La Tierra

Exploring the Karoo’s semi desert history!

Ostriches standing next to Agave plant in the Karoo, South Africa

The Agave revolution is steadily gaining momentum in South Africa, but this magical Agave plant has a rich and complex history on our shores… 

From craft beer, to artisanal gin and now Agave spirits. South Africa’s creativity when it comes to putting our own spin on world-famous drinks is second to none. So it comes as no surprise that we’re quickly boarding the Agave train and creating South African Tequila.

The karoo is not your ordinary semi desert!

But just how do we produce our own Agave spirits? And how does this semi desert region of the Karoo contribute to such a distinctive flavour profile in the spirit?

Well, it’s all thanks to Tim Murray and his farm out in Graaff-Reinet (and its fascinating history). We are going to explore this Agave plant growing in the Karoos semi desert and the history it holds.

But first, let’s explain the difference between Tequila, Mezcal and Agave spirit. 

Tequila, the one of the three we’re most familiar with, is produced specifically in the Tequila region of Mexico (predominantly from the state of Jalisco). 

Tequila can only be called tequila if it is made in this region, and specifically from the Blue Weber Agave plant. Tequila production is also subject to stringent regulation, and this assures quality, consistency and preservation of the traditional production methods. 

Mezcal is also a product that is specifically produced in Mexico, but unlike Tequila, can be produced anywhere in the country, can be made from any type of Agave plant, and is not subject to the production method restrictions that Tequila is governed by. 

Agave spirits are once again made from the Agave plant, but unlike Mezcal and Tequila, can be produced anywhere in the world, using any method. 

The Karoo is a semi desert region, whereas many of the Agave growing regions in Mexico are true deserts. This means that the Karoo receives more rainfall than the desert regions of Mexico would, which is why La Tierras spirits taste so unique but still has the same gorgeous kick like Tequila!

semi desert region of the Karoo, South Africa

This is where the story gets interesting! 

Now, while we don’t exactly know how the Agave plant traveled across the seas to land up on our shores, Tim Murray has a little history on how it got to Graaff-Reinet – and it goes all the way back to the 1800s! 

His family has been farming Karoo Agave (also known as Agave Americana) for five generations, and their story goes a little like this: 

One of his relatives was in the Eastern Cape Wild Coast, when she spotted goats and sheep eating Agave during a drought. She took three samples of the plant and brought it back to the family farm in Graaff-Reinet.

Without having any initial idea of the multiple uses of the Karoo Agave plant, the harvest initially was used in ostrich farming! Ostrich feathers were used for hats in the 1860s (huge market back then) and the Agave plant was sold to farmers as fodder for their birds. 

It was only in the 1990s that Karoo Agave in South Africa was used in the production of Agave spirits; thanks to a shortage of the plant in Mexico. 

As the history goes, a Mr Harvey Venter realised that while exporting Agave to Mexico is lucrative, a more long-term vision would be to produce Agave spirit here instead. 

The audacious vision of establishing a South African Tequila distillery has only just come to fruition, and as a country we’re really at the beginning of what is sure to be an Agave spirit revolution

The semi desert climate of the Karoo also has an impact on the flavor profile of the La Tierra Agave spirits. The hot, dry conditions of the region results in a more concentrated and complex flavor , which translates into a bolder, more intense flavor in the final product.

La Tierra is made using the Agave Americana farmed in the Karoo. But we’re committed to upholding the standards and practices of Mexican Tequila – so our production methods are as close to the traditional way as possible. The Karoo Agave is well-suited to semi desert climates so the more we learn about this plant the better we can perfect spirit production.

We’re looking forward to seeing the growth and expansion of locally crafted, small batch Agave spirits in South Africa! Currently, we produce three types of spirits – a Blanco, a Reposado and Anejo (coming soon). The bigger the industry gets for Karoo Agave spirits the bigger the need for more land to be used for Agave cultivation! This can bring a lot of opportunities to locals in villages and towns of the Karoo desert.

Whether you make a signature cocktail, sip it slowly, or share a round of shots with friends – La Tierra is a taste of Mexican culture with South African character! 

Cheers to the Agave – The spirit a nation.

Aidan Kraak with the Agave Americana


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