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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.

The Texas Bar & Nightclub Alliance Convention

What’s New

The Texas Bar & Nightclub Alliance Convention successfully launched its first annual event at the Radisson Hotel & Suites in downtown Austin on August 10-11, 2014.

Primarily a show that serves the spirits industry (or trade) in Texas, for us at Tequila Aficionado Media, it was a chance to visit with new brands, products and services trying to break into the challenging Texas spirits market.

In this clip, Michael E. Klein, a spirits entrepreneur and long-time Austin businessman who spearheaded the formation of the alliance, explains its purpose.

What follows are some of the highlighted products that you should watch out for on Tequila Aficionado Media, in Texas, and beyond.

Briscas Mezcal2014-08-11 15.09.09

In the current booming mezcal market, more and more brands are appearing under the traditional higher alcoholic proofs that more established mezcals are known for.  Briscas is a refreshing libation that refuses to be confused with other gateway mezcal brands.

Ricardo Gonzales, Sales & Marketing Director for importer Moreno Spirits, gives us a quick rundown of the small batch espadín Briscas Mezcal.

Juan Moreno, President & CEO of Moreno Spirits, explains how bringing Briscas to market was a journey of discovery for himself and his family.

Surprises

The Texas Bar & Nightclub Alliance Convention was not without surprises for us at Tequila Aficionado Media.

Jason Kosmas, co-founder of the 86 Company.

Jason Kosmas, co-founder of the 86 Company.

Austin resident Jason Kosmas, co-founder of the celebrated The 86 Company responsible for a brilliant line of spirits with exacting quality like our Brands Of Promise(TM) Overproof Silver Medal winning Tequila Cabeza, made an appearance in support of the event.

tbnca

L-R: Mike Morales, Jason Kosmas, John Rivers

Also exhibiting in grand style was John L. Rivers IV (a.k.a.: Juan Rios), Managing Director of Julio Cesar Chavez Tequila, a new offering from the illustrious former boxing champion.

Not only did he share with us some of this fine sipping tequila and listed its current markets, but also an exclusive photo of a super piña in the champ’s agave fields.

[Spoiler Alert!  At press time, we had not notified John about our verdict of Julio Cesar Chavez Tequila’s review on a future Sipping Off The Cuff(TM), but we let the cat out of the bag, here….]

Mixing and Matching

2014-08-11 16.02.19One of the more exciting and refreshing combos we discovered at the Texas Nightclub & Bar Alliance Convention was between Pablo Madrigali, Brand Manager with Mexcor International and Lucy Corona, co-founder of Slim Ritas, the 100 calorie fresh juice margarita mix.

Mexcor, a family owned business based in Houston, TX, has been the importer of crowd pleasing tequilas at reasonable prices from Destiladora del Valle de Tequila (NOM 1438)  for several years, including El Reformador, Cava de los Morales and Agavales.

Lucy Corona is a dynamic and spirited mother and business owner whose dream after giving birth to her children was to enjoy a satisfying and natural margarita.  So she made them herself!

Here, Rob Corona explains the birth of SlimRitas.

Here, Pablo gives a bit of Mexcor’s and Agavales’ history, and how he and Lucy joined forces.

One To Watch

2014-08-11 14.35.19 michael kleinMichael E. Klein has handed the reigns of planning future conventions to the team at San Antonio based SMC Events, and it looks to expand the tradeshow’s reach even further with more products and services participating.

Judging from the contagious energy coming from the booths of other exhibitors at the first annual Texas Nightclub & Bar Alliance Convention, the promise of bigger yearly events looks to be a sure thing.

Tequila Timeline: A Different Perspective

fast company, tequila timelineTequila Timeline: From Agave to the Worm

For some reason this article Tequila Timeline: From Agave to the Worm was reposted in Fast Company Magazine on Friday, November 20, 2009 from an earlier post on October 15, 2009.  (Maybe it was because the editors forgot to add the cute tequila graphics the first time?)

Anyway, most of the timeline is historically accurate, except for this factoid:

1873:  Don Cenobio Sauza exports three barrels to El Paso, Texas, the first tequila in the United States.  Today, the U.S. is the No. 1 market for tequila.  Mexico is second.  Third?  Greece.”

tequila timelineThe reference to Sauza exporting mezcal wine into El Paso in 1873 is incorrect.  I’ll explain why momentarily, but first…

Texas’ long history of laying claim to being the home of tequila in the United States can be credited to W. Park Kerr of the El Paso Chile Company fame.  Not for anything that he may have said, but for what he did.

Kerr was the first Texas entrepreneur to distill a private label tequila (Tequila Naciónal) in Mexico to his specifications, thus opening the floodgates of recent tequila brands based in Texas such as RiAzúl in Houston, El Grado in Corpus Christi, Republic Tequila in Austin, Buscadores in San Antonio, and Dos Lunas in El Paso, among others.

republic tequilaSorry to break this to tejanos, but Texas was not the final destination of that first delivery.

The Rest of the Story

In his book La historia del tequila, de sus regiones y sus hombres, author Rogelio Luna Zamora recounts:

“‘…con destino a Nuevo Mexico sale una partida de 3 barriles y 6 botijas….’  El punto fronterizo por donde salió fue el Paso del Norte (hoy Ciudad Juárez) en aquel entonces, paso obligado a las mercaderías exportadas por tierra al mercado estadunidense.”

[“‘…with a destination of New Mexico there is a lot of 3 barrels and 6 jugs….’  The border town point of entry was el Paso del Norte (present day Juárez) that in those days was the required land passage for commodities exported into the American marketplace.”]

 

 

In 1873, New Mexico was a territory of the United States, but still considered part of Mexico.  The final destination of Sauza’s shipment is believed to have been to the oldest capital city, Santa Fe.  Being also the terminus of the legendary Santa Fe Trail, the route that opened the Southwest to trading with the Eastern United States, this conclusion only makes sense.

Thirty-nine years later, New Mexico joined the Union.  Flash forward to today, and there is only one New Mexican owned brand of tequila (Silvercoin).

silvercoin tequila

Perhaps now is the time for more New Mexico entrepreneurs to step up with tequila labels of their own?

 

 

tequilarack

Originally posted November 22, 2009 by TequilaRack.

Click the image to buy TequilaRack online.

Please visit TequilaRack, a member of the Tequila Aficionado Flight of Sites.

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