Bats and Carbon: Tequila Production Is Pressured to Go Green
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Amidst Growing Concerns Over Bats and Carbon Emissions, Tequila Production Is Pressured to Go Green

Tequila Production

Endangered bats and carbon emissions are taking center stage in a push to move tequila production toward a more sustainable future. (Photo: Corinna U. Koch/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

Tequila’s rapid rise to stardom hasn’t been without some unexpected hiccups.

Last week on National Margarita Day, CNN stirred up discussion online with its article “Why the Climate Crisis May Be Coming for Your Margarita Next.” Above all else, readers were surprised to learn about the importance of flying critters within the agave supply chain — specifically, bats.

Just as bees cross-pollinate flowers, bats cross-pollinate the agave plants used to make tequila all across Mexico. At least, they’re supposed to.

Unfortunately, warming temperatures have forced Mexican long-nosed bats into the ever-growing list of endangered species. The issue has been compounded by cost-cutting farming methods; most growers replant the stalks of existing agave plants rather than let them flower to maturity, depriving bats of a primary food source.

“For 12 million years, bats and agave have been linked. But now, they are stuck,” says Dr. Roberto Medellin, a Mexican ecologist who helped found the Bat Friendly Tequila and Mezcal Project.

Tequila Production

A glimmering stamp of approval. (Photo: Tequila Ocho Mexico)

To date, Medellin’s advocacy group has stamped a shiny “Bat Friendly” label on over 300,000 bottles of tequila and mezcal that were produced in bat-friendly environments.

It’s a worthwhile effort, but only a drop in the bucket compared to other issues facing the tequila industry at large.

Tequila’s unprecedented popularity has exploded demand for agave production throughout Mexico. The key ingredient in tequila, blue weber agave, takes six to eight years to grow to maturity plus however many years or decades it may sit in a barrel if it’s sold as an aged expression.

Those numbers add up. While millions of agave plants sit in fields waiting to be harvested, experts nonetheless predict a looming tequila shortage as farmers struggle to keep up with demand.

Now, some of the industry’s biggest figures are working to minimize the side effects of this agave apocalypse.

Spirits giant Beam Suntory, maker of Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark, just debuted a pilot program that aims to achieve net zero carbon emissions for the Casa Sauza tequila brand by 2030.

Tequila Production

(Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via AP)

Suntory plans to introduce plants that absorb carbon during the day in between rows of agave, which naturally absorb carbon during the night. They say that the program could capture more than 36,800 tons of carbon per year if pulled off successfully.

Suntory’s carbon capture program and Medellin’s Bat Friendly Tequila project represent two of many possible paths that the industry could take in years to come.

In January, tequila overtook whiskey as America’s second most valuable spirit. It’s predicted to overtake the number one spot, vodka, by the end of 2023.

Increased attention will bring increased scrutiny, and time will tell how the industry adapts to the pressure.

Read More: 

Trends, Treason and Terroir: The Complicated Politics of Non-Mexican Tequila

The Tequila Metaverse Is Coming Whether You Like It or Not (We Don’t)

Knowing Karoo: In Conversation With the Surfer Putting South African Agave Spirits on the Map

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Pedro Wolfe is the managing editor of Tequila Raiders. With several years of experience writing for the New York Daily News and the Foothills Business Daily under his belt, Pedro aims to combine quality reviews and recipes with incisive articles on the cutting edge of the tequila world. Pedro has traveled to the heartland of the spirits industry in Tequila, Mexico, and has conducted interviews with agave spirits veterans throughout Mexico, South Africa and California. Through this diverse approach, Tequila Raiders aims to celebrate not only tequila but the rich tapestry of agave spirits that spans mezcal, raicilla, bacanora, pulque and so much more.