We are an importer, exporter & wholesaler of alcoholic beverages & food with type 14 public warehouse & fulfillment service

From Puntas to Pepsi Bottles: The Definitive Agave Urban Dictionary

It’s easy to feel, after what’s been a particularly tequila-and-mezcal-soaked century so far, like serious agave spirits came out of nowhere. One day they were being guzzled by spring breaking frat bros and bored suburbanites on Taco Tuesday; the next they’re the subject of some truly high-end connoisseurship with almost too many new developments to keep up with. First mezcal was smoky, now it’s funky? Something called cristalino is taking over everyone’s Instagram feeds? Guy Fieri has a tequila brand now — and it’s kinda good?! It’s enough to make any self-respecting drinker reach for the salt and lime.

But wait! You don’t have to go in on that Oaxaca timeshare just to feel like you’re keeping up. We at VinePair have put together the definitive modern Urban Dictionary of all things agave. From aguamiel to mayahuel to the low-grade crimes committed to get this stuff into the U.S. in the first place, we’ve assembled all the jargon in one convenient spot. So the next time that one serious collector friend offers you a copita of pechuga that they suitcased back and swear is Pepsi bottle-worthy you won’t have to nod politely while secretly wondering if they’re having a stroke. Instead, you’ll be able to confidently raise your cup, look them in the eye and say “¡Salud!”


A dice-based game played for money popularized by the mezcal brand Ilegal. It’s regularly played at the brand’s bars and pop-ups throughout North America and offers definitive proof that if drinking has a soulmate, it’s gambling.


The legal amount of spirits a single passenger is technically allowed in their checked baggage, per the Federal Aviation Administration. This is one of those laws that’s regularly flaunted by travelers returning from Mexico with bags full of rare bottles. Nevertheless, flyers have been made to jettison rare finds in airports from time to time, which has prompted many a Reddit rant about how spottily this rule is enforced. Additionally, every bottle brought in over one liter is subject to duty fees, another law that is often casually ignored.


Tiny ingredients in tequila that in recent years have caused a massive uproar. The Consejo Regulador del Tequila or Tequila Regulatory Council allows up to 1 percent of a single bottle of tequila to contain four different additives — glycerin, oak extract, caramel coloring, and natural sugars — while still calling itself 100 percent tequila on the label. The end result is often a sweeter, more vanilla-forward product coupled with enormous outcry from enthusiasts. The crusade against brands using additives (with a particular subset of tequilas coming in for extra scrutiny and derision, see: “Celebrity Tequila”) recently reached a new high. In March, the founders of Tequila Matchmaker, which markets itself as a consumer watchdog organization monitoring which brands do and don’t use additives in their liquor, saw their home raided by authorities in Jalisco, proving that, if nothing else, this issue isn’t going away anytime soon.


A rich, earthy, lightly fruity syrup made by cooking down pure agave sap. Making aguamiel is the first step in making pulque, a fermented agave beverage that’s been around for thousands of years. That said, even without yeast and alcohol entering the picture, aguamiel is pretty tasty by itself and is often hailed as miles ahead of the ultra-processed agave sugar available in grocery stores. (For more on how out-of-love many bartenders have fallen with these commercially available syrups see: “Nogave.”)


A distilled agave spirit that hails from the Mexican state of Sonora. Like tequila, mezcal, and a number of other agave beverages, Bacanora has a denomination of origin (D.O.). In this case, the D.O. specifies that it can only be made from Agave angustifolia, which is commonly known as Pacifica or Yaquiana. Interestingly, this species is also common to the more southern state of Oaxaca where it goes by the more widely recognized moniker “Espadín.” But the hot dry climate of Sonora yields a spirit that’s often described as extremely earthy and vegetal, making Bacanora distinct in the world of agave.

Blue Weber

The only species of agave that is allowed in the production of tequila, per the denomination of origin. This, coupled with the explosion of interest in tequila over the last 30 years, has led to a worrisome lack of biodiversity in the Blue Weber plant (see: “Monoculture”).

Celebrity Tequila

A tequila brand owned by a famous person and/or shorthand for the trend as a whole, which has reached almost comic proportions in recent years. Celebrities as diverse as George Clooney, Kendall Jenner, Sammy Hagar, and The Rock have all gotten into the game, with Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, a.k.a. Walt and Jesse from “Breaking Bad,” even entering the mezcal market. These brands vary in quality (as all brands do) but are usually subject to extra scrutiny given the high profiles of the individuals involved and the inherently unlevel playing field between owners and producers in the world of Mexican spirits.


A small traditional cup used to drink agave spirits. Usually a very simple vessel made from the dried shell of the jicara fruit that holds one to two ounces of liquid. More ornate copitas do exist; it’s not uncommon in Mexico to see elaborately painted or decorated copitas for sale, or to see copitas made from clay or even metal either sold or given away as gifts by producers and brands.


The part of the run off a still usually considered best for bottling. Much like whiskey and other spirits, the liquor from agave distillation comes in three different phases: the puntas (heads or points), the corazon (hearts), and the colas (tails). While the corazon is usually the most flavorful — and the safest to drink — certain rare bottlings have been known to be made from different cuts (see: “Puntas”).


