Amazing American Agave Blooms At 80 Years – Brady Bunte

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At the University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens, stand the remains of what is believed to be the oldest American agave plant. The agave plant is perhaps best known for being the source of the much loved Mexican drink, tequila. Tequila is however derived from the agave plant. According to Brady Bunte, other types of agave can also be found in certain parts of Mexico and is used in the production of the less popular mezcal called pulque.

In order for this drink to be made, the flower stalk to the agave must be cut just before flowering. This is when the plant directs as much moisture and sugar towards where the stalk would have grown out for flowering. This surge of sweet liquid, called aguamiel, collects at the base of the stalk. When harvested and fermented, the drink turns into pulque. Brady Bunte confirms that this drink dates back to before the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors. It was a sacred drink of the Aztecs and was consumed during rituals to their gods.

Brady Bunte believes that what makes this story so interesting is that under normal circumstances, the American agave plant should mature, flower and die within a 10-25 year period. The University of Michigan American agave however managed an amazing feat by making it to the 80-year mark before flowering.

When the flowering stage was arrived at, Brady Bunte reports that the plant recorded impressive growth spurts from its stalk. Its caretakers noted May last year as being particularly impressive, as the plant would grow as much as 6 inches in a day. This sustained and remarkable gain forced them to take out a pane over the plant to allow it to grow past the conservatory’s ceiling. It is not known what specific environmental factors may have come into play to induce this flowering to take place, although the horticultural manager of the garden believes that being in a conservatory may have played a role in prolonging the life of the plant.

Ordinarily agave plants, once flowered and dying, produce hundreds of seeds so that a few may hopefully survive and see to the continuation of the species. This poor survival rate is attributed to the normally harsh conditions under which the American agave plant grows. According to Brady Bunte, the plants are typically found in desert like areas.

The horticultural manager of the garden stated that the seeds from the pods would be used to create new agave that would however be slightly different. Brady Bunte believes that these seeds will likely give life to new plants with just as long a life cycle as their now deceased parent, if not longer. This means that for many of us reading right now, it is unlikely that we will see the flowering of these plants in our lifetime. It is estimated that this particular plant may have left behind thousands of seeds and plantlets, which the scientists can work on to bring the next generation into being.

Now that the flowering stage is over, the agave plant is dying and Brady Bunte expects it will be removed from the garden this month. Although part of the asparagus family, do not expect to see this plant at your grocery store anytime soon. Brady Bunte however believes that the long yellow edged leaves of the plant may be productively used in rope making. The fibers collected from within the leaves are very strong and were often harvested by indigenous people, including American Indians, to make twine. The agave fibers have also found use in making of carpets, wall coverings, yarns, washcloths and belts.

China Lifts Agave Ban – Brady Bunte

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As the country with the highest population in the world, China is a very important consumer market for the alcohol and beverage sector. Mexico has for years tried to export their tequila products to the country but was hindered by an agave ban that hinged on fears of a high methanol content. Brady Bunte confirmed that the ban had been instituted in 2008 following a Chinese government crackdown on fake alcohol.

The issue however appeared resolved following a visit to Mexico by Chinese President Xi Jinping over a year ago, during which the two countries inked a ‘Tequila Pact’. This was followed up by another meeting with Mexico’s then Minister of Agriculture, Enrique Martinez, who travelled to China to conclude on arrangements. According to Brady Bunte, Mexican officials expected to export up to 10 million liters of tequila to China over the next five years, subsequent to the lifting of the ban. This prediction appears to have now come true following the impressive rise in tequila exports that was achieved in the course of 2014.

The National Chamber of the Tequila industry reported that tequila exports had grown to $1.1 billion in 2014, up from $997 million the previous year. Media reports suggest that the new agreement has now made Mexico the second largest trading partner to China from Latin America. Brady Bunte indicates this is an impressive result, especially since there is no Fair Trade Agreement between the two countries.

