Tucson Celebrates With Arizona’s Largest Agave Festival

Although other cities may host a single day of tequila tastings on Cinco de Mayo, Tucson has stepped into the spotlight with an entire week celebrating all things agave with Agave Heritage Week.  What started years ago, as a cocktail competition at Hotel Congress has expanded to encompass over 20 events showcasing every aspect of agave from roasting and growing, to drinking and eating.  From April 28-May 7, the historic Hotel Congress and many other partners, including Visit Tucson and the Mexican Consulate, are collaborating on this one-of-a-kind festival.  Agave Heritage Week celebrates the cultural, commercial, and culinary significance of agave on the border region through a festival of seminars, trade shows, and world-class culinary events. 

With the international attention on Tucson as North America’s first UNESCO City of Gastronomy, Todd Hanley of Hotel Congress saw the evolution of the event to a full week festival as an important step in creating awareness and enjoyment of one of the Sonoran Deserts most versatile plants.  “Many people are unaware of how much agaves can do,”  Hanley says.  “This single plant was used as food and beverage and medicine, as well as providing fibers for rope and shoes.”  Hanley collaborated with renowned nature activist and co-founder of Native Seeds/ SEARCH Dr. Gary Nabhan on developing a program of events that could encompass all of the features of gave.  “How can Tucson and surrounding Sonoran Desert communities revitalize an eight millennia-old legacy of using plants such as mezcal both for food and for drink?” Nabhan asks.  Agave Heritage Week aims to answer that question with a slate of events for all interests and ages.

Hotel Congress serves as the hub for many of the tasting events.  Hotel Congress will host the Agave Heritage Fest on May 6featuring more than 40 tastings of tequilas, mezcals, sotols, and bacanoras, live music, and an Agave 101 seminar by Master Mezalier Sergio Inurrigo. The hotel will also host a free Cinco de Mayo concert May 5th, art in the lobby and a proclamation from Tucson’s Mayor declaring Agave Heritage Week on May 3.  Sister restaurant, Maynards Market and Kitchen hosts an Agave Heritage Dinner, a Tucson City of Gastronomy Seminar and a Mezcal and Chocolate Pairing Seminar.  Additionally, James Beard Award winning chef Janos Wilder will host an Agave Heritage Brunch at the nearby Carriage House.  The four-course fusion brunch pairs innovative cuisine with agave-inspired mimosa flights.  A special discount package for the brunch is available for Localist members only.

Downtown businesses also get in on the tasting fun with the MEZcrawl, inviting patrons to make stops at Good Oak Bar, R Bar, Penca, Borderlands and Charro Steak for cocktail samplings and paired light bites. Don't miss the opportunity to sample Borderlands celebration of beer without borders with a tasting of La TucSon Beer, a collaborative brew with Mexican brewery Buqui Bichi.

Mission Gardens will host several presentations on Agave Roasting as well as spirit samplings throughout the week.  The University of Arizona will present an ancient agave garden tour and an overview on mescal research and conservation in Mexico.  The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum will host a series of lectures on traditional uses of the plant for fibers and medicine, as well as tours of the museum's agave gardens.  The museum will close the week with a sale to the public of rare and collectible agaves.

“We are very proud to be a part of this,” Hanley says.  “This is the first major festival to be recognized by the Tucson City of Gastronomy Board and an event that is completely unique in the Southwest.”

To see full details on the Agave Heritage Week events, including dates and times and ticket prices, visit www.agaveheritagefestival.com