Category Archives: Mike Morales

How to Taste Tequila Like a Catador…

…Or, at least, how to act like one

Color, legs and tears, taste tequila

Color, legs and tears.

There are two official schools in Mexico that train people to be certified catadores (tequila tasters).  One is actually a faction of the original school established in 2000 and known as the Academia Mexicana del Tequila (Mexican Tequila Academy).

After a bitter falling out between the founders, another school was initiated in 2006 known as the Academia Mexicana de Catadores de Vino y Mezcal.

Below are the official guidelines of tequila tasting as set forth by the Mexican Tequila Academy and translated from their website here.

1.)  Durante todo el proceso de cata, no debe haber communicación entre los catadores.

(During the entire tasting, there should be no communication among the tasters

Covered tequila samples, taste tequila

Covered tequila samples.

[judges]).

2)  Recuerde que un gesto o cualquier otra actitud de aprobación o desaprobación, puede influir en la opinión de los otros participantes. Su opinión, sea cual fuere, debe ser reflejada en la cédula de cata, y si tuviera opiniones o comentarios extra-calificación, es importante que utilice el reverso de la cédula correspondiente a la muestra que está evaluando.

(Keep in mind that any gesture of approval or disapproval can influence the opinion of the other judges.  Whatever your opinion, it should be reflected on the scoring sheet and if you have opinions or extra comments (ratings), it’s important to use the reverse side of the scoring sheet of the sample you are evaluating.)

3.)  Antes y durante el transcurrir de la cata no es conveniente fumar, ya que el tabaco disminuye la capacidad de percepción sensorial y sus apreciaciones podrían estar afectadas y el humo afectará a los otros catadores.

(Before and during the course of the tasting, it is not convenient to smoke since tobacco diminishes one’s sensorial capacities and perceptions.  Your assessments may be affected and the smoke will affect the other tasters [judges].)

4.)  Se recomienda que el día del catado se evite el uso de lociones o perfumes.

Agave, up close, taste tequila

Agave, up close.

(It is recommended that on the day of the tasting that you avoid the use of lotions or perfumes.)

5.)  De preferencia el día de la cata se debe tomar un desayuno ligero, entre las 8:00 y las 9:00 hrs. si la cata se inicia a las 11:00.

(It is preferred that on the day of the tasting that you have a light breakfast at 8 or 9 AM if the tasting is to start at 11AM.)

6.)  Antes de iniciar el catado, ponga en su boca un pequeño sorbo de un destilado neutro (se recomienda vodka simple) páselo por toda la boca y finalmente elimínelo, este ejercicio hará que su boca quede limpia de sabores extraños o anteriores y la preparará para una mejor percepción.

(Before the inception of the tasting, place a small sip of a neutral [grain] spirit (plain vodka is recommended), swish it around in your mouth and spit it out.  This practice cleanses your mouth of strange or previous flavors and prepares

Vodka, soda crackers, water and scoring sheets.

Vodka, soda crackers, water and scoring sheets.

you for a better perception [evaluation]).

7.)  Antes de calificar el sabor de la primera muestra, se recomienda poner en la boca un primer sorbo y moverlo por toda ella, eliminarlo y con un segundo sorbo emitir su calificación sobre el sabor.

(Before scoring the first sample on its flavor, it is recommended to take the first sip and swish it inside your entire mouth and spit it out.  With the second sip, express (record) your score on the flavor.)

8.)  Tómese el tiempo necesario para evaluar cada muestra, no lo haga apresuradamente, y sobre todo concéntrese en la muestra en turno. ¡CONCENTRACIÓN ES EL NOMBRE DEL JUEGO!

(Take the time necessary to evaluate each sample.  Don’t be in a hurry, and above all, concentrate on the current sample.  CONCENTRATION IS THE NAME OF THE GAME!)

9.)  Recuerde que es su percepción y opinión, sobre la muestra en turno, la que vale y no el qué o cómo pudiere parecerle a otra persona.

(Remember that it’s your perception and opinion over the current sample that counts and not how someone else might perceive it.)

