Author Archives: M.A. "Mike" Morales

Craft Tequila: WTF Does THAT Mean? Part 1

What does that mean for tequilas?

What does that mean for tequilas?

An interesting question crossed my desk concerning the term craft as it relates to tequila.

This person asked…

“The one thing I am finding is the definition of ‘craft’ is all over the place. What does craft mean to you?  Do you think it is based on the method, quantity, who makes it or maybe all of these factors?”

This reader went on to ask if I considered a particular big name brand as a craft tequila, and if not, would I consider a certain higher priced line from this same transnational corporation that owns the brand as a craft tequila.

Further, he confessed that two other well-known brands could be considered “craft” tequilas even though one of them had reported sales of over 50,000 cases in 2013.

 Craft by Definition

According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, my favorite definition is–

“…an activity that involves making something in a skillful way by using your hands.”

The word handcraft is defined as…

“…to make (something) by using your hands.”

There are even deeper meanings to craft as it relates to the beer, wine and spirits industries, but before I get to them, let me remind you of some tequila facts and a huge marketing myth.

Fact #1:  Tequila has its own geographic indication (GI).  The blue weber agave from which it is made can only be grown, and tequila can only be produced, in specific states and regions in Mexico.

Fact #2:  According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), despite 13 million 9 liter cases of tequila sold in 2013, it is still–and always will remain–virtually last in sales volume behind whisk(e)y, gin, vodka and rum due to Fact #1.

This brings me to the…

Tequila Marketing Myth–Borrowing Benefits

So, how does a PR or marketing firm with no real knowledge of what good or bad tequila is, convey the message that its client, usually a high powered, non-Mexican owned tequila brand (and all that that implies), is just as cool as the other kids who may or may not be as well funded?

Tequila disguised as...?

Tequila disguised as…?

Simple–

You “borrow” benefits from the guy ahead of you.  You compare your tequila brand’s features and benefits to the leader in the field, thus making your client “worthy by association.”

From the moment that Herradura rested tequila in used Jack Daniels barrels to attract the American whiskey drinker decades ago, marketers have tried to disguise tequila (and mezcal, now, to some extent) as something else.

And because of Facts #1 and #2 above, tequila marketers have for years misled the public by borrowing benefits from wines, beers and all other spirits in a seeming effort to gain tequila’s acceptance into the mainstream drinking public, and to increase sales.

Craft by Design

Here’s what it means to produce a craft product in each of the following arenas.

The Brewers’ Association defines craft as small (“6 million barrels of beer or less per year”), independent (“less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by a beverage alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer”), and traditional (“a brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation”).

The American Craft Distillers Association’s (ACDA) definition of craft gets trickier–

“…those whose annual production of distilled spirits from all sources does not exceed 750,000 proof gallons removed from bond (the amount on which excise taxes are paid.)”

According to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), a proof gallon needs an entire conversion table to figure out.  We’ll let you do the math, here.

The American Distilling Institute’s (ADI) guidelines are similar but allows certified craft spirits a “maximum annual sales of 52,000 cases where the product is PHYSICALLY distilled and bottled on-site” and “maximum annual sales are less than 100,000 proof gallons.”

Where wine is concerned, the Department of Revenue defines a “small winery” as any winery that produces less than 25,000 gallons of wine in a calendar year.  A “farm winery,” however, can produce up to 50,000 gallons of wine annually.

Some have even arbitrarily issued their own definition of small winery as one producing as little as 10,000 gallons per year, and a nano winery as generating only 500 gallons per year.

A simple Google search shows that each state has its own slightly different definition of what a craft wine or spirit is, and several states with popular wine growing regions like California, are constantly updating their definition to accommodate growing wineries.

The same growing concerns in the craft beer industry have prompted the Brewer’s Association to update their ground rules to allow for larger craft producers.

The Revenge of Brewzilla

According to Impact Databank, a large chunk of the beer industry has surrendered significant market share (some 6.7 million barrels, or 93 million 2.25-gallon cases since 2009!) to the spirits industry.  The only bright spot for the entire category is the resurgence of locally brewed craft or specialty beers increasing in volume by 14% to 20.2 million barrels.

