You can’t call it tequila, but Australian agave could soon be in your margarita

You can’t call it tequila, but Australian agave could soon be in your margarita

After four years of hard work growing the country’s first commercial-scale agave crop, the first bottles of all-Aussie tequila have entered the market.

Key points:

  • The country’s first commercial-scale agave farm has now produced a spirit that has entered the Australian market
  • The agronomist who oversees the farm says its success could pave the pathway for other commercial growers
  • There is the potential for agave to be used for other purposes, such as for creating biofuel

The agave farm is based in the Whitsundays, and those behind the project say its establishment will help produce more than just alcohol.

Australian agave could be coming to a margarita near you, but it won’t be called tequila.

A long journey

Agronomist Chris Monsour has been involved with developing the plantation, which began operations in 2020, from the beginning.

“It was [almost] exactly four years ago, January 16, 2020, when we first started preparing ground for the initial plantings,” Mr Monsour said.

He said the original purpose was to prove that it was possible to grow agave on this scale in tropical north Queensland.

“When we first set out on this journey, we wanted to use this farm as a way of basically demonstrating that it can be done,” he said.

“It had never been done at the sort of scale that this property is now.”

Chris Monsour says the learnings from the success of the Bowen farm could help other growers in the future.(ABC News)

Trent Fraser is the chief executive of Australian spirits company Top Shelf International (TSI), which owns the farm.

He said the location at Bowen was chosen because of its similar climatic conditions to Mexico, but that did not mean it was always easy to grow the crop.

“You do this to make some mistakes and to work out what some of the experiments don’t realise, so that’s part of the process as well,” he said.

But according to Mr Fraser, with over 600,000 plants now in the ground the farm is “the largest agave farm outside of its native land in Mexico”.

And with the first bottles of spirit produced from this farm now being sold online, he said he was excited to see how Australian growers could benefit from the popularity of tequila.

“For us to lead the charge, to accelerate and capitalise on that trend is quite a momentous moment,” he said.

Enquiries from around country

Agronomist Chris Monsour said he hoped seeing the success of a project of this scale would inspire other growers to enter the industry.

“It could demonstrate to others if they were interested in growing agave commercially that these are the things that we found work for us here,” he said.

“Over time the learnings that we accumulate here could be applied in other places.”

Mr Fraser said to date they have had “a lot of inbound enquiries” from all over the country.

But he thought growers from Queensland were best placed to help establish a domestic agave industry.

“I think it really does love that abundance of sunshine, there’s no better place than Queensland for agave to really thrive,” he said.

“Like Barossa Valley shiraz, Queensland could become that for agave.”

Potential for more than just alcohol

Although the project proves agave spirit can be produced at a commercial scale out of Australia, the product produced here has one key point of difference from the product out of Mexico.

“It cannot be called tequila,” said Mr Fraser.

Blue agave, which is grown on the farm at Bowen, is the species used to make alcohol.(Supplied: Ivan Cortez, Unsplash CC)

“It’s the exact same strain that tequila is made from but because it is an appellation and an origin much like champagne, we can’t call it that.”

Regardless of the name, agronomist Mr Monsour said he was glad to have proved that the agave used to make this alcohol could grow well in north Queensland.

He said the species used, blue agave, could see success in similar locations.

But he was excited to see whether other strains of agave, which could be used for purposes like creating biofuels, could be grown elsewhere across the country.

“I think north Queensland is good, but there’s other places throughout Australia where this crop, and maybe not specifically blue agave but other species of agave, could be grown for a range of purposes,” he said.

“It has got massive potential as a source for biofuels.”

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