TexAgave hopes to become Texas’ substitute for tequila

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. TexAgave, made from agave nectar, is ideal in a margarita.

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. TexAgave, made from agave nectar, is ideal in a margarita. Just swap the tequila out for this new Texas spirit.

Although Texans love our margaritas, we don’t make them with regional ingredients — the main spirit in them, tequila, comes from Mexico, the same place where the cocktail originated.

But now, thanks to a small Leander distillery, there’s a Texas-made alternative produced from agave nectar: TexAgave Blue Agave Spirits.

So far, it’s the only spirit made at Square Peg Distilling, which Scott Calame founded when he realized his idea was worthy of mass-market consumption. A longtime homebrewer, he stumbled across agave nectar — a sweetener made from the agave plant, like tequila, and often regarded as a more palatable sugar substitute than honey — and decided to bet on its potential as a distillate, after first fermenting it into a dry white wine.

“Once I saw the nice, drinkable products I could make with agave nectar, I started realizing, ‘I think there’s an opportunity for a truly Texas-made alternative to tequila.’ That was where I came up with the idea and went from there,” he said.

When he introduces TexAgave to new customers, however, he makes a couple of things very clear: TexAgave isn’t tequila and isn’t trying to be. Mexico’s regulations defining what tequila is and how it can be made also protect the spirit from being produced in another country, in a law called denomination of origin. That means Calame can’t even use any variation of the word ‘tequila’ in the name of his agave nectar spirit.

He also stresses that his intent in making TexAgave has nothing to do with his feelings toward tequila. On the contrary, he is like many Austinites and simply prefers locally made goods that find a piece of their identity in where they come from.

“I don’t disparage or dislike tequila. It was the inspiration for this product,” he said. “But I wanted to celebrate life in Texas and give Texans the opportunity to make their margaritas with a liquor made in Texas.”

The 80 proof spirit is distilled primarily from agave nectar that Calame receives in bulk from a California company with connections to agave farmers in Mexico. Before the distillation from a long column still, he adds a couple of other sugars, including cane molasses, into the fermentation process to guarantee that the sugars are fully converted into alcohol. (Agave nectar isn’t a favorite food of yeast, he said, so having the molasses helps them eat up the rest of it.)

Another benefit of the cane molasses and corn sugar, he said, is that they contribute “a more complex and nuanced flavor.” Because agave nectar is the result of juice from the agave plant being boiled into a syrup — losing some of the natural elements that give tequila its taste — it’s not quite as flavorful as Calame would want.

“When you taste the product, you’ll probably pick up a little bit of a rum characteristic, just a little bit of a tropical note, as a result of the cane molasses,” he said. “Also notes of vanilla and coconut. None of those things are in the product, but that’s just what comes to mind when people smell and get a little taste of it at the tastings that I do.”

Don’t worry, tequila fans: TexAgave’s agave characteristic is apparent, too. That’s what makes it so good in a margarita, which Calame whips up for customers who stop into liquor stores and don’t expect to appreciate a new type of spirit so much.

The price point probably persuades them into buying a bottle as well — most stores carrying it (the biggest one being Total Wine & More, with two locations in Austin) sell it for less than $20. Calame likes to keep it so accessible because “I wanted something Texans would gravitate toward at a price point where they could feel good about dumping it into the margarita pitcher,” he said. “That’s something I hope you wouldn’t do with a $60 or $70 bottle of tequila. I even hesitate to throw a $30 bottle into the margarita pitcher.”

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Scott Calame has been a longtime homebrewer but has turned distilling into a business, making an agave nectar spirit in Leander.

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Scott Calame has been a longtime homebrewer but has turned distilling into a business, making an agave nectar spirit in Leander.

Soon enough, there will be another TexAgave bottle that you’ll be able to make those margaritas with. Square Peg Distilling is releasing a triple sec under the TexAgave brand at only 15 percent ABV, and it’s sweet without being cloying.

“So you’d be able to make a margarita with almost entirely Texas-made products,” Calame said.

He’s also got something a little more secret in the works. All he can reveal about it, for now, is that it’s a high-end orange liqueur. And that he’s very excited about it.

“I can’t believe how close we came to some of the other products in the category,” he said.

Although Square Peg Distilling isn’t yet opened for tours and tastings, look for that to change sometime in the future, when Calame will transform an outdoor space outside his Leander facility into the perfect place for sipping cocktails.

For more information, visit facebook.com/TexAgave.

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