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Mezcal: Big players put ‘acute’ pressure on agave

As several of the world’s biggest drinks players move into mezcal, agave supplies are suffering from “immediate and acute” pressure, according to smaller producers in the category.

Corte Vetusto mezcal has noticed agave prices double in two years

Tequila has long been suffering from an agave shortage, with Tequila Corralejo’s Raffaele Berardi having previously noted an 800% increase in prices over the 18 months to October last year.

Mezcal benefits somewhat from its ability to be made from more than 30 different agave species, while Tequila is limited to blue weber agave.

Bacardi acquired a minority stake in Ilegal Mezcal in February 2017, swiftly followed by Pernod Ricard buying a majority share in Del Maguey Single Vintage in August the same year, and George Clooney and Diageo launched the first line extension from Casamigos Tequila: Casamigos Mezcal.

However, with more muscle in a small category such as mezcal – which accounts for approximately 2% of Tequila volumes – some producers are concerned about the effect this will have on agave supplies.

“There is no question the arrival of Diageo, Pernod Ricard, Bacardi has put immediate and acute demand on agave availability,” said David Shepherd, founder and director of Black Sheep Spirits and Corte Vetusto mezcal.

“For us as a brand, in two years we’ve experienced doubling of agave prices. The agreement we have with our producer is we absorb the prices of the agave.

“Our intention is to make sure the Mescalero is shielded. So we’ll absorb those prices this year, but we’ll eventually need to talk to them about it. For us, quality is important, and we don’t want to give any reason for anyone to cut corners.”

Shepherd added he expects it will be a couple of years until agave prices and supplies stabilise.

“It is really encouraging to see how many agave are being planted and cultivated, and also brands being dedicated to creating and planting wild agave varietals back into the mountains,” he said. “That’s exciting, and there are brands leading on that, and others will surely follow.”

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