordinary” witbier, but one that satiates with layers of nuanced flavor.
Southern Star Brewing Company of Conroe, Texas has developed the ProAm Line of beers, crafted using a homebrewer’s recipe; then scaled up for commercial production. Ed Condon of Spring, Texas, collaborated with Southern Star Brewing to create the ProAm 2010 Smoked Porter with Chipotle Peppers and Agave Nectar, an American Porter with 5.8% ABV. The body shimmers like a black onyx stone, with a minimal head, and legs that coat the glass. The nose is earthy, mixed with smoke and a roasted chocolate profile. On the palate, caramel melanoidins emerge, awash in smoke, earth, and dark chocolate, with heat in the throat - a gutsy use of peppers and agave, to be sure.
Agave, known in Mexico as aguamiel, or “honey water,” has naturally high levels of carbs, which presents versatility for craft brewers who dare to experiment with an ever-expanding palette of exotic ingredients. It could carry itself well in a Belgian Strong Pale Ale, Lambic, Chile Beer, or Mead. Pair it with the floral aromas of heather, mint, juniper berries or poppy. It may also help fermentation in gluten free beer styles. The possibilities are endless.
Where to find agave?
Wholesome Sweeteners Organic raw blue agave, 23.5-Ounce Bottles (Pack of 6)
Photo: Blue Agave in Mexico, photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, registered under jay8085 on Flickr