A style of tequila that is infused post-distillation by resting the spirit on cooked agave hearts, yielding a slightly sweeter end product that highlights the natural flavors of the plant. While it might seem gimmicky at first blush there is historical precedent for finishing agave spirits in this manner that dates back to the 1800s. First commercially pioneered by the families behind Tequila Ocho in 2023, it was generally hailed as a welcome innovation, at least among hardcore agave fans.


A style of tequila that is aged yet clear in color. While it was first introduced by Maestro Dobel in 2008, cristalino has enjoyed a surge in popularity and interest over the last few years. The clarity is usually achieved by submitting an aged tequila (which will have a brown hue due to contact with oak) to a charcoal filtration process that retains the oak flavor but strips out the color. The result is a smooth yet light and often fruity beverage that’s often marketed as an ultra-premium product, prompting some criticism that the category is motivated more by marketing than flavor.


The most common type of agave used in mezcal production. While mezcal can technically be made from any agave species (of which there are over 200), Espadín accounts for 80–90 percent of all mezcal thanks to its quick maturation and adaptability, which makes it relatively easy to farm.

Flowering/In Flower

A term meaning an agave plant has begun to reproduce sexually. When this happens the agave grows an enormous stalk called a quiote that can reach up to 40 feet in the air and puts out flowers to attract pollinators. This process requires an enormous amount of energy by the plant and uses up all the sugars that could otherwise be used by producers to make spirits. In other words, an agave can either be allowed to reproduce by flowering or made into booze, but not both.


A more de rigueur term to describe the characteristic flavor of mezcal, replacing an earlier one that has since fallen far out of favor (see: “Smoke”).


A somewhat spurious category of tequila. Traditionally, tequila comes in three age statements: blanco (aged less than 2 months) reposado (aged 2 months to a year) and añejo (aged 1–3 years). While these categories have been in flux in recent years, gold is not and never has been one of them. Thus “gold” is a fancy-sounding word often applied to tequilas of low quality (see: “Mixto”).


A term popularized by podcaster Lou Bank to describe white American agave fans, while riffing on an oft-derided term that has been panned as virtue-signaling.


Usually referring to the larvae of the agave redworm moth, gusano can either mean the caterpillar itself or a salt made from the dried, crushed invertebrate and other spices that’s a popular side dish for mezcal. While it does mean “worm” in English, “gusano” is often dropped in articles and discussions about mezcal as a sign that the speaker knows what they’re talking about. This is not to be confused with the English word “worm,” which might mean the same thing but has precisely the opposite connotation (see: “Worm”).


Literally “oven” in Spanish, horno often refers to the deep pits dug into the earth where agave hearts are roasted to make mezcal.


The Aztec goddess of pulque, a fermented agave beverage. Like many gods of alcohol, her purview spanned not only the beverage itself but the ensuing debauchery that goes along with it. In Aztec mythology her body produced pulque, which she used to nurse her 400 drunken rabbit children. Being a colorful character, she’s been featured on a number of spirits labels, as well as inspiring the name of a pioneering and sadly defunct mezcal bar in New York’s East Village (RIP). If you ever see a woman on a mezcal bottle with an illogical number of breasts, odds are it’s her.


A bar specializing in mezcal. The term encompasses the high-end shops trading in rare connoisseur products like Mezcaloteca and In Situ in Oaxaca City, and the divey bars down the street from these that nevertheless manage to have a pretty good selection.


A category of tequila consisting of at least 51 percent agave distillate. Mixtos are almost always of poor quality, considering the other 49 percent is usually low-grade cane spirits that have been described as a “hangover in a bottle.”


A lack of genetic diversity caused by modern farming practices and a major problem facing tequila producers. Agave plants are able to reproduce in two ways: sexually, by flowering, and asexually, by producing offshoots called hijuelos and bulbils, which are genetic clones of the mother plant. Because flowering uses up all the sugar needed to make spirits, this process is often discouraged by farmers who prefer to collect and plant the clones instead. Over time this can lead to whole farms of agave plants with the exact same DNA, making entire crops and species susceptible to potential illness and blights.


An agave syrup taste-alike that avoids using commercially available products. A growing number of bartenders such as Max Reis of Mírate in Los Angeles, and LP O’Brien, winner of Season 1 of Netflix’s “Drinkmasters,” are making nogave syrups from ingredients such as orange blossom honey and pineapple nectar. The movement is a reaction to the highly processed agave syrups available on the retail market, which are widely panned as being devoid of flavor and character. While there is a fledgling movement to bring actual (some might say “better”) agave syrup from Mexico, currently pickings remain slim.


A traditional mezcal distillery, usually on a large plot of land, where agave are roasted, crushed, fermented, and finally distilled. They often include an element of farming as well, where agave are cultivated for future spirits production.


A traditional type of agave spirit made by hanging a specialty ingredient inside a still for the vapors to pass through before they are condensed. An eye-catching version of this involves a raw chicken breast (pechuga, in Spanish) but this style of spirit can be made with all sorts of different fruits, spices, meats, and even coffee. Traditionally the purview of mezcal, recently certain tequila producers have begun experimenting with this technique.