10.)  No intente hacer comparaciones; no tiene que conectar la muestra en turno con alguna marca en particular; realice su evaluación como si cada una de las muestras fuera única. Cada una de las muestras tendrá sus propias características, positivas o negativas, sus cualidades, atributos y esos son los que deben contar para usted, de acuerdo con los parámetros de la categoría y clase de la muestra, ya que esto es finalmente lo que se busca.

(Do not attempt to make comparisons.  Do not connect the current sample to a particular brand.  Carry out your evaluations as if each sample were unique.  Each one of the samples will have its own characteristics, positive or negative, its own qualities and attributes, and those are what you should depend (rely) upon in accordance with the parameters of the category and type of the

Scoring tequila samples.

Scoring tequila samples.

sample as that is ultimately what is looked for.)

11.)  Es importante que al pasar de una a otra muestra, elimine el sabor de la anterior con un poco de galleta sin sal y agua.

(It is important that after each sample, you cleanse its flavor [from your palate] with a bit of plain soda cracker and water.)

12.)  Elimine el sorbo de cada muestra evaluada, al final de la cata podrá beber de las muestras que prefiera.

(Eliminate the sip of each sample evaluated.  At the end of the cata (tasting) you’ll be able to drink from the samples you preferred.)

13.)  Es de vital importancia que para evaluar cada categoría y clase de tequila, tome en consideración el parámetro o perfil correspondiente, esas deben ser sus referencias al calificar la categoría y clase.  Al reverso de la ficha, encontrará perfiles generales para la categoría 100% de agave y cada clase.  Al reverso de la cédula encontrará estos perfiles generals.

(It is vitally important that to evaluate each category and type of tequila that you take into consideration the corresponding parameter or profile.  Those should be your references to score the category and type.  On the reverse side of the scoring card you’ll find general descriptions for the category of 100% de agave [tequila] and each type.  On the reverse side of your identification card, you will [also] find these general descriptions.)

14.)  Es indispensable que antes de iniciar el catado, anote en todas sus cédulas su nombre. Y una vez que emita sus calificaciones para cada muestra, realice la suma de puntos total, anotando este resultado en el lugar destinado para ello y que registre esta calificación en su hoja personal de control.

(It is indispensable that before the tasting, you write your names on all of the scoring sheets.  Once you’ve graded each sample, total up the points and write the sum in the space provided and register this evaluation on your personal control sheet.)

15.)  Circule la calificación para cada concepto de evaluación (visual, olfativo, sabor), no palomee, no cruce ni tache los números de la calificación.

(Circle the grade for each component of evaluation (visual, olfaction, flavor).  Do not deliberately “fudge,” cross out or eliminate numbers from the score.)

16.)  Las copas con las muestras, han sido ordenadas de izquierda a derecha en

Covered samples

Covered samples

dos líneas: de la 1 a la 5 y atrás de la 6 a la 10. En esa misma secuencia deberá realizarse la cata, destapando exclusivamente la copa de la muestra que va a evaluar y volviéndola a tapar al pasar a la siguiente.

(The glasses with the samples are in order from left to right in two lines:  from 1 to 5, and in back from 6 to 10.  The tasting should be done in the same sequence, uncovering only the glass of the sample you are evaluating, and then recovering it before moving on to the next one.)

17.)  En general recuerde la capacitación que sobre catado ha recibido. 

(In general, remember the tequila tasting training you have received.)

Considere que su evaluación de cada muestra es en extremo valiosa y que con sus calificaciones estará afectando positiva o negativamente a esa muestra y por tanto a una marca en particular que se expende en el mercado, por lo que se debe realizar con extrema imparcialidad y absoluta honestidad.

(Consider that your evaluation of each sample is extremely valuable.  Your scores will affect, either positively or negatively, that sample and therefore, a particular brand coming onto the retail market.  It should be carried out with extreme impartiality and absolute honesty.)

Dazed & Diffused: More on the Diffuser in Tequila Production

We briefly tackled the diffuser controversy earlier in 2014 with The Diffusor in Tequila Production: Are They Cheating? and in Craft Tequila–WTF Does THAT Mean? Part 2  where we featured our Craft Tequila Gauntlet to help you make better buying decisions when seeking quality craft tequilas.