These stats have not been lost on spirits marketers who follow trends in similar markets to practice borrowing benefits.  The big brands like Miller-Coors, Anheuser Busch-Inbev (Budweiser) and others also have jumped onto the craft bandwagon by either investing in small breweries or by inferring in their marketing that they still make their beer by hand.

It's not a craft beer.  Just well-crafted.

It’s not a craft beer. Just well-crafted.

As Ashley Routson, a craft beer advocate famously known as The Beer Wench, and whose upcoming book “The Beer Wench’s Guide to Beer” will be an unpretentious, comprehensive approach to beer, puts it…

“In my opinion, the fight over the word craft should be one of semantics, but instead, its become a battle of the egos.”

Routson goes on to say, “The word ‘craft’ is not a synonym for the word ‘good,’ ‘great’ or ‘better.’  Many non-craft breweries and large tequila producers make world class beer and tequila–there is no argument there.  You don’t need to use the word craft to define your beverage as being good.”

Author, Ashley Routson, The Beer Wench.

Author, Ashley Routson, The Beer Wench.

Beer journalist, Mike Cortez, whose pending book will be a part of the Beer Lovers series of books (Beer Lover’s Texas), is also the co-founder of The Texas Margarita Festival, and feels that craft tequila should be held to the same strict standards as craft beer.

 “We need to separate the garbage from the good stuff.  [Like craft] beer that is only made with the basics, grain, water, hops and yeast, the brewers do not use additives or adjuncts to flavor the beer.”

Cortez concludes, “[Tequila] is a product that takes time, care and only the purest agave extraction.  The distillers depend on the time to harvest the agave, baking the pinas and perfectly extracting the juices.  Once it is distilled it is a product that is pure and only flavored by the barrel with no extra additives.”

Tequila Industry consultant, Chris Zarus, innovator of TequilaRack, the world’s first take home tequila tasting kit that deliberately includes samples of some of the finest small batch, micro-distilled reposado tequilas sourced from family run distilleries, takes the craft argument to a higher level.

“The word craft has unfortunately been abducted by the marketing department and now misleads the masses.  We go to classes that advise us on how to make our brands ‘craftier’ with specialty releases with funny names [and] all owned by multinational conglomerates that work relentlessly to reduce costs via cheaper ingredients and mechanization.”

Zarus believes that there are two industry definitions of craft which differ from what the consumer understands.  They involve a specific recipe and a specific process.

Specific Recipe

Chicken breast after having been used in clay still to make mezcal de pechuga.

Chicken breast after having been used in clay still to make mezcal de pechuga.

In this craft version, the product is consistent and costs are contained.

“The Jim Koch’s [founder of Samuel Adams beer] view that his recipe makes his beer craft regardless of the fact that MillerCoors brews it for the masses,” explains Zarus.  “In [Koch’s] opinion, its like a chef going to your house to cook his special recipe.”

“If you think about it in broad terms,” reasons Zarus, “all consumer products have a specific recipe.  The difference here may be that the recipe is full flavored and is preferred by fewer due to its heartier taste.”

Specific Process

In this definition, the process is the craft.

Tequila Fortaleza, produced by famed fifth generation distiller, Guillermo Sauza, Zarus illustrates, “[Is] very

Las perlas del mezcal.

Las perlas del mezcal.

specific, old world, but not very mechanized.  In this way the outcome varies by batch and the state of the local ingredients.  The craft is the process.”

The downside, insists Zarus is that, “…the product varies by batch, like some wines.  There is a lack of product consistency.  Some batches have more acclaim than others and the maker is not getting to charge the full price of the best batches.”

This last seeming liability has been turned into a profitable tequila marketing plan by some boutique brands like Ocho and Charbay who source their agave from single estates thus promoting the brand’s terroir and creating buzz for individual vintages.

The Meaning and the Art Form

Marketers rethink the word "craft."

Marketers rethink the word “craft.”

The two essential elements that Routson, Cortez and Zarus all agree upon are, first, that the craft process is the art form, whether in beer, wine or spirits.

The other factor that our panel of professionals agrees on is the battle of maintaining the true definition of the word craft.

