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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.

Women In The Tequila Industry: Ana Maria Romero Mena by M.A. “Mike” Morales

Tequila Appreciation, 2010

Tequila Appreciation, 2010

In the 2010 industry classic special report entitled Tequila Appreciation for USA Today, it listed five tequila trends to watch.  Here, we’re focusing on one of them…

The role of women in the tequila industry.

The report predicted that more women, in particular Latina/Hispanic women with family ties to agave growers and tequila producers, would join the ranks of tequila brand owners and also become influential in other areas of this traditionally male dominated industry.

Current numbers suggest that 70 percent of new businesses are started by women and that 20 percent of new home sales are driven by single women.  It’s no secret that Hispanics and Latinos are also the largest US minority, either.

Up to 85 percent of the buying market is women.  This translates to $5-$7 trillion dollars every year!  It’s no wonder that the Spirits Industry, and particularly the tequila segment, is finally taking notice.

Statue of Mayahuel in Tequila.

Statue of Mayahuel in Tequila.

We asked a short list of five questions to prominent women leading the charge for change in the Tequila Industry and beyond.  As you’ll read, it hasn’t been all margaritas and roses for these tequila boss ladies.

We begin our series of Women In The Tequila Industry with Maestra Tequilera, Ana Maria Romero Mena.  You can read a brief summary of her accomplishments in our earlier article on Tequila Boss Ladies.

[Editor’s note:  For the convenience of our interviewee and our Spanish speaking audience, this article is in both English and Spanish.]

***

Maestra Tequilera, Ana Maria Romero Mena.

Maestra Tequilera, Ana Maria Romero Mena.

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

(¿Cómo describiría sus experiencias como una mujer de alto rango en su posición en una industria dominada principalmente masculina?)

ARM:  [My experiences have been]  dynamic, enriching, and in constant evolution despite the tequila industry having a long history and a bright future.  There’s lots to do in the arena of research and innovation.

(Dinámicas, enriquecedoras y en  constante evolución, a pesar de ser una industria con un largo pasado y un gran futuro; hay mucho que hacer en el campo de la investigación y de la innovación.)

The dynamic experience [has been] because it’s an industry in expansion in that the study of new forms of interpreting tequila by the [olfactory] senses are different due to culture, age and sex [of the individual]; enriching because there’s so much to learn from those men who are behind every bottle, from the [brand] owner to the jimador, have been generous in imparting their experiences [to me]; and in constant evolution because the markets have globalized and they permit the generation of new strategies for the positioning of Tequila.  Finally, I’d like to say that [the industry] is male dominated but not male chauvinistic.

Romero Mena and actor, Patrick Dempsey of Grey's Anatomy.

Romero Mena and actor, Patrick Dempsey of Grey’s Anatomy.

(La experiencia dinámica es porque es una industria en expansión en la que el estudio de nuevas formas de interpretar al tequila desde los sentidos son diferentes debido a la cultura, la edad y el sexo; enriquecedoras porque hay mucho que aprehender de esos hombres que están detrás de cada botella, desde el dueño hasta el jimador, han sido generosos en compartir sus experiencias y en constante evolución porque los mercados se globalizan y nos permiten generar nuevas estrategias para el posicionamiento del Tequila, para finalizar me gustaría decir que es masculina pero no machista.)

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

(¿Cómo han sido capaces de cambiar las cosas dentro de su industria?)

ARM:  By studying the behavior of the industry in all its arenas, detecting areas of opportunity, completing the research of that opportunity and presenting it for the betterment of the industry as in the case [of the investigation] of the aromas of tequila, where its source was placed in accordance with its behavior in the development of the sensorial profiles of tequila and then delivered to the mind of the consumer by means of the cata (tasting).

Romero Mena in the agave fields.

Romero Mena in the agave fields.

(Estudiando el comportamiento de la industria en todas sus aéreas, detectando aéreas de oportunidad, realizando la investigación de esa oportunidad y presentándola para el mejoramiento de la industria, como lo fue la investigación de los aromas del tequila, su procedencia  para  ubicarlos de acuerdo a su comportamiento en el desarrollo de perfiles sensoriales del tequila y llevarlos a la mente de los consumidores por medio de la cata.)

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

(¿Qué ves como el futuro de las mujeres que trabajan en la industria del Tequila?)

ARM:  It is a full future that allows us to not only grow personally and professionally, but to also leave a legacy for the new generations of women in which innovation will be the key [word].

(Es un futuro pleno, que nos permitirá  no solo desarrollarnos personalmente y  profesionalmente, si no dejar un legado para las nuevas generaciones de mujeres en las que la innovación será la palabra clave.)

TA:  What things would you like to see changed?

(¿Qué cosas gustaría cambiado? )

ARM:  To give women more opportunities in positions of higher responsibility and decision making [since] we still share only a minimal portion of those positions.

(Darles mayores oportunidades en puestos de gran responsabilidad y toma de decisiones a las mujeres, todavía compartimos  en un porcentaje mínimo en esos puestos.)

Maestra Tequilera, Ana Maria Romero Mena

Maestra Tequilera, Ana Maria Romero Mena

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

(¿Existe algo que le gustaría decir a las mujeres que pueden estar contemplando entrar y trabajar en la industria del Tequila en una forma u otra?)

ARM:  It’s a fascinating industry [and] one must get to know it in all its facets, visit and study the different distilleries, the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT) and the National Chamber of the Tequila Industry (CNIT); get to know its regulations (normas), certify yourself in the desired area of opportunity, e.g.:  Maestra Tequilera, Maestra Destiladora; to be at the forefront [vanguard] of the advances and news that generates its dynamism and above all, to be passionate about your work.  Knowledge is the key that opens all the doors to opportunities.

(Es una industria fascinante, hay que conocerla en todas sus variables, visitar  y estudiar las diferentes destilerías,  el Consejo Regulador del Tequila y La Cámara Nacional de la Industria Tequilera, conocer su normatividad, certificarse en el área de oportunidad deseada, por ejemplo Maestra Tequilera, Maestra Destiladora, estar a la vanguardia de los avances y noticias que genera su dinamismo y sobre todo apasionarse por su trabajo.  Ya que el conocimiento es la llave que abre todas las oportunidades.)

Follow Ana Maria Romero Mena on Facebook and Twitter @Amrcreativa.

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