 Here, Tequila Aficionado Media delves deeper…

What’s Not on The Menu

The Pastry War's stance on diffuser produced tequila and mezcal., We briefly tackled the diffuser controversy earlier in 2014 with The Diffusor in Tequila Production: Are They Cheating?, diffuser, diffusor, difuser, difusor

The Pastry War’s stance on diffuser produced tequila and mezcal.

On the wall of The Pastry War, a world renowned mezcalería and restaurant in the heart of Houston, TX, this chalkboard message proudly explains why owners, outspoken agave advocates Bobby Heugel and Alba Huerta, staunchly refuse to serve tequilas and mezcals produced with a diffuser.

In their view, it’s a battle between traditional methods of tequila [and mezcal] production which yields “delicious tequila [or mezcal],” versus more cost-conscious methods adopted by distilleries that produce “a shitty version of tequila [or mezcal].”

Let’s look more closely at this cursed contraption.

WTH Is It?

Mirriam-Webster’s online dictionary diffuser definition–

“a device for reducing the velocity and increasing the static pressure of a fluid passing through a system.”

Diffuser, by its own definition, denotes watering, stripping, deflecting or softening down the finished product, whether it be light, air, or agua miel, what will eventually be distilled into tequila.

Using only hot water and sulfuric acid to extract up to 98%-99% of the sugars from raw, uncooked agave, the resultant tequila, as described by noted agave lover, Fortaleza tequila brand ambassador and blogger, Khyrs Maxwell, in his detailed instructional post, There May Be Too Much Agave in Your Tequila or Mezcal  tastes like…

“…what I would consider to have a chemical/medicinal taste–sometimes slight, sometimes overbearing flavor profile that always seems to overshadow the beauty of the agave.”  

He further states that it “tastes very much like vodka” and has coined the term “AgaVodka.”

Lastly, Maxwell warns…

“So if you come across a tequila or mezcal made with a difusor, the only way that there can be “notes of cooked agave” is by adding that flavor during the finishing process.  They can add “notes of cooked agave?”  Why, yes.  Yes they can…I’ve seen and smelled the additive.  It does exist.”

Maxwell’s statement above excludes the use of authorized additives to blanco (unaged) tequila, of course.

As of December 2012, such practices have been outlawed by the CRT in its normas (rules and regulations governing the production of tequila).  It remains to be seen how well it will be enforced, however, so your pricey, Fruit Loop scented blanco may still be safe for a year or two until inventories are depleted.

Spanish diffuser manufacturer, Tomsa Destil, offers a closer look at the mega-masher and its process, which seem to go hand-in-hand with column distillation.

The site mentions that they have installed 12 diffusers for use in agave processing, but makes no mention of their clients, nor if sulfuric acid to extract sugars from agave is also needed.

Tomsa Destil diffuser., Diffusor in Tequila

Tomsa Destil diffuser.

The Stigma

While controversy swirls around the use of a diffuser, most educated tequila aficionados understand that it is not illegal to do so.  In fact, its application was accepted by the CRT some time ago.

As we mentioned in item #5 of our Craft Tequila Gauntlet, diffuser use by a distillery is a closely guarded secret even though it is a fairly large piece of machinery to try to hide.  There is a stigma attached to it, with most distilleries that have one completely denying that any of their star brands are processed with it.

While most of the Tequila Industry’s heavy hitters are known to possess diffusers, many also own regular shredders, autoclaves and even stone ovens.  Ask any major brand owner whose tequila is produced at these maquiladoras (large production facilities that churn out juice for contracted brands) whether they are a by-product of a diffuser, and they vehemently deny it.

#AskRuben

Ruben Aceves, Casa Herradura, Diffusor in Tequila

Ruben Aceves, Casa Herradura.

 

In the Twitter thread attached to The Diffusor in Tequila Production: Are They Cheating? it was revealed that Casa Herradura had used a diffuser from 2001-2010.

The historic tequila maker initially implemented the super shredder during the last great agave crisis of the late 90s.  Years later, it was taken to task by an organized group of key concerned mixologists and tequila supporters who refused to use Herradura in their cocktails or to include it in their bar menus due to a drastic change in its original flavor profile and quality.  Herradura finally succumbed and stopped using it for that label.

