Tag Archives: agave spirits

2014 Austin Tequila Fest

austin tequila fest

Save the date for the 5th Annual Austin Tequila Fest

BENEFITING AUSTIN PETS ALIVE!
Saturday, November 1st at 7pm

Casa Chapala | 9041 Research Blvd, Austin, TX
The Austin Tequila Fest is a cultural experience where agave lovers, enthusiasts, novices, and connoisseurs gather to learn, taste, and enjoy many 100% Agave spirits including tequila, mezcal, and sotol.

You will learn about the spirits of Mexico while having an incredible time with all the activities:

  • The Austin Samba School will provide a Day of the Dead performance.
  • Dance and enjoy live music from Maurcio Callejas Band.
  • A real Jimador will demonstrate the harvesting of the agave plant.

There is also a VIP and After Party for this event which includes exclusive perks and more entertainment, education, and a whole lot of “shaking it up”.

The Austin Tequila Fest has sold out the last two years, so make sure to purchase your tickets soon.

For event and ticket information please go to: 5th Annual Austin Tequila Fest

VIP Lounge: 5:30pm—7pm

Agave Trail Tasting: 7pm—10pm

After Party: 10pm—12am

As a Day of the Dead celebration, costumes are welcome!

Craft Tequila–WTF Does THAT Mean? Part 2

Blurred Lines

Throughout Part 1, we employed the use of more adjectives and descriptors to define, describe and distinguish one booze from another in the same category, as well as to give the illusion that it is actually closer to another booze in the leading categories.

Words like award-winning, artisanal, small-run, limited-production, hand-crafted, and boutique are reused over and over.  So are micro-distilled, limited edition, small batch, small lot, organic (which we’ll cover in-depth in a future article), single village, homespun, authentic, small-lot, prestige, signature, high end and reserve.

They all have real core meanings, but because we see them repeatedly in ads, billboards, packaging, shelf talkers and point of sale (POS) materials, the lines between meaning and true definitions get blurred.

Has anyone actually ever been to Los Camachines, where Gran Centenario is made?

Has anyone actually ever been to Los Camachines, where Gran Centenario is made?]

For instance, the definition of the word premium as defined by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) is actually a pricing term.  To the average consumer, however, it has come to mean quality.  And when consumers’ buying habits change and trade up, it has become known as premiumization.

There’s no chance of spirits marketers discontinuing the use of the Tequila Marketing Myth of borrowing benefits any time soon.  How, then, do we really define and measure a craft tequila?

We’ll show you how in a moment, but let’s get two things straight right here–

Remember Fact #1?  Tequila belongs in Mexico.

Though some American micro-distilleries have attempted to distill small batches of agave spirits, it has proven difficult and labor intensive due to it being produced from a plant that takes years to mature as opposed to grains, hops, and grapes that yield more frequent harvests.

It would be silly to define and measure craft tequila in ways that relate to wine, beer and other spirits created in the United States and abroad.  There may be no boundaries in spirits marketing, but to impose limits on the number of barrels, bottles and cases manufactured and sold by a tequila distillery in order to measure a craft product would have no jurisdiction whatsoever in Mexico.  Secondly–

There Is No Backpedaling

The Beer Wench, Ashley Routson said it best when interviewed for this article:

“No one wants to fault the big guys for being successful–that is not what this argument is about.  My main question is–how big is too big?  And as long as a company stays independently-owned, does that mean it will always be craft?”

Indeed, both the craft beer and spirits segments are growing at such a fast rate, that the Brewer’s Association has changed its definition multiple times.   This has allowed the burgeoning brewers more room to expand.  And as spirits writer, Wayne Curtis, discusses in this article from The Atlantic, the alarming growth rate of small distilleries is having an effect on the quality of the finished craft product due to a shortage of experienced distillers.

As a consequence of this exponential growth, in both the craft beer and craft spirits categories, the process–the art form itself–is getting watered down.

