Agave Americana plant used in the production of mezcal
Agave Americana plant used in the production of mezcal
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I had just smashed the most incredible water-buffalo tartar on pit-fired toast, accompanied by buffalo mozzarella and fresh, juicy tomatoes the on the outskirts of the Badenhorst Farm in Kalmoesfontein in the Swartland when I spotted it. Standing beside the pit that was now charring more toast for the next hungry foodie in line, was a massive, chopped-up heart of an “Agave Americana”, or for those who don’t speak plant, a huge blue “Karoo” agave plant, usually found on the side of the road in various cities in Gauteng.

“I normally smoke these in the pit, but now the hipsters want to use them to make pretty bread,” jokes the land’s proprietor, famed winemaker Adi Badenhorst. He is known for his warm, fun humour as much as for his talent at creating incredible beverages.

From his namesake wines to Secateurs, or his sidelines of Caperitif and Swaan Cape tonic, the Badenhorst family has a knack for making all things delicious. But as I stood before Badenhorst at a small, makeshift wooden table, it was the smoked agave that caught my attention. Badenhorst’s new mezcal experiment, packing the signature punch of smokiness, has more fruity tones than its Mexican cousins. But it’s not to be mistaken for tequila, which is a type of mezcal, but has slightly different production techniques and can be made only in five states in Mexico.

“I love mezcal; I love the process and the fact that the making thereof is so incredibly multi-faceted,” Badenhorst muses. It’s a process that begins with the plant being pulled fresh from the earth on a farm in Graaff Reinet. Then the hearts or pinas are smoked in the “pretty bread” pit for seven days — it is this process that gives the beverage its distinctive flavour.

They are then crushed and left to ferment naturally in wooden vats, and are later distilled in copper and clay stills, before landing up in the small brown medicine bottle before me.

Although there is precedent to sipping this beverage slowly, in this 40˚C weather I doubt I would have been sober enough to make it through the rest of Convivium, the much-lorded — yet still somewhat underground — food festival from the minds and hands of butcher Andy Fenner and Short Market Club chef Wesley Randal, let alone make it to the rumoured lunch highlight of the festival, Luke Dale- Roberts’ fire-pit goat taco table.

But everything changed when Badenhorst casually added a dash of his home-grown tonic to the mix, a combo he learnt in “a bar somewhere”. In that instant, I was forever sold. The sweetness of the tonic created a whole new flavour profile that was far more interesting than any gin I had ever tried.

It transported me to bar in Guadalajara, all the while keeping my feet grounded in the Sandveld. I, of course, had to have another, or three — tacos be damned. Badenhorst’s 4th Rabbit mezcal will be landing on a liquor-store shelf near you towards the middle of the year, but take our word for it: it will be worth the wait. Until then, we suggest getting your hands on some Caperitif or a non-patriotic mezcal, such as Gusano Rojo — and splash that tonic liberally.

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