Fans of Tucson's annual Agave Heritage Festival might see it as four days to revel in all things agave including tequila.
Its creator Todd Hanley sees it as an opportunity to take a deep dive in the region's cultural and agricultural history.
"I see the festival as a unique and important festival around the bigger discussion of our agriculture and economy of Southern Arizona," he said early this month as he worked out the final details of this year's 15th annual event, taking place next weekend, April 27-30. "I see it as a calling card for who we are and how our region can adapt."
Hanley didn't think that deeply when he first proposed the festival 15 years ago as a one-day event that featured agave distillers from Tucson and the region.
But the format changed as he and the participants of the festival became more educated on the role agave has played in our society and cross-border relationships. The festival became not only about food and drinks and the cultural aspects of agave, but the importance it plays in how we exist in the region we share with Mexico, learning how to work with our arid environment, not against it, he said.
Hanley's little one-day festival, presented by Hotel Congress where he is the longtime CEO, has become the largest agave event in the country.
"It's the largest and by far most ecologically- and educationally-based festival," said Hanley, who is co-owner of Hotel Congress' sister restaurant, Maynards Market & Kitchen at 400 N. Toole Ave. "Education, ecology and culture are the roots of the culture."
The 2023 Agave Heritage Festival features dozens of distinctive events including tastings, five special dinners and the signature MezCrawl on Thursday, April 27, where participants sample chef-prepared bites and agave spirits and cocktails as they stroll through nearly a dozen downtown restaurants and watering holes including Blue Front, Good Oak Bar, HighWire, Hotel Congress, The Hub, La Chingada, The Citizen Hotel, The Monica, The Neighborhood Cocktails & Cantina and the Red Light Lounge at The Downtown Clifton Hotel.
On Friday, April 28, several downtown restaurants and hotels will host guided mezcal tastings ($35 and $40) led by industry-leading distillers.
Hotel Congress will host the popular Agave Fiesta on Saturday, April 29, featuring more than 50 artisanal and ancestral mezcals and an agave cocktail showcase. The price of admission ($65) includes four agave spirit tastes, a pair of beer samples, three cocktail samples and food from Hotel Congress's Cup Café.
The festival wraps up Sunday, April 30, with the new "Spirit of Sonora: Consumer Expo" at the Historic Train Depot Plaza, 400 N. Toole Ave., a collaboration with the state of Sonora, Mexico. The bi-national showcase and expo brings together agave enthusiasts, scientists, academics and industry experts to network, collaborate and create economic development opportunities for artisanal Bacanora and Sotol producers, according to a festival news release. Vendors will be on hand to showcase diverse and unique products created from agave and talk about the past and future of the industry.
For a full schedule of events, tickets and more information, visit Agave Heritage Festival's website.