Tag Archives: spirits

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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Rancho La Joya Tequila–Roberto Sanchez del Toro

Rancho La Joya blanco and reposado.

Rancho La Joya blanco and reposado.

Passion:  The A Game

To say that Roberto Sanchez del Toro, exclusive importer and brand developer of Rancho La Joya tequila (NOM 1555) has endured adversity would be an understatement.  To say that he has survived his life’s challenges, thus far, with grace and his boyish charm still intact would be putting it mildly.

San Antonio, Texas, resident, Roberto was a young high school student when, due to immigration reasons, he was forced to manage the family’s thriving tamale husk production business while his parents were temporarily out of the country.

Then, as a sophomore at St. Mary’s University, he decided to create his own tequila business only to suffer defeat at the hands of the merciless Texas spirits retail and distribution industries.

Fast forward to 2013…

Roberto Sanchez del Toro, importer of Rancho La Joya tequila.

Roberto Sanchez del Toro, importer of Rancho La Joya tequila.

A rabid lifelong San Antonio Spurs fan, it was during a hard fought pick up basketball game that Roberto took a knee to the groin.  A subsequent doctor’s exam revealed the shocking news that he was suffering from advanced testicular cancer followed by surgery and three months of chemotherapy while simultaneously reviving his failed tequila business.

All of this before the age of 24!

In this clip, Sanchez del Toro, following in his parents’ entrepreneurial footsteps, learns the pitfalls of the tequila business firsthand…

 

Here, Roberto recalls the start of 2013…

 

 

A shrewd businessman even in college, Sanchez del Toro, now with a degree in International Business, kept the lines of communication open with the García family, third generation Highlands agave producers of Rancho La Joya tequila.

Roberto takes us through the tequila’s process…

 

 

Even though the distillery has a large output capacity to meet demand, Roberto discusses what the ramifications of the current agave shortage could mean to the producers of tequila Rancho La Joya.

 

 

[To learn more about Rancho La Joya’s production techniques, click here.]

 

The new look of Rancho La Joya tequila.

The new look of Rancho La Joya tequila.

 

Along with partner, Mike Garcia, a successful San Antonio technology marketing executive (no relation to the agave producing and distilling family), and a team of consultants as guides, Roberto Sanchez del Toro, now 25, has a clean bill of health and is ready for the long haul with his newly revamped Rancho La Joya tequila, as well as having taken over the reigns of the family enterprise.

With a redesigned bottle that more accurately represents the juice inside, and the promise of statewide distribution from Glazer’s, Roberto is anxious to turn his initial sales call rejections into inspired action within the state of Texas, the second largest consumer of tequila, and beyond.

Why Tequila?

Of all the start up businesses Roberto could have chosen, he explains in the following segment why he selected tequila.

The Five Year Plan

Roberto describes where he sees Rancho La Joya Tequila in five years.

 

Rancho La Joya is available in blanco and reposado expressions.  Plans are in the works for a 36 month aged añejo to be called Diamante that will be marketed with branded stemmed glassware.

Roberto Sanchez del Toro cheers on his beloved Spurs.

Roberto Sanchez del Toro cheers on his beloved Spurs.

At this time, only the following local restaurants and bars carry Rancho La Joya…

La Fogata, Mi Tierra Café & Bakery, SoLuna, Rio Rio Cantina, Stetson Bar, Ice Lounge.

Like the San Antonio Spurs, who are currently battling in the 2014 NBA Playoffs, Roberto Sanchez del Toro has proven that bringing your “A” Game and passion into everything you do invariably results in a winning record.

***

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Founder’s Feature: Tequila Aficionado’s 1st Podcast, 7 Years Later

The preceding podcast was recorded by Tequila Aficionado’s Founder, Alexander Perez, on March 21, 2006.

Sadly, many brands still persist in the Tequila Girl marketing that Alex mentioned over seven years ago.  Some brands believe they’ve evolved and took it a step further with Tequila Boy marketing.  I believe the true aficionado finds both of these offensive.