Brady Bunte points to the growing middle and upper class population as the driving force behind this boon in tequila demand from China. Their curiosity and higher spending power makes them a highly lucrative untapped market for tequila makers. Market experts like Brady Bunte believe that the unique taste of tequila and interesting ways in which it can be enjoyed are the big draw for these buyers. From margaritas to shots, the Chinese not only have a new way to enjoy their alcohol, but also varied flavors and aromas that depend on individual manufacturing formulas, and the age of the tequila imbibed.

The new agreement is also said to have had a positive effect on other trade between the two countries. Bilateral trade volumes rose by $5 billion over the last fiscal year. Other products that are believed to have started making their way into China and other Asian countries from Mexico include pork, avocados, lemons and asparagus.

Industry experts like Brady Bunte predict that China could become the first or second largest market for tequila in the world, after the United States. The marketing that is being carried out by leading tequila manufacturers is expected to help make tequila as competitive an alcoholic drink as scotch. Scotch whiskey and cognac have apparently fallen out of favor amongst the Chinese, due to their reference in anti-corruption campaigns. Each of the top 16 tequila-producing companies is estimated to have invested up to $3 million to enter into the Chinese market.

The only hindrance to this progress may be the expected slowdown in harvesting of agave plants. The decline in agave prices during the 2000s prompted more farmers to cut down on their cultivation of the crop. Given that agave plants take 7-10 years to mature, Brady Bunte believes that there will be a shortage of plants getting to the market over the next few years.

With increased demand of tequila, but a shortage in raw materials, it is also expected that the price on tequila and the agave plants will rise dramatically. Brady Bunte believes that this scenario will lead to a spike in the value of Mexican exports of tequila, but not the volume. Even with reserves, the top tequila producers will likely only be able to fully accommodate demand for the coming year alone.

Low Methanol Tequila No Hangover by Brady Bunte

Low Methanol Tequila No Hangover Brady Bunte

Tequila is for most people a fun drink to enjoy in groups. Tequila shots are a party favorite, but more often than not, people end up waking the next day with a wicked hangover. Tequila connoisseurs, like Brady Bunte, attribute this problem to the poor quality of tequila that is drunk. Whether you are drinking the tequila neat, as a shot or in margaritas, the quality of the product will strongly influence your ability to enjoy the flavors and physical side effects.

Methanol is a common congener of any alcoholic drink that is made through fermentation. According to Brady Bunte, congeners help add flavor and aroma to distilled drinks. Methanol adds sweetness to tequila, but also has a dark side. When methanol is broken down in the body, metabolites are produced that can build up to toxic levels. Some of the metabolites that can result include formaldehyde and formic acid. Methanol poisoning occurs when an alcohol with a high concentration of methanol is ingested.

Brady Bunte points to the many instances of home-distilled brews gone awry, where drinkers are reported to have gone blind or died. Consuming as little as 25-90 ml of methanol can be fatal without proper medical attention. In less severe circumstances, consuming drinks with small amounts of methanol can result in gastric distress, vomiting and headaches. Brady Bunte has also observed that those with sensitivity to migraines are likely to trigger an attack when they consume the same drinks.

Headaches and migraines are a particularly common side effect from consuming cheap brands of alcoholic drinks that often have up to 2% of their volume made up of methanol. Experienced drinkers know that clear drinks like vodka and white wine are less likely to give you a hangover than darker drinks like whisky, beer and red wine. Tequila, which has clear varieties, is an exception to this rule, as it is known to have high levels of congeners.

Experts in the tequila industry suggest that this problem is more common with cheap popular brands of tequila, especially mixtos. Tres Sietes Tequila will not cause such a problem as they undergo a sophisticated distillation process that ensures minimal presence of congeners and other impurities in the end product. Although on the higher end of the price spectrum, it is worth noting that with tequila, you get what you pay for.

