Tag Archives: independent

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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Salt, Liquor, Lime–A Tequila Flux Capacitor by M.A. “Mike” Morales

Tequila Aficionado Media on The Set Of Salt, Liquor, Lime

Tequila Aficionado Media first made contact with the co-producers of Salt, Liquor, Lime in the Spring of 2013 via social media.  Once production was moved in late August to Southern California during a blistering heat wave, we were invited to join the cast and crew to exclusively record our experiences on the set.

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The Stars of the indie short film, Salt, Liquor, Lime.

The Stars of the indie short film, Salt, Liquor, Lime.

Remember 1989?

There were only a handful of 100% de agave tequilas back then:  Herradura, Chinaco, El Tesoro de Don Felipe, Hornitos and a young upstart brand that would revolutionize the spirits world, Patrón.  These were popular with the original tequila snobs–movie stars and artists–but mixto tequila (51% blue agave, 49% “other sugars”) captured the lion’s share of the market.

It was the end of the Reagan era with the election of George H. W. Bush as President while hundreds of savings and loan associations were bailed out by the government for $150 billion.  Exxon’s oil tanker, Valdez, spilled 11 million gallons of oilafter running aground in Alaska, but gas was just  97 cents per gallon.  Anddue to the greenhouse effect, scientists declared 1989 as the warmest year on record.

Meanwhile, in music, Jon Bon Jovi married his high school sweetheart in Las Vegas while Michael Jackson was named the “King of Pop” at the Soul Train Awards.  The Moscow Music Peace Festival took place in the Soviet Union and was headlined by Bon Jovi, Ozzy Osbourne, Mötley Crüe, Skid Row, Cinderella, and the Scorpions.  Finally, Whitesnake’s David Coverdale married rock n’ roll video vixen (and every adolescent boy’s dream), Tawny Kitaen.

 

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Skinny's Lounge in North Hollywood, CA.

Skinny’s Lounge in North Hollywood, CA.

In their hey day, famed West Hollywood night clubs like the Whisky-a-Go-Go, the Roxy and the Troubadour packed patrons in to see such groups as Great White, Warrant, Poison, and Guns N’ Roses.  Out in North Hollywood, The Lodge, now known as Skinny’s Lounge, was serving the gay/transsexual communities in droves.

Twenty-five years later, Skinny’s is now the scene of a raucous new indie short film that takes place during the glory days of glam rock, power ballads, big hair and cheap tequila.

 

Salt, Liquor, Lime

The mysterious magic bottle of tequila.

The mysterious magic bottle of tequila.

Salt, Liquor, Lime is the story of three forty-something women, Diana (Vené Arcoraci Dixon), Jenn (Connie Marie Chiarelli) and Michelle (Sabrina Stewart) reuniting for their 20th college reunion.  Before the big event, they decide to pre-game at their old hangout, the Deja Vu Tavern (Skinny’s), for one drink.  It’s there that Marie (Liane Curtis), Deja Vu’s ageless owner and tequila maven, gives them some magical tequila from a mysterious bottle.

The hangover effect of this “tequila flux capacitor” takes the gals someplace unexpected where they discover their true hearts desire.

 

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Susan Thompson and Cynthia Macadam, co-producers of Salt, Liquor, Lime.

Susan Thompson and Cynthia Macadam, co-producers of Salt, Liquor, Lime.

 

The Story Behind Salt, Liquor, Lime

Billed as “a short film about time, tequila and the space time continuum,” Salt, Liquor, Lime is written and directed by Cynthia Thompson MacAdam, and co-produced by her and her multi-talented cousin and make up artist, Susan Thompson.

 

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      During a break in filming at Skinny’s Lounge, they discuss the project’s long history.

Indie Tequilas Answer The Call

No one knows the blood, sweat and tears that it takes to bring an independent film from conception to fruition better than a tequila brand owner, especially a small, independent tequila brand owner.

Struggling with mounds of paperwork, sometimes for years in both English and Spanish, to locating and acquiring financing and choosing the right distillery to direct the project.  Then, devising an effective marketing strategy to advertise the brand on a shoestring budget while fighting for shelf space next to the “Big Boys” with unlimited piles of cash.  And even if you win an award here and there for your quality and excellence, that’s still no guarantee that cases will move and bottles will fly off the shelves (or, in the case of movies, put butts in the seats), at least not without high powered distribution in place.