True aficionados don’t buy their tequila based upon how attractive an ad model is.  It saddens me that so many brand marketers are stuck in the 1990s and won’t let go of this old advertising paradigm.

When all you put out there is co-ed bimbos doing shots, drinking from red Solo cups, or worse, from the bottle, you’re telling the world you don’t want your brand to be taken seriously.  I love a shirtless hunk as much as the next straight woman but don’t try to dazzle me with him while you pour cherry soda and light beer into a blender to hide the taste of your mass produced tequila.

Show me a brand owner, male or female, who is smart, savvy, self assured and passionate about their tequila and I’ll stop what I’m doing to listen.

Alex said “Tequila companies need to rethink their marketing tactics” and they still do.  The big boys are still marketing their swill with expensive distractions, but the little guys…we love the little guys here at Tequila Aficionado.  The little guys are slowly changing the tequila marketing landscape.

People like Alex Viecco at Montalvo who is also involved in programs to create biofuels from tequila production waste products; people like Sergio Olmos of Nuestro Orgullo who take up the banner for a family business and knock themselves out trying to create the best product possible, not for the money, but for family pride and love of agave spirits; people like Laurence Spiewak and Lance Sokol of Suerte who put thought and meaning into a logo rather than attempting to dazzle us with tits and ass.

Yes, there are still small brands that believe they can grow by emulating the big brands with sponsored DJs, rock bands, edgy artists, and girls with great plastic surgeons but they rarely make it past that crucial five-year threshold.  Superficiality attracts superficiality.  When your marketing involves pretty girls in club attire giving shots to partygoers who will quickly forget what they drank, then you must realize that your tequila will last only about as long as their buzz does.

I think we’re on the cusp of something, though.  It makes me very happy to see tequila brands that are finally letting the tequila do the talking.

As brands take themselves and their products more seriously, so too does the consumer.  People like Mary Clemente of Jurado Tequila are partnering with great chefs like Grant MacPherson.  Pairing dinners are becoming popular ways to market good tequilas and I hope they’ll soon take the place of trays of shot glasses.

People are beginning to appreciate what great tequila and tequila culture can bring to their lifestyle through books by authors like Lucinda Hutson.  Lucinda was well ahead of her time when she first began this journey, but perhaps tequila drinkers have grown up enough to become aficionados and truly appreciate the treasures she pens.

We welcome these changes at Tequila Aficionado.  Alex’s vision was that Tequila Aficionado become a resource for all things agave including mezcal, sotol and other agave spirits.  He wanted to interview people in the industry, people with a passion for fine tequilas, people breaking the old paradigms.  He wanted to provide honest discussions about the merits of particular spirits over tastings, not just a simple “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.” He envisioned an online resource that would bring depth to tequila culture.  He hoped to create in a magazine what a master distiller creates in a small batch, something that pleases the senses, enhances, informs, and provides the perfect finish that brings you back time and time again.

Something was missing in the mix all these years, but we believe we’ve finally found the right combination to bring that dream to fruition.

We have new Sipping off the Cuff episodes airing every week so you can taste along with us; bloopers and outtakes so you can laugh with us; Founder’s Features that are interviews and articles of significance to tequila history; Portraits in Tequila taking you beyond the label to see the story of the people behind the tequila; reviews of books on all aspects of tequila from dirt to drink and beyond; reviews on tequila related products like glassware and the foods, treats and cigars that can be paired with tequilas; articles on agave related industries; features on distilleries; and reviews of hotels and restaurants in Mexico’s tequila region.

We will always have a focus on the finished tequila product, but we’re deeper than that.  We’re no longer focusing simply on the finished tequila; we’re expanding to encompass all of tequila culture because, after all, it isn’t about just a quick shot –

It’s about the whole experience.

We look forward to sharing that experience with you.

Lisa Pietsch, COO

 

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