Vintage Casa Herradura, logo, Diffusor in Tequila

In the following screen captures of a Twitter chat from May 1, 2014, Ruben Aceves, Casa Herradura’s Director of International Brand Development, admits that the diffuser is now only used for their Antiguo, El Jimador, and Pepe Lopez brands.

 

Twitter chat #AskRuben.

More Twitter chat. #AskRuben

 

Aceves had previously come clean to spirits writer, Emma Janzen in her article for The Statesman here.

In Khrys Maxwell’s aforementioned blog, he lists tequila producers known to employ diffusers.  Tequila Aficionado also includes this list on every updated NOM List for your convenience.

Nevertheless, one of those distilleries mentioned in Maxwell’s list boldly refuses to hide behind a veil of secrecy–

Destilería Leyros (NOM 1489).

In Defense Of Diffusers

Destilería Leyros, producers of their flagship brand, Tequila Don Fermin and many others, bills itself as a model for modern and efficient tequila making.

It was proudly represented that way even in the wildly popular Spanish language telenovela Destilando Amor, where it stood in for the then fictional Destilería Montalvo.

 

Enrique Legorreta Carranco, one of the owners of Leyros, agreed to answer some of our questions and to try to help dispel the myths and mysteries surrounding the diffuser.

Controversy

“I am aware about the controversy of using difusor [Spanish spelling] in the tequila process.  Here are some key factors and benefits of the process in order to be firm with the press:

“In fact, there is nothing to hide and we are willing to receive tequila bloggers, media or people from Tequila Aficionado in order to know first hand this innovative and ecological process.”

Process

“The difusor extracts the agave juice first of all, followed by the cooking of the agave juice to extract the agave sugars.  This cooked agave juice is called the agua miel.  In traditional process they first cooked the agave followed by the agave juice extraction.  We obviously need to cook the agave juice in order to get its sugars in order to be able to be fermentated (biological process where sugar turns into alcohol).”

Flavor

[We’ll note that Sr. Legorreta took issue with the portrayal of the tastes and essences of tequilas produced with a diffuser as described by some bloggers, believing them to be too subjective.]

“This process gives to the taster a more herbal, clean and citric experience.  Also this process is more efficient and as a result gives a tequila with better standards in methanol, aldehydes and other compounds not desired because at high levels produces hangovers.”

 

Traditional Process vs. Modern Technology

“We respect a lot [the] traditional process.  The only thing we believe is that the consumer has the last word to choose between one tequila flavor from another.
“There are people that prefer the traditional strong flavor from tequila.  Other people are preferring tequilas [that are] more pure, citric with subtle notes of fresh agave like if you are smelling [the] agave and [the] land.”

 

Environment

Reiterating what was demonstrated in the videos above, Sr. Legorreta explains…
“A difusor process uses less than 50% of energy, and less than 60% of water used in traditional processes to produce same quantities of liters.  Additional to this [at the] Leyros Distillery we recycle the bagasse that we get in the last phase of the difusor.  All this with our completely self-sufficient green boiler is fueled with bagasse from our own mill.”

 

About That Stigma…

“About why many distilleries denied they have a difusor, I can guess without knowing a reason from first hand–that is because traditional process with ovens sounds more romantic than the technology of a difusor.”
“In fact, a lot of distilleries focus their marketing efforts around traditional processes.  I guess this is working.  If not, I [suppose] they would be focusing more in the tasting notes of the final product.”
Indeed, Destilería Leyros’ website and videos play on the romance using a smattering of phrases as, “It tastes like countryside, like fire in your blood,” and “Like a passionate kiss, the Taste of Mexico.”

A New Style

In much the same manner as importers, brand owners, and maestro tequileros defend

Don Fermin barrel room at Destilería Leyros.

Don Fermin barrel room at Destilería Leyros.

(and advertise in their marketing materials!) the use of additives in their aged tequilas (“finished and polished”), Sr. Legorreta asserts that juice made with a diffuser is simply another style of tequila.

