Experience a piece of the Karoo in Leonista’s Reposado Black Agave Spirit

South African Agave spirits is produced by a handful of distillers in the Karoo and in the Western Cape – among them feisty Zimbabwean-born Sarah Keenan.

In 2017 she founded her company, Leonista Agave Spirit, in the Karoo town of Graaff Reinet. Since then Sarah has been producing 100% premium quality agave spirits from the South African Agave Americana that has been growing in the Karoo for hundreds of years.

The Leonista range consists of  four award-winning products: Reposado, Blanco, Honey Reposado and Reposado Black. To win a bottle of Leonista Reposado Black, answer this simple question: Near which Karoo town in South Africa is Leonista Agave Spirits produced?

So why is it not called Tequila or Mezcal?

Since it is not made in Mexico it cannot, by law, be called Mezcal or Tequila. But it is essentially a local Mezcal, made using South African Karoo agave which has been growing there for hundreds of years.

Tequila is regionally specific and the name governed by Mexican law.  Tequila is recognized as a Mexican Designation of Origin Product in over 40 countries worldwide which also states that, in order to be labelled tequila, the spirit has to be produced only from the Blue Agave (Agave Azul Tequilana)  in the Mexican state of Jalisco or the municipalities in the states of Guanajuato, Tamaulipas, Michoacán and Nayarit.

Mezcal may be produced from any of the 30 distillable types of agave from anywhere in Mexico. (There are about 120 known types of agave, but only approximately 30 of these are used in the production of mezcal.) However, the same law applies to the use of the name, mezcal.

100% Agave Spirit from the arid Karoo

While the production processes of mezcal and tequila vary slightly, South Africa’s versions of these spirits are simply labelled Agave Spirit.

Sarah’s decision to travel to Mexico in 2016  to learn from the maestro distillers there resulted in the Leonista range of four award-winning agave spirits. Leonista, which can be translated as ‘lion spirit’, was the first 100% Karoo agave spirit in the country made in the traditional Mexican way. The Leonista process follows an age old recipe used in Mexico for the production of its agave spirits.

“It requires smoke and fire, hence Leonista’s delicious smoky flavour which is similar to that of a Mexican mezcal,” says Sarah.

Once the agaves are harvested, the leaves are removed, leaving the piñas (named for the Spanish word for pineapples, which is what these harvested hearts of the Agave resemble). These piñas are then exposed to a long roasting process in open pits, followed by being crushed to release the smokey, syrupy agave juice. (For the production of tequila, the piñas are steamed in closed ovens in stead of being roasted, which produces a totally different flavour base)

But this is not yet mezcal… not for a while yet.

The juice is fermented and then distilled twice, resulting in a spirit with an alcohol content of between 45 and 55%ABV (alcohol by volume).

All tequilas are mezcals, but not all mezcals are tequilas.

A well-known explanation is to consider whiskey and bourbon: all bourbon is whiskey but certainly not all whiskey is bourbon as it could be Irish whisky, Scotch, rye or Japanese whisky. Both Mexican spirits are made of agave but that’s where the similarities end.

“100% Agave spirits are the purest and most energy fueling of all alcohols, and will never give you a hangover if treated with respect,” Sarah explains. “Leonista is 100% USDA organically certified and is created for the conscious consumer who demands something handmade and of a higher quality – and if treated with respect has energy giving properties and a less harmful effect on the body,” she says.

“We also strive to have a positive impact on the world around us so a percentage of every bottle sold goes towards supporting African land and ocean conservation. And please: once the bottle is finished, don’t throw it away. Please upcycle the glass to become a water or olive oil bottle!”

  • Or if you collect 12 bottles and give them back to us we will happily give you a FREE bottle of Leonista in exchange and we will filter those bottles back into production. (Find out more HERE)

The Leonista 100% Karoo Agave Spirits range consists of four products:

Leonista Reposado (which is aged or rested),

Leonista Blanco (which means white in Spanish)

Leonista Honey Reposado

Leonista Reposado Black

Leonista 100% Karoo Agave Spirit Production:

Leonista: Why do we drink?

The story behind Leonista: