A new made-in-India agave spirit is poised to shake up the alco-bev market

Maya Pistola Agavepura is a home-grown, 100% agave spirit distilled in Chittoor and aged, bottled, and blended in Goa. 
Maya pistola agavepura is a 100% agave spirit made in india.
Maya Pistola Agavepura is a 100% agave spirit made in India.

India’s craft spirit boom shows no signs of slowing down. The latest to hit the market is Maya Pistola Agavepura, a 100% agave spirit that is the brainchild of sibling duo Rakshay and Radhika Dhariwal of Pass Code Spirits Co. The company is a sister concern of Passcode Hospitality, which runs multiple restaurant and bar brands such as Jamun, PCO, Ping’s, and SAZ. “When the pandemic hit, I was jobless. All my restaurants had shut down and I was sitting at home with nothing to do,” says Rakshay Dhariwal, partner at Passcode Hospitality. With time on hand, he combined his knowledge of India’s drinking habits with his passion for agave spirits to create Pistola. “We have the raw material growing in profusion in our backyard, so I thought why not attempt to make a quality product that we can serve at our outposts,” he says. 

Make in India

The raw material he mentions is the agave plant — Agave americana — which grows wild in many parts of the country. It likely came to India during the Columbian exchange of the 15th and 16th centuries, which saw widespread transfer of plants, precious metals, and other commodities between the New World (the Americas) and the Old World (Europe, Africa, and Asia). The British planted agave along the railway tracks as they figured it could keep animals from straying onto them. “That’s why you see agave growing across the country, but the arid volcanic soil in central India like in Chittoor and along the Andhra-Karnataka border is particularly perfect,” says Dhariwal. 

The first person to see the potential of agave and distill it in India was Desmond Nazareth, founder and managing director of Agave India. He launched DesmondJi 51% Agave and DesmondJi 100% Agave way back in 2011. “Desmond is a very close friend; he taught me so much about making agave spirits and has been my mentor,” says Dhariwal. Neither DesmondJi nor Pistola can be called tequila or mezcal, of course, since they are protected by GI (Geographical Indication) tags. “That’s why we call it Agavepura, a 100% agave spirit that is made in India,” says Dhariwal. The name Maya is inspired by their brand mascot, the re-imagined and reincarnated Goddess of Agave, Mayahuel. 

Tasting notes

Pistola's first offering, reposado, is making quite a splash.
Pistola’s first offering, Reposado, is making quite a splash.

Pistola’s first offering is a Reposado — 100% agave spirit aged in ex-bourbon barrels for 4.5 months — that is made to be sipped neat (not shot) or on the rocks. It’s creamy with predominant notes of caramel and vanilla, a hint of pepper and cacao, finishing off with butterscotch. “It’s a very easy-drinking spirit, not very complex like an aged tequila would be, but fairly smooth and mellow,” says Swati Sharma, co-founder of The Dram Club. Apart from savouring it on its own, Dhariwal suggests using Pistola to make a few simple cocktails like Tommy’s Margarita or Batanga. “Or perhaps a regular Old Fashioned but instead of a sugar cube, I would use agave syrup or demerara sugar,” he adds. After the Reposado, Dhariwal aims to launch four more variants — Smoky Agave (their take on a Blanco, which is unaged tequila), Añejo (aged for 1 year), Extra Añejo (aged for more than 3 years), and Cask Strength Extra Añejo. 

Market watch

Indians are beginning to discover the joys of tequila so pistola has entered the market at the right time.
Indians are beginning to discover the joys of tequila so Pistola has entered the market at the right time.

Tequila and mezcal are all the rage internationally — the global tequila market is set to grow at a CAGR of 4.32% over the 2021-2028 period[1], while mezcal is poised to grow at 22.36%[2]. Several celebrities have also hitched on to the bandwagon and launched their own tequila brands, like Kendall Jenner’s 818 Tequila, George Clooney’s Casamigos Tequila, and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s Teremana. Alcohol e-commerce site Drizly predicts that tequila will challenge vodka as its second bestselling spirit in 2022, and may even surpass it[3]. Dhariwal sees a similar trend in India; “In my establishments, I notice that people are drinking more tequila than vodka, which was the highest-selling spirit some years ago,” he says. 

Most Indians get inducted into tequila via shots, which they dislike after a certain age. “People weren’t exposed to the idea of a sipping tequila earlier. I don’t think anyone’s imagination went beyond shots and margaritas. But that has changed drastically in the past 1.5 to 2 years with more high-end tequilas coming into the Indian market,” adds Sharma. 

High spirits

Pistola is pretty versatile and a great base for cocktails.
Pistola is pretty versatile and a great base for cocktails.

All this bodes well for the Indian-made agave spirits. So, will we see a gin-like revolution? “Agave India and DesmondJi have created the foundation for a made-in-India agave spirit revolution; we fired the first salvo signalling it a good 10 years ago. We are currently deluged with bulk spirit purchase inquiries from entrepreneurs who want to build premium Indian agave spirit brands using our agave spirits as a base,” says Nazareth. However, unlike gin, there are likely to be fewer players in the agave spirits market. Gin is easy to distill since it uses readily available extra-neutral alcohol, the equipment is relatively inexpensive, and the process is quick. Agave spirits, on the other hand, are more complex to make — the plant needs to grow for 8-10 years until its piña (heart) is mature and ready for harvesting, and the ageing process further adds to its timeline. Yet, Dhariwal is bullish; “I definitely anticipate other brands coming into the market, although I don’t see another 100% agave spirit coming out of India in the next 4-5 years,” he says. 

According to Sharma, Pistola may be the tipping point for people to start investing in agave spirits. “Of course, they will wait and watch how it performs, but it’s a high-quality product, is priced well, and is already gaining eyeballs,” she adds. These are exciting times for the Indian craft spirits space. Vive la revolution! 

Pistola is currently available in Goa at Rs 2,695 for 750ml, and will be available in Delhi, Maharashtra, and Karnataka in the next 4 to 6 months.

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