Agave Love, Sydney

Author: Maggie Scardifield

Phillip Bayly first discovered tequila in 1980 when he was employed to paint palm trees on the wall of a Mexican restaurant in Amsterdam. "I went to Mexico after that," he says, "and the history right back to the Aztecs just embraced me." It was agave love.

Bayly was the original owner of Sydney's dearly departed Café Pacifico, the bar he tended for some 16 years, liquoring up Darlinghurst with Mexican street food and top-shelf tequilas. Since Pacifico closed two years ago, Bayly has been busy travelling to Mexico, tasting tequilas and planning Agave Love - a conference being held this weekend in Sydney to celebrate all things tequila and mescal.

Bayly is keen to promote tequila as something far more than a party drink. For starters, like Champagne and Cognac, its production is governed by an appellation (which very few spirits are), so only spirit distilled from blue agave in particular states of Mexico can now be sold as tequila.

"A lot of people think they can't drink tequila but they're wrong," says Bayly. "It may have said tequila on the label, and was a white spirit, but chances are there was absolutely no agave in it, which is why it brings back bad memories."

Agave Love features more than 25 international guests, many of them friends from Bayly's 35 years in the tequila, mescal and (lesser known but equally interesting) raicilla and sotol industries. Conference attendees will be able to meet producers, distributors and other enthusiasts across a program of more than 46 events. Hangovers notwithstanding, it's going to be big.

International speakers include Julio Bermejo (the tequila ambassador to the US and creator of The Tommy's Margarita), Tomas Estes (tequila ambassador to Europe), and master distiller of Olmeca Altos, Jesus Hernandez. Events include cooking with tequila workshops, tastings, talks on sustainability, and bar-stool discussions such as Agave 101 and a session on mescal titled Mexico City's New Hipster Drink.

As for the look and feel of Agave Love, Bayly was inspired by New Orleans' Tales of the Cocktail festival, so don't expect any over-airconditioned conference halls or monologues here. "I wanted small, intimate talks in close proximity," he says. "I love the energy that that creates."

To that end, Agave Love venues include Shady Pines, Casoni, The Cliff Dive, Hello Sailor and The Winery, which are all within walking distance of one another. The Old Cell Block building at the National Art School will also host The Agave Central, where over 60 different tequila expressions can be tasted on Sunday 22 March.

And what will Bayly be drinking over the weekend? "Blanco tequila, from a big red-wine glass."

Agave Love, 22-23 March, Darlinghurst, NSW; tickets from $20







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