“The essence of tequila is the agave, and both processes distill agave, just in different ways.  There are some people that love traditions [and] there are others that like to innovate and improve things.”
Just as Leyros’ website and videos “invites you to taste and compare, and then let your palate decide which tequila you’d rather raise in a toast,” Sr. Legorreta concludes:
“At the end of the day, or the end of the history, [it] is the consumer [who] chooses their tequila without a bias in the information.”
Some Truths to Consider

The Leyros videos above claim to use machinery as a way to “considerably reduce the risk of injury” to the people on their workforce.  Yet, as Maxwell points out…

“Not only is the difusor a way to pump out product, it also uses a very small labor force.  As more distilleries use the difusor, there will be less jobs available to those, who for hundreds of years,  have built towns and created families by working in the agave distillate industry.  So what happens to the unemployed?  …do they leave for the US to become illegal immigrants?  Or do they work for the narcos?”

At the risk of being redundant, it bears repeating what noted agave ethno-botanist, Ana Valenzuela said about the diffuser here

Shredder.

Shredder.

 

“…to prohibit the use of diffusers (in hydrolysis of agave juices) that takes the “soul” (the flavor of baked agave) out of our native distillates, singular in the world for its complexities of aromas and flavors.”

In conclusion, if current figures are correct, exports of tequila rose 16% to US$568 million in the first six months of 2014, compared to the same period last year.  It is expected that China will import 10 million liters of tequila in the next 5 years.

Where will Mexico find enough agave to serve their thirsty customers?

Mezcaleros de Oaxaca protestan.

Mezcaleros de Oaxaca protestan.

These guys know where.

Turning A Blind Eye

On September 4, 2014, dozens of mezcaleros (mezcal producers) dumped 200 liters of mezcal onto the streets of Oaxaca City in protest for their government’s lack of support against tequileros from Jalisco who are allegedly raiding tons of espadín and other maguey (agave), the prime ingredient in mezcal, to produce tequila.

In the process, say Maestros del Mezcal Tradiciónal del Estado de Oaxaca (a trade association) 15 of the 32 varieties of maguey native to Oaxaca are in danger of becoming extinct.

Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You

Without maguey there is no mezcal or tequila.

Without maguey there is no mezcal or tequila.

Thanks to these transnational maguey marauders, the burgeoning mezcal industry’s days are numbered, it seems.

If indeed a diffuser strips away the agave’s regional characteristics leaving behind a more citric, vodka-like, cookie cutter flavor profile that easily lends itself to clandestine adulteration, over distillation and multiple barrel blendings, then what’s to keep these pirate tequileros from pilfering agave from outside the requisite growing states and using a diffuser to crank out “tequila?”

These days, filling orders to emerging world markets is more important than the blatant disregard for the Denomination of Origin.

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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Women in The Tequila Industry: Jaclyn Jacquez by M.A. “Mike” Morales

Jaclyn Jacquez considers herself an adelita, of sorts.

Soldaderas of the Mexican Revolution.

Soldaderas of the Mexican Revolution.

Adelitas were female solders (soldaderas) who were a vital force during the Mexican Revolution in the early 1900s, fighting alongside men.  As President of Don Cuco Sotol, she spearheads a sixth generation  company producing a spirit steeped in 800 years of history.

The Don Cuco Sotol line up., jaclyn jacquez

The Don Cuco Sotol line up.

Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico and raised in El Paso, Texas and Chihuahua, Mexico, this charming but fierce warrior woman is more than armed with a masters degree in International Business from the American College of Switzerland.  Under her leadership, the company trademarked its brand name, exported it first into New Mexico, and now, into New Zealand where it is gaining the attention of bars and restaurants specializing in serving handcrafted Mexican spirits-based cocktails.

Jaclyn Jacquez, President of Don Cuco Sotol.

Jaclyn Jacquez, President of Don Cuco Sotol.

In an industry where the image and story behind a spirit is crucial for its marketing success, Jaclyn and the entire Jacquez family, staunchly refuse to stray from their artisanal roots.  Opting instead to concentrate on honoring their culture and way of life in the Sonoran Desert, they have managed to capture its essence inside every bottle of Don Cuco Sotol.