That’s why the following leading independent tequila brands chose to support Salt, Liquor, Lime and were rewarded with some slick product placement.

Karma tequila.

Karma tequila.

 

Karma (NOM 1107)–An award winning blend of double and triple distillation, this Highlands tequila is fronted by partners Ray McBride, Robert Grant and Gary Eisenberger who have carefully and strategically grown the brand from the West Coast to East Coast using pure passion and, of course, good karma.

Embajador tequila.

Embajador tequila.

 

 

 

 

Embajador (NOM 1509)–Declaring to be “the finest shot in the game,” this Arizona based family owned brand is gaining serious traction in the tequila industry.

 

Suerte tequila courtesy of Felicity Ryan.

Suerte tequila courtesy of Felicity Ryan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suerte (NOM 1530)–One of the hottest young brands to come along, this tequila has quickly acquired a name and a reputation for quality under the shrewd guidance of its co-founders, Lance Sokol and Laurence Spiewak.

Each of these brands not only understood the value of independent films as art, but also the importance of supporting female spearheaded projects, particularly in this era where marketing numbers show that 70%-80% of the buying decisions for the household are heavily influenced by women.

The Challenges of Filming A Female-Driven Comedy

Whether it’s marketing a fledgling tequila brand or shooting an indie film, flexibility while keeping an eye on results is critical for its survival.

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In this clip, Cynthia and Susan discuss the changes and challenges of filming Salt, Liquor, Lime, a female-driven comedy, and where they’d like to ultimately end up. 

Keeping It Real

Stunt booze.

Stunt booze.

Skinny’s Lounge in North Hollywood doubled as the Deja Vu Tavern, the fictional club in the Midwest that is the scene of all of the short film’s interior action.  Actress (and one time bartender) Lacy Fisher, also the film’s production designer and whose husband owns Skinny’s, made sure that everything on and behind the bar echoed the trends of 1989 and today.  Even the cocktails had their own stunt doubles.  No alcohol was poured or harmed during the making of this film.

 

 

Ready For Our Close-up! 

In a surprise move by Cynthia and Susan, Tequila Aficionado was mentioned in one of the character’s dialogue.

tequila aficionado, salt liquor lime movie

Tequila Aficionado in the movies.

 

 

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Quiet on The Set!

Craft table.

Craft table.

Ask anyone who’s ever worked on a film set and they’ll tell you, movie making is like the military–“hurry up and wait.”  Long lulls between scenes while the crew lines up lighting and camera angles can last hours.  Not so on the set of an indie film.  Much like bringing a young tequila brand to the market, nimbleness and thinking on your feet are required.

Budget constraints, time crunches and scene continuity are dealt with in real time.  Skinny’s opens  every night of the week at 8pm, so the cast and crew had early set calls for hair and make up and none of the equipment could be left overnight.

Teamwork and camaraderie are strengthened, and most times, egos are left at the door.  What results are more brilliant portrayals, more genuine emotion, and…

 

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…More hilarious laughs.

 

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And the Award Goes To….

Salt, Liquor, Lime, the short film, premiered on January 24, 2014 to a full house at Skinny’s Lounge.  Guests were treated to cocktails and laughs and the cast and crew were given a proper send-off.

Balancing act.

Balancing act.

Like a start-up tequila brand, hopes and dreams are nurtured by hard work and care.  Film festivals like South by Southwest (SXSW), the Sundance Film Festival and many others are certainly a possibility for Cynthia and Susan’s project.

Whether a newcomer tequila envisions itself to be the next Cabo Wabo or Peligroso, or Salt, Liquor, Lime promises to be the next Bridesmaids or The Hangover is anyone’s guess.  But like any indie film or indie tequila, it’s not just about the buzz behind your brand, but how well your story is told.

The ladies of Salt, Liquor, Lime have fun with Siete Leguas tequila.

The ladies of Salt, Liquor, Lime have fun with Siete Leguas tequila.

 

Keep it here on TequilaAficionado.com to see how this tale ends.

 

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If you’d like to support the indie film Salt, Liquor, Lime, go here.

Follow Salt, Liquor, Lime on Facebook. And on Twitter @SaltLiquorLime

 

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