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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.

Tequila Week in Review: Avion, China, Camarena, Mezcal, Hacienda del Sol and Patron

In case you missed some of our articles over the past week, we’ve linked them here for you:

Sipping off the Cuff: Avion Tequila

It was Throwback Tuesday and we released this never before heard podcast from the tequila Aficionado vault.

China Opens Its Bars to Mexican Tequila – What Does This Mean For The Tequila Industry?

Tequila fan Rick Thibault Levy shared his opinion about this news item.  If you would like to share your opinion about this or other news items, feel free to visit our Contributors page for details on how to be a Tequila Aficionado Guest Contributor.

Tequila Aficionado Media Goes to the Ballpark With Camarena Tequila

As part of Camarena Tequila’s Step Up To The Plate promotion, Mike had the opportunity to enjoy a night at the ball park – with tequila!  He tells us all about the big event with this multi-media feature article.

Mezcal Production Drawing Mexicans Back Home

A great report by Lorne Matalon about how the growing market for Mezcal is creating jobs and happier families in Mexico.

Sipping off the Cuff: Hacienda del Sol Reposado

Hacienda del Sol Organic Tequila impressed Mike and Alex so much it was nominated for the 2013 Tequila Aficionado Brands of Promise Awards.

Tequila Revisited: A Redemption Story

Dan Pashman’s audio interview with Ilana Edelstein, author of The Patron Way.

 

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China Opens Its Bars to Mexican Tequila – What Does This Mean For The Tequila Industry?

We love social media here at Tequila Aficionado.  It is an exciting way to spur some fascinating discussions about our favorite topic – tequila!

Our own M.A. “Mike” Morales recently posted this news piece on Facebook about the introduction of tequila to the Chinese market.

Lisa Pietsch responded by saying:

While it may be good for Patron Tequila (whose representatives were interviewed and featured in the piece), I believe this is excellent news for the smaller brands emerging.  Once the Chinese get a taste for tequila, they’ll be looking for more.    

Aficionado Rick Thibault Levy responded passionately with the following commentary.  We felt it would be a great Op Ed and spur further discussion by Tequila Aficionado readers.  He poses some interesting questions.  Please remember the opinions expressed in this Op Ed are not necessarily those of Tequila Aficionado:

It’s all just a guess, but I don’t think it will be good for the little guys.

The small craft brands struggle to get distribution and space on the bar in the US, a developed tequila market right next door.  I would think it would be even harder for them on the other side of the world.  The big industrial mass-market brands will be able to expand their markets, but I wouldn’t see this affecting our favorite juices in the short-term.

You may find a few tequila bars popping up in major cities in a few years after the Chinese have developed a taste for it through the major brands, but they will initially have to import their own supply of craft tequilas.

As the market develops in China, I’m sure you’ll see the major producers lobby to expand the appellation of origin to allow for greater production.  With increased production over a larger area, and the low genetic diversity within the Weber Agave species, the entire industry will be more susceptible to blight.

As demand for limited agave increases, prices will rise.  I’d like to know what percent increase small brands can afford to pay for agave before they are no longer cost effective.  The smaller craft producers that don’t grow their own agave will be priced out of the market. The ones that do grow their own, but don’t have a recognizable name, won’t be able to sell enough of their juice to justify ongoing production when they can make a decent profit selling their agave to the big producers.  Just like with the big brands, higher production volumes equal lower quality and this would be on a macro scale.  The craft distillers will need to build name recognition now or they will not survive the market forces.

On the Chinese side, once the market develops a taste for high quality agave spirits, they won’t necessarily be willing to pay up for authenticity.  Entrepreneurs in China will look to meet demand at a lower price point with agave spirits produced entirely within China.  With all that land mass, there must be someplace with growing conditions similar to Mexico’s.  And the Chinese won’t care about the appellation of origin.  They’ll copy the process and call it tequila for the Chinese market.  Mexico will be able to do nothing about it.  The big brands like Sauza and Patron may do the same thing with Chinese crops within China because they must know someone else will do it if they don’t.

The greatest opportunity for a craft producer would be to relocate to China now before the market conditions become too difficult in Mexico, find that ideal growing region and start planting now.  By the time the first harvest is ready, the local market will be primed.  However, you have to believe the big industrial producers are already thinking of this as well.

Think about it, when you are buying a sparkling wine, do you care if it’s actually from Champagne if the California version is just as tasty?  Do you have any qualms about referring to that California version as Champagne?

So we ask you, our readers, what are your thoughts on this topic?

  • Will the introduction of tequila to the Chinese market create such a demand that smaller brands will die in the stampede for big batch tequila?
  • Will the demands of 1.344 billion Chinese be so great that knockoffs will sprout up in the volcanic soils of China?
  • Will the upscale Chinese market that develops a taste for tequila demand authenticity and delight in the discovery of small batches and brands of true tequila, creating a wider audience for brands of promise?
  • Will the influx of Chinese tourists to Mexico breathe new life into the country’s economy?
  • Will Chinese tequila aficionados begin supporting cottage industries created around agave fiber for the sheer novelty of it all?
  • Will the Agave Idiots start a Chinese sister organization?
  • Will the Chinese elite demand visits from the superstars of the tequila industry for tastings?

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.  All opinions are welcome.  Comments will be moderated and flaming will not be tolerated. 

If you would like to submit an Op Ed piece to Tequila Aficionado, we’d love to hear from you!  Visit our Guest Contributors Page for more information.  

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