As I related to author, Tom Barry, in his stellar article “A Sotol Story” (it may be bad form to quote oneself, but I’ll do so here), “There is no mistaking that Don Cuco Sotol is produced–handcrafted, micro-distilled–and lovingly brought into the market by the Jacquez family.”

A revolutionary spirit fronted by a soldadera, Jaclyn Jacquez most certainly belongs among the ranks of Tequila Boss Ladies.

To repeat, we asked a short list of five questions to prominent women leading the charge for change in the Tequila Industry and beyond.

Interview with Don Cuco Sotol’s President, Jaclyn Jacquez.

TA:  How would you describe your experiences as a high ranking woman in your position in a primarily male dominated industry?

JJ:  To be in a male dominated industry has been an empowering feeling.  The liquor industry is starting to realize the great power of influence women have in this business.  Not only do we have influence in advertisement and marketing but we are playing a major role in strategic business decisions at an international level.

Label.

Label.

TA:  How have you been able to change things within your industry?

JJ:  The sotol industry had played a major role during Mexico’s revolutionary times just as the women called ” Adelitas” did during that period.  Now its challenge, and my challenge, is to revolutionize everyone’s cocktail with this spirit.

My heritage is from Chihuahua and I, too, carry that northern revolutionary spirit within me.  I don’t think I’ve made a change in this industry, yet, but Sotol is a revolutionary drink and I’m just part of its heritage.

I just happen to be the “Adelita.”

TA:  What do you see as the future of women working within the Tequila/Sotol Industry?

Adelitas of the Mexican Revolution.

Adelitas of the Mexican Revolution.

JJ:  I see huge potential for women and the liquor industry itself.

I see women not only in the marketing aspect of it, but in the agriculture, business, social conscious awareness of it and education.  I see women taking this challenging industry to a much higher level where people will not only be asking for just well drinks but for a cocktail with a specific brand of sotol or tequila.

TA:  What things would you like to see changed?

JJ:  Awareness.

I want people to understand that tequila and sotol are not just another alcoholic beverage to drink.  It is more than that.  It is culture, art, and a spirit that has to be treated with respect.  That’s why the Ancestors called it spirits.  Consumers need to research and know what they are consuming and demand it.

TA:  Is there anything you’d like to say to women who may be contemplating entering and working in the Tequila/Sotol Industry in one form or another?

JJ:  Yes.  It’s just like any other goal.  You’ve got to have passion and embrace every challenging aspect of this industry.

***

A soldadera relaxes.

A soldadera relaxes.

 

Find Don Cuco Sotol Online:

Don Cuco Website

Follow Don Cuco Sotol on Facebook

And on Twitter @SotolDonCuco

 

 

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Monday Madness: Did He Say “Weenie”?

Oh, no…he didn’t!

Monday Madness

Monday Madness was created as a blooper by-product of our production process for the Tequila Aficionado exclusive video program, Sipping off the Cuff. When M.A. “Mike” Morales and Alexander “Alex” Perez get together, whether in person or via Skype, to review tequilas for Sipping off the Cuff, something silly is bound to happen.  Rather than present these clips with their reviews, we chose to respect serious viewers’ time and get right to business with each SOTC episode to keep them at ten minutes or less.  The outtakes are often funny and show our silly side, so we chose to share them with you for your amusement, as well as ours, in our Monday Madness video feature.  Monday Madness is the evidence of how very much fun we have doing what we love here at Tequila Aficionado Media.

Sipping off the Cuff

Sipping off the Cuff™ began as an audio podcast in 2006 and is Tequila Aficionado’s first and longest running tequila review program. Sipping off the Cuff is broadcast every Friday (and occasionally Tuesdays) on YouTube and TequilaAficionado.com. If you are a Tequila, Mezcal or Sotol brand owner and would like yourproduct(s) reviewed on an upcoming episode of Sipping off the Cuff, please contact Mike@TequilaAficionado.com.  Click here to see all of our Sipping off the Cuff™ programming.

 

 

Catch more of Tequila Aficionado’s Monday Madness outtakes on YouTube HERE.

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