An insider's guide to the 1st Agave Competition

Cancun, on what the travel brochures like to call Mexico's "Mayan Gold Coast," is known for its brilliant blue waters, luxurious hotels and eco-tourism. In a short time, it will be known as the site of the first agave-only event.

The 1st Agave Spirits Competition has been set for Feb. 2-9 in Cancun. The event, open to all agave spirits of Mexico, will include tequila, mezcal, sotol, destilado de agave, raicilla, and bacanora.

Beyond Mexico, some of these spirits are not widely known. True tequila, of course, must be made 100% from the blue agave plant and distilled only in Jalisco state and certain specificed adjoining counties.

Here's a quick rundown on the others:

Bacanora: This traditional liquor, mentioned by the earliest Spanish explorers as a native drink, is made in the state of Sonora, which lies below Arizona. It was illegal until 15 years ago when rules for its manufacture were put into place. It is made from a variety of the agave plant that grows exclusively in Sonora's climate and terrain.

Mezcal: The state of Oaxaca in south-central Mexico claims this spirit as its own. It's the result of the fermentation of the native maguey plant by the indigenous people and the distillation techniques introduced by Spaniards. The unique topography of Oaxaca -- at the confluence of three great valleys at an altitude of 6,500 feet -- creates a wide variety of growing micro-climates for numerous varieties of the agave variety known as maguey, from the giant pulque maguey to the maguey tobala from which one of the rarest mezcals is made.

Sotol: This shrub looks like a bouquet of spiney leaves with fringed tips. It grows in deserts, mountains, and on dry rocky slopes. Its powerful fermented juice is the state drink of Chihuahua state, south of New Mexico. Like tequila and mezcal, it was improved by distilling the original fermentation.

Raicilla: This liquor, widely known as "Mexican moonshine," now can be found in somewhat more sophisticated varieties as a result of modernization and commercialization. It usually is distilled from a fermented mash made from the roots of the maguey plant. It's a harsh liquor, 100 proof or higher. Despite its dicey repuation, the tourist haven of Puerto Vallarta thinks enough of it to hold an annual raicilla festival.

Destilado de agave: This spirit is quite similar to tequila, but is brewed outside the state of Jalisco which has 98% of all legal tequila production. As with tequila, it may or may not be made with 100% agave.

All invited judges will have no affiliation to any brand or product, and for fairness to all entries, all tastings will be done blind, and calculated real-time during each tasting. The number of judges present will be determined by the amount of entries.

While the Feb. 2-9 event, to be held at the Royal Resorts Club International and hosted by founder Darin Jones, owner of TEQUILA.net, will not be open to the public the entire event results will be available for viewing on AGAVE.net, including the name of each entry, category, photo, and final tasting results/awards.

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