The Inca civilization flourished in ancient Perú between c. 1400 and 1533 CE. Their empire extended across western South America from Quito, Perú, in the north to Santiago, Chile, in the south, making it the largest empire ever in the Americas and the largest in the world at that time.
It was during this time that the agave plant was an essential part of life and culture throughout the region, used for making tools & clothing and fermented into agave wine. Maritime trade flourished between ancient Mexico and Perú as both goods and cultural ideas were exchanged throughout the continents, and the agave plant was part of that.
Today, in the Andes Mountains of Perú, agave plants grow freely. Despite its historical and cultural prevalence, though, in modern Perú the agave plant has been treated like a giant weed. The many uses of agave have been eclipsed by easy access to cheaper international goods.
Marco Suarez Lara became familiar with the plants while growing up in Caraz, Perú, a small town at the foot of a glacial lagoon in the Andes. His travels took him to Mexico, where he saw that the agave plant was used to make tequila and mezcal, and to Europe, where he studied distillation. Inspired by both the traditions of the region and modern innovations, Marco went back to his hometown and began distilling the local wild agave varietals, Agave Cordillerensis and Americana Expansa Gentry (aka Arroqueño).
His process is distinct from tequila and mezcal – the agave hearts are cut into small cubes prior to the cooking process and are then cooked in a mash tun similar to those used in whiskey production. During fermentation, bagazo - leftover agave fibers from the cook - is added, which enriches the flavors. The spirit is double distilled in a copper pot still and cut with limestone rich water from the local lagoon.
The result is an agave eau de vie that unites the traditions and terroir of Perú with the charisma and tenacity of the agave plant. Aqará, which is based on the word qara, meaning agave in the native Quechua language, has just arrived to the United States and is at the forefront of world agave spirits.
Written by Pilar Vree
The Craft Spirits Cooperative, Oakland, California