Drunken Saturday night antics just aren’t quite the same without an ill-advised tequila slammer. Mexico’s signature spirit is as universally loved as tacos and sombreros, and has been the fuel for more dreadful dance moves than a whole bar-load of lesser drinks. However, in disastrous news for frat bros everywhere, there are signs that the industry could be about to come under serious threat.
In the western Mexican province of Jalisco, heartland of global tequila production, reports have emerged that the agave plants from which the spirit is produced are in increasingly short supply. Consequently, the price of the stubby, blue-tinged shrub has shot up to around six times its usual value. With producers struggling to keep up with demand, experts predict that the shortage may well continue until at least 2021.
The problem stems from 2011, when farmers failed to accurately predict the modern appetite for the drink. Seven years ago, around 18 million seeds were sown across Jalisco, with the belief that this would cater for the needs of the tequila industry. However, it's turned out that these numbers are nowhere near close to the 40 million plants that the country’s 140 registered tequila businesses actually need.
The reasons for this gross miscalculation are unpredicted surges in tequila interest from new and growing markets. The United States and Japan, in particular, account for much of tequila’s newfound popularity. Today, the United States alone is responsible for over 80 per cent of all global tequila consumption.
In order to remain solvent, farmers are being forced to take drastic measures. Across plantations, young and immature agave plants are being harvested in an attempt to meet demand. Unfortunately, the yield from these plants is significantly reduced, which explains why the price has inflated from 3.8 pesos per kilo to just over 20.
To make matters worse, there is evidence of criminal activity fuelling the growing crisis. According to officials in Mexico, nighttime thefts of agave plants by truck have increased over 300 per cent in the last year alone. According to the Tequila Regulatory Council, over 15,000 plants have been reported as stolen as people attempt to capitalise on the inflated prices and limited availability of agave.
It is thought that this industry pressure is most likely to affect the smaller tequila producers, who will suddenly be unable to compete with the industry’s premium brands. The manager of independent distillery Tequila Cascahuin told The Daily Mail: “At more than 20 pesos per kilo, it's impossible to compete with other spirits like vodka and whisky”. It’s suspected that even the larger businesses will inevitably come to feel the pinch.
This all sounds rather depressing for slammer fans around the world. However, there are alternative reasons to be cheerful. Many drinks experts are beginning to extol the virtues of a less well-known but equally potent Mexican export. Mezcal is made from a different agave plant, and so is expected to escape the misfortune that has befallen the rest of the industry. With this potentially more affordable alternative, we may be able to enjoy fiestas for a while yet.
Anyone who doesn’t fancy mezcal margaritas for the foreseeable future will just have to pray that the farmers of Jalisco can quickly come up with a workable solution. If one isn’t found soon, everyone’s favourite ill-advised shot may become a thing of the past.