We’ll explore these issues and how you can define, select and measure a craft tequila in Part 2 tomorrow.


 

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Tequila Penasco Anejo by Steve Coomes

 logo2white2, tequila, penasco anejo, penasco, tequila aficionado, bourbonThe Ohio Valley’s schizophrenic spring weather has had an unexpectedly positive effect on my home liquor cabinet. Since it’s been too warm for the furnace and too cool for the air conditioner, the house temp has averaged about 75 degrees for two months. And one of the most notable beneficiaries is Tequila Penasco Anejo (the bourbon has benefitted, too!).

 

Sipped somewhere in the mid-70s one evening, the blooming butterscotch and cooked agave nose was brilliant. A good bit more swishing elevated vegetal notes, hints of mint, lemongrass, and aguamiel. Since temperature raises alcohol volatility, I remained wary of vapor burn. Still, walking that fine line between elegant fragrance and fire was worth it.

 

The flavor of this spirit, rested 14 to 16 months in oak, was bright and brilliant, launching with all the predictable barrel notes of vanilla and light caramel, even touches of chocolate. Held in the mouth, the añejo delivered lush floral notes backed by cinnamon and some straw. After swallowing, that rumor of chocolate reappeared and then dissolved into bruléed sugar, butterscotch and toffee. Given a brief nap in the glass—and trust me, it’s hard to put down—this expression offered up orange peel, wood and again butterscotch, joined by coriander.

logo2white2, tequila, penasco anejo, penasco, tequila aficionado, bourbon

 

Some spirits lose their body when warm, but not this one. It was full and coated both glass and mouth evenly, always generous and soft to every surface. Vigorous swirling of the golden expression yielded numerous narrow legs lined up and evenly spaced as the Rockettes in action. Think that’s a bit much? Have a look for yourself. (Maybe it was the glass?)

 

Sadly, Tequila Peñasco did not supply any press information, such as what its products cost. A quick web search revealed only the brand’s notoriously wonky website and expired liquor store discount offers for the añejo, but no details. That’s unfortunate given that I’d like to know how it stacks up (at the cash register) against its peers.

 

Suffice it to say, though, if you find it, get it if it fits your budget. It’s a straight-up fine sipper.

 

Follow Penasco online: FacebookTwitter.

 

 

 

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Rancho La Joya Tequila–Roberto Sanchez del Toro

Rancho La Joya blanco and reposado.

Rancho La Joya blanco and reposado.

Passion:  The A Game

To say that Roberto Sanchez del Toro, exclusive importer and brand developer of Rancho La Joya tequila (NOM 1555) has endured adversity would be an understatement.  To say that he has survived his life’s challenges, thus far, with grace and his boyish charm still intact would be putting it mildly.

San Antonio, Texas, resident, Roberto was a young high school student when, due to immigration reasons, he was forced to manage the family’s thriving tamale husk production business while his parents were temporarily out of the country.

Then, as a sophomore at St. Mary’s University, he decided to create his own tequila business only to suffer defeat at the hands of the merciless Texas spirits retail and distribution industries.

Fast forward to 2013…

Roberto Sanchez del Toro, importer of Rancho La Joya tequila.

Roberto Sanchez del Toro, importer of Rancho La Joya tequila.

A rabid lifelong San Antonio Spurs fan, it was during a hard fought pick up basketball game that Roberto took a knee to the groin.  A subsequent doctor’s exam revealed the shocking news that he was suffering from advanced testicular cancer followed by surgery and three months of chemotherapy while simultaneously reviving his failed tequila business.

All of this before the age of 24!

In this clip, Sanchez del Toro, following in his parents’ entrepreneurial footsteps, learns the pitfalls of the tequila business firsthand…

 

Here, Roberto recalls the start of 2013…

 

 

A shrewd businessman even in college, Sanchez del Toro, now with a degree in International Business, kept the lines of communication open with the García family, third generation Highlands agave producers of Rancho La Joya tequila.

Roberto takes us through the tequila’s process…

 

 

Even though the distillery has a large output capacity to meet demand, Roberto discusses what the ramifications of the current agave shortage could mean to the producers of tequila Rancho La Joya.

