Homegrown agave craft spirit hits the market  

Ruhi Gilder  
Agave Americana grows wild in the shadow of the Deccan plateau, the plant from which mezcal is made. Rakshay and Radhika Dhariwal, the sibling duo behind Passcode Hospitality is taking advantage of nature’s bounty to craft a unique spirit called Maya Pistola Agavepura. A 100% agave craft spirit, this premium offering originates in the Chittoor area of Andhra Pradesh, then travels all the way to the shores of Goa to be aged, bottled and blended. An in-depth conversation with co-founder Rakshay Dhariwal takes LuxeBook deeper into the making of this high-quality spirit. 
Agave plants
Agave plants
Plant-to-bar 
A restaurateur by profession, Dhariwal has co-founded restaurants like Jamun in Delhi, PCO, (which recently opened its doors in Mumbai), and Saz, in Goa, Delhi and Kolkata. “When COVID-19 hit for the first time in 10 years, I had absolutely nothing to do, as my restaurants were shut. That’s when I started thinking of ways to diversify my business,” says Dhariwal. Running multiple upscale restaurants and bars across the country gave him an idea of what a consumer wants. Dhariwal had always been passionate about spirits. One of his speakeasy bars, PCO, is known for its craft cocktails. Understanding the spirit business, and the consumer’s willingness to experiment with homegrown brands, Dhariwal decided to launch Pass Code Spirits Co. From ideation to a bottle in hand, it took Dhariwal 1.5 years, from the summer of 2020 to December 2021. 

Giving agave a shot 
“I thought about what’s going to be the next big thing in five years, and according to me, that’s agave spirits,” says the entrepreneur. From 2020 to 2021 there has been a 600% increase in Mezcal sales in the US alone, with the highest growing category that of premium 100% agave. Skipping the usual gin, Dhariwal picked a tougher spirit to master. While gin can be made with the help of pot stills and botanicals, agave plants require 8 to 10 years to grow and mature until the piña, which is the heart of the agave, can be harvested from it. To harvest piña, the agave is steamed in an autoclave, then bio-fermented and then double-distilled in a half copper pot still. The resulting distillate has a strength of 55% ABV, which the Dhariwals then send to Goa to be aged in virgin American white oak barrels and ex-bourbon casks. The first product to be launched by the distillers will be a 100% natural, additive-free Reposado. Pistola will eventually be available in four more variants, Smoky Agave, Añejo, Extra Añejo and a Cask Strength Extra Añejo. The Reposado is aged for four and a half to five months, while the Añejo which tastes most like a whisky, is aged for one year, and a spirit it incorporates is aged for 20 months. The second variant to be launched, the Smoky Agave is like a heavily peated single malt. It is Dhariwal’s answer to the smoky mezcals of Mexico.  
 Maya Pistola Agavepura
Maya Pistola Agavepura
Tequila, Mezcal, Agavepura — what’s the difference? 
Dhariwal laments the bad name tequila has gotten for being a party drink and hangover-causing liquor. However, he explains that this is because most of them are ‘Mixtos’. This refers to a spirit with 51% agave, while the other 49% is other cane sugars. That’s what sets Maya Pistola Agavepura apart, the fact that it is bottled at 100% agave strength, makes it a smooth and pure drink. Since both the terms mezcal and tequila are GI protected by the Mexican government, Dhariwal has named his spirit Maya Pistola Agavepura. While tequila is a type of mezcal, the two are a little different. The latter is a distilled spirit made from any 25+ varieties of the agave plant, whereas tequila is made only from the blue weber agave plant in the Tequila region of Mexico. Tequila can be composed of 50-100% agave, and mezcal, 80-100% agave. Mezcal is a smoky spirit, and its flavour comes  from roasting the agave in pits in the ground, while tequila has a more agave-forward flavour.  
 Maya Pistola Agavepura
Maya Pistola Agavepura
Any way you want it 
In the Reposado that Dhariwal is launching, the predominant note is that of caramel. This flavour is procured from the American white oak barrels that they have been aged in. Apart from caramel, notes of vanilla, butterscotch, oak, black pepper and cocoa mingle on the palate. Dhariwal explains that there are different ways to drink it. He likes to drink it on the rocks, but he also pours a glass alongside beer, sipping on Pistola in-between. Cocktail fans also have something to look forward to, as Pistola goes well in a Batanga, a simple Coke, lime and Pistola drink, sprinkled with some salt. Dhariwal’s favourite is an Old Fashioned in which he replaces sugar syrup with a more natural agave syrup, or even a Tommy’s Margarita, a take on the traditional recipe that eliminates the orange liqueur. 

Embedded in folklore 
The story behind the name is a question oft asked, and the answer is one steeped in Mexican folklore. The Goddess of Agave, Mayahuel has inspired the name of the spirit. The story goes that the goddess wanted to marry the God of Wind, but her evil grandmother opposed it, so to escape her she turned into an agave plant. Unfortunately, the grandmother found her and cut her, aka the plant, into many pieces. Her lover, the Wind God, then scattered these pieces far and wide. Dhariwal gives this story a ‘Pistola’ twist and says that some of these pieces landed in the Deccan Plateau of India, forming the plants that create the spirit. Hence, the word Maya, is an ode to this lovelorn goddess.

 

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Coming to the latter half of the name, Dhariwal wanted a disruptive name for the Agavepura, as it is only the second brand of its kind in the country, and the first 100% Agave Reposado from India, hence the duo chose Pistola. “The pistol was, in fact, created not as a weapon of harm, but as a tool of justice and democracy. A pistol encourages authenticity and ushers in truth,” says Radhika, the other half of Pass Code Spirits Co. 
Next in line  
Dhariwal does plan to diversify Pass Code Spirits Co. to include other offerings. In fact, while he waited for agave to mature, the entrepreneur created several new spirits. “I’ve developed three different liqueurs, a gin and even a bourbon,” he admits. However, as of now, the company is focusing all their energies on their Reposado and Smoky Agave, and Dhariwal plans to launch the Maya Pistola Añejo around April 2023. 
Rakshay Dhariwal
Rakshay Dhariwal
Maya Pistola Agavepura Reposado has been launched in Goa, and will be available in Delhi, Mumbai and Karnataka by mid-2022. The spirit is set to sell at ₹4,500 in Mumbai, ₹3,000 in Delhi and retails for ₹2,695 in Goa.  
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