*Rant Alert!*

Let’s face it–

No backpedaling!

No backpedaling!

No one gets into the tequila business to be a failure.  Everyone wants to be on top.  And once you get there, the challenge is to stay on top.  We know how arduous the tequila hero’s journey is.

No one with a business plan ever said, “I’m going to mass produce my lousy tequila and once I’ve flooded the shelves with my swill and lost market share, I’m going to distill a tequila the old fashioned way.”

Don’t pretend to continue to still make your tequila like you have over the past 250 years, either.  You are not that home based family operation still harvesting agaves by mule and macerating piñas with a tahona, any more.  That family’s history was forgotten when the brand was sold.

And just because you build a separate, smaller facility on your distillery property to produce a more labor intensive line (and even petition to do so under another NOM number!) when you have never attempted to do so in the first place, does not make your more expensive line a craft tequila.

Moreover, just because you happen to be a colossal consumer of agave, still being emulated for your unique style of 80’s spirits marketing, and prefer to see things differently, don’t expect the rest of us to swallow your slant.

The Craft Tequila Gauntlet

El Tesoro handmade tequila.

El Tesoro handmade tequila.

Following are some tips and suggestions that may help guide you in making more informed decisions when selecting, defining and measuring a craft tequila.

#1:  NOM list

By Mexican law, every tequila must display a number that corresponds to the legal representative, tequila producer or distillery in which it was produced.  Tracing that number to the CRT’s list of distilleries, you can discover what other brands are manufactured under that specific number, and presumably, in that specific factory.

Logic dictates that the fewer labels a fabrica (factory) produces means more care should be taken with its one or two flagship brands.  Logic also dictates the opposite when you see many different brands appearing under a particular NOM number.

Whether the distillery produces only a few lines, or many contract brands for others, is not necessarily a sign of the tequila’s craftiness or quality, but it’s a start.

You can view and download the most recent NOM lists from our website here.

#2:  Pedigree

Don Felipe Camarena

Don Felipe Camarena

Taking a pointer from panel expert, Chriz Zarus’ now industry classic article, “Change is at Hand for the Tequila Market, Part II,” a craft brand with a good chance of survival in the market will be one that “You, your distillery, and your brand have generations of lineage.”

Meet-the-Maker dinner pairings, industry meetings and on-premise tastings showcasing a craft tequila will more than likely feature the brand owner or the master distiller behind the brand.

In some cases, a well respected Brand Ambassador (not the gal or guy with the tight t-shirt!) will stand in for the owner if there is a scheduling conflict.

Again, this is not a guarantee of craftiness or quality, but most family owned brands will stand behind (or in front) of their tequila with pride.

#3:  Distillery ownership/partnership/co-op

Another tip from Zarus’ treatise that could be useful in determining whether a craft tequila will be successful or not is, “Your company does…own at least a portion of the distillery that produces your product.”

This was successfully accomplished by the owners of Suerte Tequila, one of the few still produced with a tahona (milling stone).  In order to ensure the quality of their tequila and to regulate the brand’s eventual growth, Lance Sokol and Laurence Spiewak purchased the distillery.

Does your craft tequila have some skin in the game?  Most good ones do and will proudly make that information public.

#4:  Agave and land ownership

Similar to #3 above, some craft brands are owned by families with ties to the land and own their own agave.  In some instances, they may or may not own all or a portion of the distillery where they produce their tequila.

In the midst of this current agave shortage, this one asset could make or break a craft brand.  This information should be readily available in POS material, but is also not a guarantee of quality or craftiness.

#5:  Use of a Diffuser

While considered a legitimate tool in tequila production efficiency and has the full blessing of the CRT, it is a dead give away that shortcuts are being taken.

As noted agave ethno-botanist, Ana Valenzuela so succinctly declared in this open letter

“…prohibir el uso de difusores (hidrólisis de jugos de agave) que les quita “el alma” (el sabor a agave cocido) a nuestros destilados, únicos en el mundo por su complejidad aromatic y de sabores.”