Tres Sietes tequila production involves the extraction of juices using a steaming diffuser process that guarantees cleaner results. Brady Bunte has found that most other distilleries make use of traditional techniques that involve heating kilns with burning wood. These traditional processes often lead to the higher concentration of methanol and other toxic substances in the resulting tequila. Brady Bunte believes that the care taken in the preliminary stages of production are what ensure that Tres Sietes offers the lowest level of methanol amongst tequilas currently available in the market.

This low methanol concentration means that premium brands like Tres Sietes are the best solution for tequila lovers who tend to experience hangovers when enjoying their favorite alcohol. The purity of the tequila also means there is easier detection of the distinct flavors, aromas and aftertaste of the liquid on the palate and other senses. Brady Bunte considers this particularly important for those who are traditionalists and prefer to imbibe tequila neat.

Some industry critics suggest that repeated distillations and the use of diffuser technology tends to dilute the taste of the tequila. Like many other successful tequila makers, Brady Bunte however feels that it is not so much the number of times the drink is distilled that will determine its flavor, but rather the proprietary techniques applied during the distillation process that will ensure the best is brought out of the liquid.

The Amazing Edible Nature of the Agave

brady bunte Amazing Edible Nature of Agave
The agave plant is the primary raw material to the tequila making process. According to Brady Bunte, this plant has however proven more versatile in terms of being a food source than many would imagine. There are over 200 species of agave plant to be found around the world, with agave tequilana being the specific variety grown in Mexico for distilling tequila.

When considering which agave plants can be used for food, it is important to first identify the species. Brady Bunte recommends focusing on spine arrangement, length and shape of the plant to help identify the variety using online resources. Some species that have proven to have edible parts include tequilana, deserti, palmeri, sisalana, and scabra.

Brady Bunte also advises that when considering a plant to try out as a food source, older is better. The level of carbohydrates and sugars in the plant tends to increase with age, making older agave more delicious. Given that the plant can take up to 10 years to mature, it is best to seek out larger and tougher choices that are likely older.

Agave plants typically have three edible parts, the flowers, stalks and sap. Brady Bunte confirms that the leaves are not often edible, but can be chewed on when cooked and the fibers spat out. Many indigenous tribes in parts of Mexico that have for centuries made use of the agave plant as a food source, have learnt what time of year to harvest the varied parts of specific species of agave.

Brady Bunte has found that in summer, agaves often produce large amounts of flowers, which can be boiled and roasted. Natives of the Tehuacan region in Mexico often used the boiled flowers as an ingredient added to scrambled eggs. The flower nectar can also be used to make sauces and agave sugar. Brady Bunte has ascertained that this sugar is very high in fructose, and sweeter than honey or ordinary sugar. Less of the agave sugar can be used in cooking than compared with other sweeteners, with the same result. When bottled, it possesses a shelf life of up to two years.

The stalks of the agave plant can be harvested before they blossom in summer and roasted. The results have a sweet, almost molasses type taste. When you take out the stalk, a well is created at the bottom where sap collects. This sap can be used to make tequila.

For species of agave whose leaves are edible, there is plenty of sap to be found in the leaves during winter and spring. Brady Bunte believes that the leaves can be roasted and the chewed on to enjoy the sweet taste, without swallowing the fibers. Alternatively, one can boil the leaves and resulting juice consumed as a soup. If you are unsure as to the palatability of the leaves, boil them and taste the juice. Discard if caustic.

Another way Brady Bunte has established that indigenous tribes ate the plant was by, after talking out the stalk to eat, peeling off the leaves and pit baking the plant. They would dig a hole, line it with bricks, light a fire and once the flames dies down, put in the plant and cover the hole to keep in the heat. After a day of slow cooking, the plant would be ready to eat. This kind of task would have been difficult for just one person to undertake given the huge size of older plants.

Brady Bunte issues a word of caution for anyone who intends trying to use the agave plant for food. Careful handling of the plant is necessary, especially the roots, where contact with the sap can easily cause dermatitis. Also, be careful of the sharp points of the leaves, which can cause blood vessels to rupture and serious bruising if they pierce the skin.