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Australian tequila - does it exist?

Whether it’s a margarita, a Paloma or just straight up on ice, Mexico’s national drink is as versatile as it is iconic. But what’s the problem with the name ‘Australian tequila’? And does it exist?

Let’s be honest, tequila is a polarising spirit. Those of us who love it understand there’s a lot more to tequila than the dirty shots of cheap mass-produced hangover juice we’ve all had at 2am.

As for the rest of us for whom tequila is their bogey drink, I get it. But it’s well worth persevering and trying some really good quality stuff in a beautiful cocktail. I promise, it won’t trigger any PTSD flashbacks.

And while there are some seriously impressive Mexican tequilas around, Australia’s craft distillers are creating some very worthy agave spirits of their own.

Wait, did I just say agave spirit?

Yes, agave spirit. You can’t call it ‘Australian tequila’ because Mexico has done the sensible thing and made it law that tequila can only be made in Mexico.

It’s the same principal as Champagne in France and even things like Cheddar cheese in England (yes, that’s a thing).

For Australia, we have to call our ‘tequila’ something else like agave spirit.

And because Mexican tequila is traditionally (and legally) made with a minimum of 51% blue agave plant, calling it agave spirit here makes sense.

Mount Uncle Distillery’s Dirt Road agave spirits

Mount Uncle Distillery in Far North Queensland’s Atherton Tablelands has been making incredible spirits—beautiful rums like their Iridium Gold Rum and sensational gins like their Botanic Australis Navy Strength—since 2001.

Now, using 100% blue agave grown and harvested locally, owner-distiller Mark Watkins has crafted two different agave spirits: a blanco and an añejo.

The five main types of tequila:

This classic un-aged white agave spirit in the style of a tequila blanco is incredibly smooth and flavourful.

It has a salty, unctuous nose with all the earthy, grassy, tobacco aromas you recognise from high-quality Mexican tequila. On your first sip, you realise how smooth it is in spite of it 45% ABV. There’s almost a whisky new make taste to it.

But leaving the spirit to sit in your mouth for a couple of seconds allows it to settle down, then it develops into a wonderful thing. Sweetness and a soft, gentle body come through, and then a little of that oily funk you associate with good tequila.

Worlds apart from the tequila slammers that sent you home in the past, this spirit is great on its own over ice or in any classic tequila cocktail.

Aged for two years in American oak barrels makes Dirt Road Dark an añejo-style agave spirit—traditionally, añejo tequila must be aged for one to three years.

Much of that pungent flinty tequila aroma has settled down and mellowed in this barrel-aged agave spirit. The American oak has also brought out silky vanilla, toffee and coconut aromas, though there’s still a fleeting whiff of oily agave.

In the mouth, there’s more caramel, vanilla and sweet toasted nuttiness from the wood that compliments the sweetness and smoothness of this two-year-old spirit. There’s still a lot of liveliness though, with touches of acidity and agave funk to balance these brown-sugar and oak flavours.

Perfect for simply sipping over ice, this agave spirit drinks more like a whisky than anything else. In fact, swapping it in for most whisky cocktails works beautifully.

Old fashioneds, sours and even manhattans will greet this smooth, slick spirit with open arms.

So does Australian tequila exist?

In short, no. We can’t call it that.

But as you can see, Australia is making some excellent tequila-style spirits, and I get the feeling there’s going to be a lot more coming your way soon.

So get ready for more Aussie craft agave spirits—both tequila style and mezcal style in fact. And if you’re not sure what the difference is, here’s a story to clear that up too.


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