[“…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.”]

El Tesoro's tahona, still in use.

El Tesoro’s tahona, still in use.

This is also in keeping with Zarus’ definition of preserving the process as the art form or craft outlined in Part 1.

Using a diffuser is a closely guarded secret by most mid-sized to large distilleries and hard to spot.  You can read more about them here.

#6:  Organic

If there are any products that deserve to be described with the aforementioned adjectives that spirits marketers are freely throwing around these days to denote a handcrafted tequila, mezcal, or other agave distillate, they are in the organic segment.

Stringent regulations are required in both farm to distillery, and then from factory to bottle, to be given the designation organic and the permission to use the USDA seal that appears prominently on the labels.

By virtue of being organic, the process is considered much more natural and is inherently small batched.

But, not every brand has the budget to become a certified organic tequila.  In addition, some brands may simply not see the value of being certified as organic, especially since some organic certifying agencies have been looked upon distrustfully in recent years.

Still, it could arguably be the most reliable indicator of a craft agave distillate.

#7:  Transparency

This might be the toughest test of all.

As we mentioned above, many brands prefer to play their cards close to the vest.  By the same token, many family owned brands are fiercely proud of their origins and will gladly tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Is your craft tequila brand willing to tell you their story, or just tell you a story?

Many of the more popular craft tequila brands are helmed by creators who are delightfully flamboyant and outspoken, as well.

 Craft by Any Other Name

As our reader in Part 1 stated, the meaning of craft is “all over the place” and then some.

Spirits marketers using their powers for evil.

Spirits marketers using their powers for evil.

With mixology being the leading trend driving the spirits industry and demand for better ingredients on the rise, this means quality tequila is essential for those creating crafted cocktails (there’s that word again!).

But, with  the invention of the wildly popular michelada cocktail, a margarita (which is the favorite way Americans consume tequila) served with a beer bottle upside down in a margarita glass, and chilled tequila on tap, there will surely be more cross pollination between adult beverage categories.

We’ve already seen this with tequila brands selling their used aging barrels to small brewers to create signature craft beers, as well as tequila aged in barrels bought from other brand named spirits.

This will only lead to even more crossovers between categories caused by inspired spirits marketers, PR firms, uninformed spirits journalists, and multinational corporations.  Borrowing benefits has been the norm for some time.

There will always be those who deliberately hide the truth or feed false information to the media and practice opacity.  We can’t control what they will say and do.

The key is to become educated and informed about a tequila’s recipe and process.  Using the Craft Tequila Gauntlet above can certainly help in making the right choices.

 

 

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Tequila Tapatío And The Source of Life

Welcome Back, Old Friend

Tapatío logo poster

Tapatío logo poster

On two separate occasions, Carlos Camarena, the third generation master distiller of El Tesoro de Don Felipe and the equally famous and classic Tequila Tapatío, stepped outside of Las Perlas mezcal and tequila bar in the heart of downtown Los Angeles to enjoy a cigarette.

Taking in the scenery of a chilly and overcast Sunday afternoon in early June, he witnessed the pursuit of a purse snatcher by LAPD, and then an attempted carjacking by another perpetrator while the police were arresting the purse snatcher!

Carlos smiled and shook his head.  Surrounded by movie cameras and flood lights outside the front entrance to Las Perlas, his only thought was…

Another average day in LA.

La Perla Tapatía

Once inside the rustic and darkly lit Las Perlas, one of the more complete tequila and mezcal bars in Los Angeles, one realized that the movie cameras weren’t there to record street crimes or another TV reality show.  They were there to film an historic event–

The triumphant entrance of  the iconic Tequila Tapatío into California and the rest of the United States.

The press wall.

The press wall.

