First we were told a global wine shortage was looming. Then experts announced chocolate could be extinct as early as 2050. You might want to take a shot (or five) of tequila before taking in this latest endangered food-and-drink species news because, yeah, the potent spirit may be the next of your favorites to become a unicorn.
Reuters reports there is a shortage of Agave tequilana — the blue, spiky Mexican agave plant that’s harvested to make tequila — which is making it really hard for all the tequila companies in Mexico to provide their national liquor to the rest of the world. Because of the lack of supply, over the past few years the cost of the plant has increased nearly six times, from 3.85 to a whopping 22 pesos per kilo.
This is incredibly problematic, because the demand for the hangover-inducing liquor (according to a recent survey, more people attribute their worst hangover to tequila than any other type of alcohol) has also increased. “The growth has overtaken us. It’s a crisis of success of the industry,” Francisco Soltero, director of strategic planning at Patron, told the news organization. “We thought that we were going to grow a certain amount, and we’re growing double,” he said.
The agave shortage is expected to be even worse in 2018 than it was in 2017 and will likely continue until 2021. And while it impacts the industry as a whole, those hit the hardest will be low-cost producers as well as small-scale distillers. Bigger producers — like Tequila Sauza and Patron — won’t be as affected by the shortage because they have more resources to pay for the agave.
“At more than 20 pesos per kilo, it’s impossible to compete with other spirits like vodka and whiskey,” explained Salvador Rosales, manager of Tequila Cascahuin, a smaller distillery. “If we continue like this a lot of companies will disappear.”
Why is this travesty happening? Agave plants take seven to eight years to mature, and, according to the report, in 2011 a mere 17.7 million blue agaves were planted south of the border. While that number may seem high, it isn’t, as a whopping 42 million plants are needed to supply the 140 registered tequila companies. Agave farmers are being forced to use younger plants, which produce less tequila, to compensate for the shortage. This, in turn, creates a downward spiral in the industry.
So, basically, if you are a tequila snob who prefers small-batch brand to Cuervo, you might want to stock up pronto. If you don’t care what brand is poured into your margarita, this shortage probably won’t impact your drinking and you can go on singing “Tequila” until the wee hours of the morning for many years to come.
There is also another option. Mezcal is an alternative distilled spirit made from agave plants and produced in different regions of Mexico than tequila. Unlike tequila, which can only be made out of blue agave, mezcal can be made out of more than 30 different types of agave (including blue). Basically, all tequilas are mezcals, but not all mezcals are tequila (similar to how Scotch and bourbon are types of whiskey).
As far as we can tell, there is no shortage of the other types of agave plants, so if you are feeling like trying something new, you could always substitute in some mezcal to your favorite margarita recipe. It will probably taste just as delicious.
What Do YOU Think?
Are you a tequila drinker? Does this latest food shortage worry you? Do you expect more food shortages to arise in the future?