 

 

[To learn more about Rancho La Joya’s production techniques, click here.]

 

The new look of Rancho La Joya tequila.

The new look of Rancho La Joya tequila.

 

Along with partner, Mike Garcia, a successful San Antonio technology marketing executive (no relation to the agave producing and distilling family), and a team of consultants as guides, Roberto Sanchez del Toro, now 25, has a clean bill of health and is ready for the long haul with his newly revamped Rancho La Joya tequila, as well as having taken over the reigns of the family enterprise.

With a redesigned bottle that more accurately represents the juice inside, and the promise of statewide distribution from Glazer’s, Roberto is anxious to turn his initial sales call rejections into inspired action within the state of Texas, the second largest consumer of tequila, and beyond.

Why Tequila?

Of all the start up businesses Roberto could have chosen, he explains in the following segment why he selected tequila.

The Five Year Plan

Roberto describes where he sees Rancho La Joya Tequila in five years.

 

Rancho La Joya is available in blanco and reposado expressions.  Plans are in the works for a 36 month aged añejo to be called Diamante that will be marketed with branded stemmed glassware.

Roberto Sanchez del Toro cheers on his beloved Spurs.

Roberto Sanchez del Toro cheers on his beloved Spurs.

At this time, only the following local restaurants and bars carry Rancho La Joya…

La Fogata, Mi Tierra Café & Bakery, SoLuna, Rio Rio Cantina, Stetson Bar, Ice Lounge.

Like the San Antonio Spurs, who are currently battling in the 2014 NBA Playoffs, Roberto Sanchez del Toro has proven that bringing your “A” Game and passion into everything you do invariably results in a winning record.

***

Follow Rancho La Joya on Facebook

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Tequila Penasco Reposado by Steve Coomes

penasco, reposado, tequila, Tequila Penasco Reposado

The quality of tequila pushing into the U.S. market is so high these days that it’s hard to write a really bad review.  It’s easy to be wowed by some more than others, and some, though good, make me question the price point, but I have yet to find one I’d swear off drinking again.

Tequila Peñasco Reposado has extended that winning streak for all the correct reasons:  flavor, aroma and color are all what a reposado is supposed to represent–that perfect balance between a blanco’s vibrancy and that kiss of maturity born of brief barrel rest.

That I liked it this much was particularly surprising given my not-so-favorable reaction to its sibling Tequila Peñasco Plata, an expression I thought fine, but unexciting.  The reposado, however, delivers a 180 as a super-enjoyable sipper.  Every time I’ve drunk it, I’ve always wanted more because it’s so flavorful and easygoing.

In just four to six months barrel time, it makes quick friends with the wood, but no inappropriately deep relationships.  Like a new college graduate who shows some maturity gained in his matriculation, this expression displays complexity while maintaining its youthfulness.  Sip it neat or use it in a cocktail–it’s flexible!  Given my druthers, though, I’d choose this neat.

Its light gold tint is alluring and hints accurately of a light body with a clean finish.  On the front of the palate come good wood accents, touches of cinnamon and just a whisper of pepper.  After a few sips I pick up some fruit, wood flavors and even some crème brulée on the exhale.  This is a spirit any novice tequila sipper could enjoy straight.

Aerating and swirling bring out some butterscotch and brown sugar notes, followed by a good dose of vapor, so don’t nose it too closely like I did (and do too often).  Let it rest and the brown sugar returns alongside a scant bit of toasted bread.

What tingles the tongue up front softens quickly at mid-palate and disappears before reaching the back.   No, it’s not much for finishing, but hey, after less than a half year in the barrel, what do you expect?  Maybe that quick disappearing act is what leaves me so eager for more when I’m finished.

Find Penasco online here.

Follow Penasco on Twitter here.

Follow Penasco on Facebook here.

stephen coomes, steve coomes,Tequila Aficionado is proud to welcome rising star in tequila and travel journalism, Stephen Coomes, as a Contributing Writer and Reviewer.  His steady gigs include roles as contributing editor for Nation’s Restaurant News (the U.S. restaurant industry’s largest publication), restaurant critic and feature writer for Louisville magazine, feature writer for Edible Louisville and Seafood Business magazines, Kentucky travel and dining contributor for Southern Living, and dining blogger for Insider Louisville. He also writes marketing, PR, web copy and ghostwrites for numerous private clients.  You can visit Steve online at www.stevecoomes.com.


