Food and Drink

We’re Making an Australian Agave Spirit For The Future

Just don't call it tequila.

what is australian agave spirit

Trent Fraser is the Head of the Agave project at Top Shelf International, an Australian diversified branded spirits company. The company is known for taking a class spirit and putting an Australian twist on it, but the agave spirit project is the most ambitious to date. Here, Fraser talks about the project, how it was started, and the future of Australian agave spirits.

I’ve just spent the last twenty years in the United States, which is a very different landscape in terms of the maturity of tequila in the country. I spoke to a lot of Australians recently and they’ve all said tequila here is the most popular spirit and it’s growing—has been for the past few years. Although, in the U.S. it has been on fire for the last 15 to 20 years. Only now has tequila surpassed vodka in Australia, so we’re starting to see the premium brands on shelves, which is where we come in.

Top Shelf International did some research and development years ago. They even planted some agave in Queensland, harvested and distilled it. They realised the potential and bought a larger piece of land in Bowen, Queensland.

I spent the last seven years in Jalisco, Guadalajara, which is 20 degrees north of the equator, and exactly 20 degrees south is where our farm is. The importance of that is the rainfall, the climate, the humidity—the conditions are almost identical for the agave to grow. This happened in 2019. Right now, we have over 500 thousand agave plants in-ground, quietly maturing. 

Agave takes a long time to mature, between four to eight years. In the middle of next year, we will have some sizeable plants, that might be as big as 50kg. I used to be in the wine business, I didn’t realise how lucky I was to get a vintage each year. Now, I have to wait for the agave to mature before we can even taste the liquid. To be fair, when it is harvested, it produces seven to nine bottles out of one plant.

The product that we produce is not tequila and it’s not called Australian tequila either—don’t call it that. That name and title are legally protected by the Mexican authorities, and to be honest with the flooding of brands in this space we do not want to be labelled or positioned in this way. We are proudly an Australian Agave Spirit. We are using the same strain of Blue Webber agave so there will be some strong comparisons to those well-made Mexican profiles. But we are not confined by authorities nor tradition, we have a blank canvas to deliver on one simple mission, to produce the most spectacular and stunning liquid. We are in a fortuitous position to effectively steal the very best of the older traditional techniques while bringing modernity to our approach to push the boundaries and go beyond.

People can expect similarities of flavours, but because of the agave, it is our unique Australian terroir that will bring a new dimension and differentiation. Our maritime and coastal influence alone is already demonstrating to us a stunning uniqueness and minerality. Our soil type and climate in Northern Queensland impart exotic citrus, lime and grassiness I have not seen in all my years spent around Tequila.

Agave spirits have tremendous diversity. Of course, our liquid will be enjoyed in fantastic cocktails such as Margaritas and Palomas, but we hope it will be enjoyed neat or with one big ice cube. There are no rules in this space, and we embrace that too.

We’re not out here growing agave to replace tequila, instead, we’re adding an extension to the existing tequila and mezcal offerings. We want to pioneer a new era of agave by creating a whole new category. The industry typically loves and welcomes innovation and hopefully, we can inject a lot of fun and excitement but also in a very credible way. We are doing this the right way focusing on our land and process and not marketing gimmicks.

We already have a good amount of buzz and anticipation from aficionados in North America, so while we certainly hope to make a lot of noise, we also look forward to expanding the minds and possibilities of those who really enjoy all things agave.

I want to pioneer and transform a category where Australia becomes the next biggest player in the agave spirits space.

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Food and Drink

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Red Rooster Christmas in July
Instagram / @redrooster_au

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