The heart of an agave plant beneath all the spiky leaves that contains the sugars required for fermentation. Once the piñas are cooked they are shredded, crushed, or otherwise squeezed to release the juice that will later ferment into a distillable liquid.


Another name for blanco tequila. A number of brands have recently switched to using the word, ostensibly to trade on the strong brand of the English cognate “platinum,” even though plata literally means “silver” in Spanish.


A fermented agave beverage made by harvesting and then fermenting sap from an agave rather than harvesting, roasting, and crushing it. Unlike distilled agave spirits that may or may not have been introduced after European contact, pulque has been enjoyed by people in the Americas for thousands of years. Pulque can have a delicate, lightly cheesy nose and a vibrant fruity flavor when fresh. Unfortunately it travels very poorly, which is why sightings in the United States are few and far between, and often of dubious quality.


A bar serving pulque. Often one of the most reliable places to enjoy this beverage while it’s fresh.


The first part of a run off the still, the puntas are strong and highly flavorful. While they often contain alcohols other than ethanol that can be harmful to humans, skilled distillers can make a very precise cut that captures the flavor and potency of this part of the run. Usually this is kept for personal consumption since it’s considered the cream of the crop but puntas bottlings are sometimes put on the market and considered very rare releases.


The last part of a run off the still, the colas are very low ABV and are sometimes kept and shared as a novelty.


Called the “mezcal” of Jalisco, raicilla is an agave spirit made in the home state of Tequila from plant varietals other than Blue Weber. Its flavor is often sharp and vegetal.


The fibrous material left over after roasted agave is crushed. Also occasionally a popular name for rescue dogs.

Single Batch

A bottle of agave spirit that is the product of a single harvest, roast, and distillation rather than being blended together for consistency. This is common practice in most agave distilleries as the vast majority of palenques are small enough to not concern themselves with producing a homogenous product. Nevertheless the phrase “single batch” has become a marketing buzzword across the agave spectrum in recent years.

RELATED: Single Oven

The same as single batch but trades even more aggressively on the prefix “single” as a sign of rarity and quality in the booze world.


Previously the default tasting note for mezcal, it has since become gauche in certain circles to describe mezcal as “smoky.” Use of this as a tasting note will mark a taster as a rookie and a brand as a poser among more serious agave fans.


A cousin of agave spirits, sotol is made from the Dasylirion wheeleri or desert spoon plant. While genetically closer to an evergreen than an agave plant, the two species grow in the same regions and are harvested in similar methods to produce similar-tasting distillates. Sotol is generally described as tasting vegetal and earthy with intense slate or even metallic notes.


The process of bringing back a large haul of agave or other spirits in one’s suitcase. This is used by consumers as well as bartenders, who have been known to “suitcase” back a rare bottle or two, which would otherwise be unavailable through regular channels.


A large wheel used to crush roasted agave piñas and release the juices required for fermentation. These days, most tahonas are mechanized but some smaller palenques still pull them behind a donkey or mule in the traditional method. Some larger brands also do this in the company of tourists.


The process by which a horno is filled with agave piñas and red hot rocks heated by a fire, and then covered. Once the fire reaches an appropriate temperature the piñas are added to the pit and covered with palm leaves or other material to trap the heat and as a result provide the eventual mezcal with some of its signature flavors. This process can take anywhere from three to five days before the agave are finished cooking.


A lightly alcoholic fermented beverage made from pineapple skins and other spices. While agave is not involved in the process of making tepache, it is often sold alongside agave products such as pulque.

Water Bottles

A popular method of storing and transporting mezcal from smaller palenques. Many agave spirit producers are so small they don’t officially bottle their distillates, often using water bottles to store, transport, and share their products. Thus, returning from a trip to Mexico with a suitcase full of old water bottles identified by barely legible sharpie scrawls is a mark of serious street cred among American collectors.

RELATED: Pepsi Bottles

An inside joke among a subset of collectors that the best spirits don’t come in water bottles but are in fact stored in old Pepsi bottles. In short, if someone says they brought a “Pepsi bottle” back from Mexico, they’re flexing hard.


Used to describe agave that grow in the mountains and deserts of Mexico rather than those that are farmed. However, as agricultural practices have shifted in recent years the meaning of “wild” has begun to shift as well. As an increasing amount of agave used in mezcal production, specifically Espadín agave, are sourced from farms rather than foraged in the wild, it is now not uncommon to hear the word “wild” used to describe any agave used in mezcal production, regardless of where it was grown. Domestication efforts are also underway for other previously wild agave breeds, blurring the lines even further.

Worm (the)

An old marketing gimmick for tequila and mezcal that involved putting a worm or some other creepy crawly at the bottom of a bottle before it was sold. Today it is regarded as a mark of exceptionally low quality, and such bottles are viewed as suitable only as bait for gullible tourists. If someone asks if a bottle had a worm in it, they are not being nice.

The article From Puntas to Pepsi Bottles: The Definitive Agave Urban Dictionary appeared first on VinePair.

Leave a Comment

Resize text-+=