Kendall Jenner’s 818 Tequila Turns His Agave Waste Into Bricks

For every quart of bottled tequila, the fermentation process generates about 11 pounds of agave pulp. Consider this to scale. In 2021, sales of tequila in the United States were about 27 million nine-liter cases. That’s a mind-boggling 2.7 billion pounds of agave waste pulp. Or 2.7 billion pounds of waste material that could be used for something else, such as making bricks.

[Photo: courtesy 818]Last October, Kendall Jenner’s popular 818 Tequila company partnered with Mexican nonprofit organization SACRED, which is committed to supporting the rural Mexican communities that produce agave spirit. Together they started the 818 Bricks program, using 818 Tequila’s post-production agave fibers to make adobe bricks. The first batch of bricks has just been completed and will be used to build a school library and tasting room for a family-run distillery – 145 miles from 818’s distillery in Mexico’s Jalisco region.

[Photo: courtesy 818]“To me, it’s so beautiful that they’re thinking about both how we can reduce our footprint on the planet while also improving the communities that help us build our business,” said SACRED founder Lou Bank, who was introduced to 818 Tequila through 1% for the Planet, an international organization with members such as 818 Tequila, Patagonia and Honest Tea who contribute at least 1% of their annual sales to environmental causes.

Adobe creators Ivan Fernando Virgen Reyes and Jesus Virgen Mendez [Photo: courtesy 818]Both the buildings and the stonework were designed by local architect Eric Gómez Ibarra, whose firm, Tierra Cruda, specializes in bioclimatic architecture using local materials. Ibarra says agave has been used to make adobe stones for “thousands of years” — it can even be found in the stones that make up some of the region’s ancient pyramids. But as modern technology and concrete became more prevalent, traditional practices fell out of favor: Adobe bricks cannot be manufactured industrially because the formula varies, based on the agave batch and the type of clay or soil available for each project.

[Photo: courtesy 818]In this case, Ibarra says the stones are made from 10% to 15% agave fiber, which acts a bit like a binder. The rest is soil from the excavated foundations of the buildings, clay from the region, water, and about 5% of another byproduct of tequila making, called viñaza. Ibarra says this highly acidic distillation waste helps make the adobe bricks more water-resistant.

Architect Lorena Ramirez Preciado and architect Eric Gomez Ibarra [Photo: courtesy 818]Everything is mixed the day before and then poured into wooden molds where it sets before being removed and dried in the sun for about three days, depending on the season. Unlike conventional bricks, which are fired in kilns at an average temperature of 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit, this process requires no energy, in some cases resulting in a net-zero carbon footprint for the building. And because adobe bricks absorb heat during the day and release it at night, their cooling properties help further reduce a building’s emissions by reducing the need for AC.

Adobe bricks are one of the oldest and most common building materials known to man, and they can last 400 years if properly cared for and protected from rain. However, to enhance their durability, Ibarra designed a wavy pattern on the surface of each stone. “If you have a very flat surface that dries in the sun, it will crack if it dries too quickly,” he says. “The most important reason [for the pattern] is to prevent cracking on the surface, but it also helps to give more grip once they are placed on the wall.”

[Photo: courtesy 818]This isn’t the first time bricks have been infused with or made from scrap material. In 2012, the startup Biomason started growing bricks from bacteria (and urea). Since 2013, the Dutch company Stonecycling has been developing bricks containing no less than 80% industrial and construction waste (these recently found their way to a residential complex in Manhattan). And after years of R&D, Los Angeles-based startup ByFusion is now turning non-recyclable plastics into building blocks suitable for construction.

In Mexico, agave stones are also slowly finding their way back into construction. In Oaxaca, where most of the world’s mezcal is produced, local architectural firm COAA recently created adobe bricks using waste from the mezcal brand Sombra Mezcal. This method is now being continued in Jalisco, where the 818 Bricks program is helping to revive tradition and create jobs. “We want them not only to have money, but also to know that what their grandparents did is right now,” Ibarra says. “They can relearn these skills and if they want, repeat them for their homes.”

The library will start work in the coming weeks and will be ready in January 2023, followed by the tasting room, which will take about five months. For now, Bank says SACRED is only working with 818, but he’s hopeful the initiative will inspire other liquor companies to follow in their footsteps. “If someone else comes to us, we’re more than open to continuing our mission,” he says.

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