AGAVE - It’s what you make of it that counts

Story and photo by Dylan Hochstedler

State 38 Distilling’s Sean Smiley pours a drink of his Anejo Tequila.

State 38 Distilling’s Sean Smiley pours a drink of his Anejo Tequila.

Is that Tequila you are drinking? Are you sure? Can it be made in the States or is all Tequila imported from Mexico?

According to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), Tequila must be distilled in Mexico, derived principally from agave Tequilana (blue agave), and bottled at no less than 40 percent ABV and 80 proof.

Thus, any bottle with the word “Tequila” printed on it contains alcohol that was distilled in Mexico, even if the distillery selling the product is located here in colorful Colorado. U.S. distillers commonly import Tequila, bottle and label it themselves and sell it as their own product, such as Denver’s Mile High Spirits’ Cuidado Tequila.

On the other hand, agave spirits produced in the U.S. cannot be called Tequila, yet can possess the same bold flavor of Tequila that enthusiasts across the world have come to love.

State 38 Distilling in Golden has perhaps the most intricate agave spirit program in Colorado. They specialize in making 100-percent handcrafted spirits from imported organic raw blue agave, an ingredient that owner Sean Smiley has had to jump through hoops to track down.

The species of agave is important when making an agave spirit. There are about 30 different types of agave plants, but the one that must be used in Tequila is agave Tequilana, a native plant to the Tequila region in the state of Jalisco, Mexico.

State 38 currently offers three kinds of traditional agave spirits: Blanco, Reposado and Añejo. Blanco compares to silver tequila, meaning it has not been aged in oak. Reposado, which translates to “rested” in English, is an agave spirit that has been rested for up to three months in an oak barrel. Añejo, meaning “aged,” is aged in oak for a minimum of one year. Reposado and Añejo start off as Blanco, and acquire a golden color from aging in the oak barrels.

Taking a new angle with the Jalisco plants, State 38 has utilized the agave for a whole new purpose. Smiley produces vodka and gin from agave, two non-traditional offerings that are truly unusual. 

“No one had ever thought about asking the TTB to make vodka and gin using an agave base,” Smiley said, adding that he believes he is the first distiller to do so.