Alcohol and spirits- the magical potion that transports you to your happy place or at least away from the reality you wish to take a break from. While once in a while we may open our arms and welcome that much awaited happy hour on a Friday as we sip away the evening in the company of one too many cocktails or your favourite spirit on the rocks, the world of beverages has recently seen a rise in the consumption of clean spirits, and if I may specific for our readers, agave spirits such as tequila and mezcal have definitely become the heroes of happy hour. Be it as shots at a party, in your delicious cocktails at dinner or just a drink to accompany your book or cigar, agave sprits (spirits procured from the agave plant, native to Mexico) have suddenly gained popularity all for the sake of novel experiences and experiments. And honestly, I am here for all things agave.
Riding this wave of rising agave spirits popularity, a brother-sister duo managed to enter the beverages market, in late December 2021, with the perfect product that already seems to be the popular choice right from the get go. Rakshay and Radhika Dhariwal—the founders of Pass Code Hospitality—launched Maya Pistola Agavepura, India's first premium aged 100% agave spirit. A clean and pure (agavepura, as mentioned in the name, means pure agave) spirit bottled using traditional Mexican methods to maintain the authenticity and freshness of the drink, Maya Pistola is all the rage in the homegrown liquor niche. Taking this opportunity, we got chatting with Radhika and Rakshay Dhariwal to uncover the genesis and possibly predict the future for Pistola. Read along as we figure their favourite cocktails and the dishes they like to pair the spirit while we await newer product innovations to join us at happy hour.
Edited excerpts from the interview
1. Tell us about the genesis of Maya Pistola. How did this all come to be? Our primary profession, for more than a decade now, has been in the Food and Beverage business, bars and restaurants across India in particular. As a result, we have always been aware of what is going on in the market, what the latest trends are and how these could be used to advance our venture. It is through this R&D process that we noticed a significant rise in the consumption of agave spirits, especially 100% Agave Tequila and Mezcal, in the past few years. And Agave Americana—one of the species used in Mezcal—grows widely across the Deccan Plateau, a little fact we came across during the course of our research at the time of the pandemic. That is how our quest to bring India’s first premium 100% agave spirit to the market began.
2. What inspired you to head into the production of agave spirits specifically? Did you perhaps notice a pattern of consumption or a trend picking up? When we entered the agave spirits space, Mezcal was already trending in the West and was taking over the bar scene. Cocktails sporting tequila and mezcal were already a hit, and this rising popularity seemed to be hitting India as well. After substantial research we realised people are willing to try craft spirits and that they care about purity, authenticity and provenance. That’s how we decided it would be interesting to present a new type of agave spirit to not just India, but the world.
3. Maya Pistola strongly asserts the Made In India tag and is the newest addition to a niche group of premium liquors. Keeping your competition and the novelty of Pistola in mind, is it faring as successfully as you predicted it to? We are humbled by how Maya Pistola Agavepura is being received by the Indian market. Though we are only in a few markets as of now—-Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka—-we already have loyalists who opt for this spirit for its authenticity, quality and smoothness. We did face some challenges initially when the crowd seemed resistant to spend money on an Indian spirit, but that phase did not last long. Moreover, compared to our foreign competitors, Maya Pistola seems to be the preferred pick. We have been able to challenge the common misconception that Indian-made liquor has a certain inferior quality and we are excited to join the consortium of new age, exciting premium craft spirits that are coming out of India. Ultimately, it is the spirit that must speak for itself and it is what sets us apart from the competition.
4. What was the thought process behind the varied expressions of Pistola? When we were launching the product, we envisioned creating a brand that would offer clean and pure spirits to the market. However, we also knew that depending on the need of the hour, a different type of spirit is necessary. That’s how the six expressions of Pistola came into existence, each catering to a different audience and to a different occasion. While a Joven may work great in cocktails such as Picantes and Palomas, an Añejo—-aged for over a year in New American Oak with a slight nose of coffee, custard and fudge—-might be enjoyed neat, while the Extra Añejo, aged for over three years in both American Oak and ex- bourbon, is ripe with toffee, smoke, vanilla and honey. The Reposado is aged for a couple of months in ex-bourbon barrels and is smooth with notes of caramel and vanilla. The Rosa is aged in ex-KRSMA Cabernet Sauvignon casks which lend to the spirit crisp mineral notes, appealing to wine drinkers.
5. Given the trends of the business and your expertise in the field, do you see Maya Pistola setting a trend for the industry to follow? We think Maya Pistola Agavepura will definitely perpetuate the consumption of 100% Agave spirits in India and it will encourage people to choose cleaner spirits, made with no or fewer additives and chemicals. After all, no one wants a hangover the next day and spirits like Maya Pistola Agavepura allow people to drink moderately and still feel fresh the next day. So in a way, while we may not be able to predict a certain trend right now, we definitely know that it will open doors to homegrown premium liquors, which is still quite a niche in India.
6. Summertimes are inevitably associated with drinks. Do you personally have a Pistola special cocktail that is your go-to, no matter what? Rakshay: The Pistola Picante is bound to be a summer favourite. Spicy and refreshing, this cocktail allows the flavours of the agave in the Joven to shine. Radhika: The Pistola Rosa Martini is a lovely cocktail where the Vermouth and Pistola Rosa plays very nicely together, to create a smooth and beautifully balanced apéritif.
7. What is that one dish that you think perfectly pairs with Pistola? Rakshay- Pistola Reposado with tandoori chicken or almost any dish that is spicy. Radhika- Pistola Rosa with Penne Alla Vodka.
8. With Pistola rapidly gaining its due recognition and popularity, how do you see yourselves further expanding this business? What’s the next step? We are always looking to explore new spaces and aspects when it comes to Pistola. Our next step is to be available in more cities while also exploring international markets. Additionally, we are also looking at a couple of collaborations in an attempt to bring new flavours to the market.
9. Can we anticipate some uber cool product innovations or a new range entirely from the makers of Maya Pistola, in the near future? We have many exciting products in the pipeline including a Liqueur, another Agave Spirit and a lot more. But that is about as much as we can reveal at this stage. It’s not fun to give out all the details at once you see.
Natasha Kittur is an aspiring writer. Her love for anything with cheese and spice is profound, but a white sauce pasta always tops her list. In her free time you will catch her reading or watching crime books and shows or go on and on about psychological experiments and theories. She aims to write a book in the fictional genre someday.