A little South African ingenuity
The agave plant has been growing in the karoo desert for a century and half. Originally it was planted as cattle-kraal fences. These plants grew big and tall enough to be quite the formidable fence post.
Now imagine looking at your fence and thinking, “I could drink that”.
And that’s pretty much how it started. With Roy Maclachlan, the first South African to distill agave spirits in SA.
But we have to jump back to central America for this origins story. Pulque was being made, effectively made like wine, the indigenous people of central America had been making it for generations. As the Europeans invaded this space, they brought along knowledge of distillation and thirsty people. This resulted in Mezcal - the oldest form of “tequila.
By the 1950’s this method was refined, officially branded as “tequila” and globalized. To say it took off would be an understatement. Tequila became an international phenomenon and the demand grew greatly. All good things must come to an end and in the late 1990’s the Mexican tequila market came crashing down. A virus had spread and damaged countless crops. This shot the price sky high and South African tequila drinkers, much like the rest of the world, were left with nothing but a little heap of salt and a wedge of lemon.
Remember Roy who looked at the plant in the Karoo and thought he could make something of it? Well he did. But he couldn’t call it “tequila”. He could call it what it really is, 100% Agave Spirit. Its truest form. No blending in of cane sugars or dilution.
We as a country had grown to enjoy, share and respect this product from Mexico and suddenly it was not as readily available anymore. The South African Agave culture was born out of necessity. We knew what we liked, we had the means to make it ourselves. So we did.
Because of a few cows that needed a kraal, a virus on the other end of the world (sound familiar?) and a man with a plan, the way for Leonista was paved.
Next time you mix that margarita for your friends say a little cheers to the Mexicans for making Pulque, to the Spanish for thinking it could be stronger, and the South African that brought it home.