 

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The Diffusor in Tequila Production: Are They Cheating?

The Diffusor in a Recent Twitter Conversation:

A thought provoking question was asked via Twitter about the use of diffusors in tequila production.

For the uninitiated, diffusors are used to efficiently extract the starches from harvested agave piñas that are subsequently cooked and distilled to make mass produced tequila.  To purists, its use is blasphemy because it strips the tequila of character and results in something akin to vodka.

Furthermore, its use is usually kept under wraps by those distilleries who would prefer to let their marketing departments lead you to believe that they still produce tequila the “old fashioned way” without shortcuts.

Case in point is this following Twitter conversation:

 

Click on any of the links within the Twitter stream to follow, favorite, retweet, quote or respond.

More Questions Than Answers

Now, not only are we left to wonder who’s zooming who on whether or not Herradura uses a diffusor, but we feel the need to question the reasons for using a diffusor, who has been known to use it in the past and who may still be using it to eek out the most juice from their agave.

Follow the link below to one of the most thorough crash courses on tequila diffusor technology.

 

muchoagave.com, diffusor, tequila, tequila aficionado

 

 

Link: http://www.muchoagave.com/the-difusor—there-may-be-too-much-agave-in-your-tequila-or-mezcal.html

And this link on revealing tequila trends written in 2012 by freelance spirits writer, Emma Janzen.

 

Additional discussions on Linkedin proved informative:

  • International Business Manager at Jorge Salles Cuervo y Sucesores S.A. de C.V:

    Eventhough I do not like that Diffusers are used, I think that using it is not cheating. It is a new way to produce Tequila, that is approved by law and obviously will do no harm to whom may drik it. Any way the consumer that drink Tequila that has been produced with a Diffuser are aiming at a Low Cost and Low Quality product that cannot be compared to one that has been elaborated in a traditional method, which will give a much better flavour and quality.

  • Owner/CEO at Corazon Azul Spirits, LLC.

    Jorge Antonio Salles is right on his answer, the use of Diffusers in the production of tequila will just yield a lower quality product in very large quantities but it is not cheating, although they are not largely used in the industry, only the big producers due to the cost and operation are able to buy them and put them into production, however they do also produce a product called innulina which is the sugar extracted from the Agave pine and recent studies claim this product as a weight loosing agent and reducer of sugar levels in the human system thus reducing the chances of developing diabetes.

  • Distilled Spirits Head Dragon and Broker / Marketer / Sipper of Artisanal Spirits

    Nice bust on Herradura. LOL! :)

  • Tequilero at http://tequilaconnection.com

    While visiting Herradura in 2012, I asked the question. I believe the reply was yes, they were using the diffuser to produce their Pepe Lopez brand. They export a lot of it.

  • Chief Executive Officer at Tequila Aficionado Media

    They have also been known to use it on El Jimador, and have since stopped using it on Herradura.

    Some purists still believe they do, however, when old Herradura is compared to modern (Brown-Forman) Herradura.

  • Gerente General en Luna Spirits SA de CV

    In my opinion when the distillers used diffusers they are Cheating on self, why? One thing is the letter of the law and other is the spirits of the law.
    When the distillers use a difusser, they accomplish the letter of the law despite to be an approved method to distill, but its only proposal is obtain more quantity of alcohol, the quality is secondary and this kind of producer need to “adjust” the flavor with external agents (advocantes), approved method too, but in my opinion, they are not part of the natural process.
    When the distillers use a pot distill, they do it as flavor quest, to obtain the best profile possible with the natural components of the fermented agave juice, adjusting distill conditions, they follow the spirit of the law. And the quality is their first goal.
    In my opinion the secret to do a real tequila is: Work in the process be careful and responsible, like you are the owner of the distillery and obtain a product with a exceptional quality, assuming you the final consumer role.

  • Chief Executive Officer at Tequila Aficionado Media

    Beautifully said, Don Modesto!

 

 

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