Jeff Couch and Vaughn Halyard, the co-partners of Congenial Spirits, a nimble distributor focused on boutique, handcrafted spirits, and the chosen distributor for Tapatío, had the foresight to sense the importance of documenting its US premier, even adding a professional photographer and a press wall for that red carpet feeling.

The invitees, comprised of LA spirits industry professionals and mixologists, settled in and Raul Yrastorza, the general manager and curator of Las Perlas, began the introductions for this question and answer segment with the guests of honor.

The Charbay Connection

Producing wines, ports, liqueurs, aperitifs, vodkas, rums, and whiskies at the famed Charbay Winery & Distillery in St. Helena, CA, Marko Karakasevic is also the importer of Tapatío under his Marko K Spirits of California banner.

Marko, a bear of a man who looks more like a right tackle for the Oakland Raiders instead of a barely 40 year old 13th generation master distiller, jokingly explains:

“In a family of distillers, no fruit, no root, is safe.”

Here, Marko recounts his first meeting with Carlos Camarena that lead to his family being invited to distill its own brand of Charbay Tequila at La Alteña distillery.

Heads, Hearts & Tails

So what do master distillers talk about in the wee hours of the morning over endless tequila?  Distillation, of course!

Carlos Camarena and Marko Karakasevic tell the story of their awkward first encounter that turned into what can only be an enduring relationship based on mutual respect and admiration.

The Upside Down World of Agave Spirits

Carlos chuckled that Miles Karakasevic, Marko’s father, the retired 12th generation master distiller of Charbay, and he did not get along that evening.

Whenever Carlos tried to explain the physics and biochemistry of tequila distillation versus the distillation of other spirits, it was in complete contrast to Miles’ years of education. 

Bullshit was uttered more than once.

“It’s not right!” exclaimed Marko.

Carlos discusses the upside down world of agave spirits distillation in depth…

Why Did It Take So Long To Get Here?

On my first visit to La Alteña in 2006, I asked Carlos what would happen if there was a sudden demand in El Tesoro de Don Felipe.  Would he be able to fill orders, or be forced to cut corners?

He declared that at any given time, he had approximately one million liters of tequila in storage to handle any spike in demand.  There would never be any need to cut corners and suffer a loss in quality.  No doubt, his policy also carried over to the Tapatío brand.

Here, Carlos demystifies his reasons for taking almost 76 years to bring Tapatío into the US market, and gives a bit of family history, as well.

During the course of the question and answer session, Congenial Spirits’ Vaughn and Jeff made sure that each of the Tapatío expressions were being served to the crowd in specially branded Tapatío shot glasses, starting with the 80 proof blanco and ending with the stellar Tapatío 110 proof.

Sipping it immediately brought back fond memories of my first trip to La Alteña and tasting this tequila directly from the still.

It hadn’t changed a bit.

Cocktail Hour

Drinks menu

Drinks menu

Once the Q & A ended, it was time to unleash the infinite possibilities that Tapatío 110 could provide.  Amanda Gunderson, Tapatío’s brand ambassador and designer of the evening’s drinks menu, wowed the crowd with her signature cocktails.

Names like Lolita Swizzle and La Alteña guaranteed that everyone in attendance would get a feel of what it would be like to visit Tapatío’s legendary distillery.  To say that these cocktails were lethally delicious would be an understatement.

La Alteña signature cocktail.

La Alteña signature cocktail.

Be aware that Tapatío 110 proof will not only shine in your cocktail and take you back to the Highlands of Jalisco, but it will sing to you for the rest of the evening.  Definitely, sip wisely.

The Source Of Life

Since many in attendance weren’t as well versed in the science of distillation as Carlos and Marko were, I asked Camarena how he would define distillation to a lay person.

Here’s what he had to say…

When Tequila Tapatío can be considered the source of life on this planet, there can be no such thing as just an average day in LA–or anywhere else, for that matter.

***

View more photos of this momentous event on our Facebook page here.

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