Embajador Tequila: Framework for The Future

[Transportation, room and board were provided to M.A. “Mike” Morales by Embajador Tequila in order to research this article.  No monetary compensation was received and no guarantee of a favorable article was given by M.A. ‘Mike” Morales or Tequila Aficionado Media.  This article was written by, and is the opinion of, M.A. “Mike” Morales.]

Open Doors

Embajador Tequila: Framework for The Future http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4mC

Everyone in Atotonilco had heard of the Fabrica Santa Rosa’s suspension due to COFEPRIS’ (Comisión Federál para la Protección contra Reisgos Sanitarios) and SAT’s (Servicio de Admistración Tributaria) prolonged “Juntos Contra la Ilegalidad” (“Together Against Illegality”) crusade  to reduce illegally produced alcoholic beverages on the Mexican market.

Many were shocked since Embajador’s outstanding reputation for producing top notch tequilas had been stalwartly guarded–and envied–for years.

20160719_165039Collectively, the crew at Fabrica Santa Rosa was still reeling from the aftereffects of the shutdown.  A few described these agencies’ G-Men as acting arrogantly and condescendingly.

Certainly, this was no way to treat a group of professionals who had many years of extensive experience in distilling frontline tequilas to the strict adherence of the normas.

Individually, each recounted how he or she felt ambushed by the government officials and bum-rushed by the deliberate escalation of what were considered by many high ranking officials in the industry as minor—even laughable– infractions.

Despite that, neighboring tequila distilleries were shaking in their boots wondering if their stored tequila would be targeted by those government agencies’ assault that existed only to add more liters of seized juice to their latest numbers.

In fact, the concerned brand owner’s tequila who inspired my Bullying In Tequila editorial during the early stages of Embajador’s closure, is distilled just up the road from Fabrica Santa Rosa.

In this clip, we entered through the iron gates of the perimeter of Tequila Embajador.  The rows of estate grown agave and the rich, red soil of Atotonilco el Alto took center stage.

(Taken from inside our SUV, it may be too fast to watch continuously, and the sound is a bit muffled by the wind as we drove onto the grounds.)

20160719_124459

Once we parked on the property, the charm of the Fabrica Santa Rosa took over.

How the Magic Happens

Here’s where it all starts:  three autoclaves, from 40,000 KGS to 25,000 KGS in capacity, plus 2 ovens of mamposteria (brick/stone masonry).  The cook time in autoclaves is approx 10 hours; in ovens it’s 24 hours.  Embajador is a combination of both of these methods.

Behind the Iron Door

Opening the iron door of one of the masonry ovens and taking a peek inside.  As you can tell, it’s quite a chore.

Adjusting to Variables

Our tour guide, Francisco Segura Garcia, the company’s accountant and bookkeeper who, since the age of 16 has worked in the tequila industry in some form, explains–

A tahona for the boutique distillery.
A tahona for the boutique distillery.

What influences the flavor profile of a tequila?  A common question, he admits, that has a simple answer, yet, complex at the same time.  For instance…

Older agave vs. younger agave; and healthy agave vs. diseased agave.  If you put either of these through the same process, you won’t get the same results.

20160719_144545 (2)Cooking time varies with the time of year, as well.  That’s why there are master distillers with years of experience in the variations that can affect the final outcome.  Also, the seasons of the year makes a difference (summer vs. winter).

The agave is an extraordinary organism, continues Francisco.  One of the most adaptable plants ever created.  It can exist in the desert or near the coast.  Wherever water is abundant, or in extremely arid climates.

Francisco outlines that when they harvest during the colder months, the agave defends itself with a special coating that they must adjust for.

Variables like pressure, cook time, water temperatures at shredding, and above all, fermentation and distillation.  Otherwise, the tequila produced appears cloudy and bitter even though you’ve followed the same recipe as before.

Two Important Elements

Francisco discusses the importance of fermentation and distillation, and how they are equally influential elements within the tequila making process.

The type of yeast used during fermentation is also important since some can produce more higher alcohols than others, which is in violation of the normas.

Framework surrounding a new shredder.
Framework surrounding a new shredder.

Embajador uses proprietary yeast made from their own estate grown agave.

Fermentation time also varies depending upon the time of year (warm vs. cold weather).

The Vision

We witnessed the ongoing construction on the grounds leading to its phased in expansion that would eventually include a boutique distillery within the larger Embajador distillery.  It will include a tahona, barrel room, gift shop, and an historically accurate re-creation of a vintage working tequila taberna, among other things.

The mini distillery is estimated to be completed by the end of 2016, with the remaining improvements to be finished within a year.

Eco-Friendly

Aiming to cut down on the distillery’s carbon footprint, the eco-conscious family recently modernized the fabrica by installing a boiler to heat water used in the plant.  It runs on a combination of leftover bagasse (bagazo) from shredding the agave and wood chips.

The Future Framework

The framework of Embajador’s future.  More of the buildings and what they will house on the grounds.  (Hint:  Even the bricks of the vintage distillery are made by hand.)

Positioned For Success

Licenciado Cristobal Morales Hernández, legal representative for Tequila Embajador and the Fabrica Santa Rosa, describes what he sees for the immediate future of Embajador in two to three years, including the improvements and growth projected for the distillery.

He also takes into consideration the ramping up of the volume of the plant’s production without suffering a dip in quality of its consistently exceptional juice that they have proudly maintained for 12 years.

He concludes that the buying public should continue to expect the same lofty standards of prizewinning tequila and he acknowledges that the situation concerning the mandated stoppage in production was simply a lesson learned.

See And Taste For Yourself

Lic. Morales relays what he wants consumers to know about Embajador.

He graciously extends a heartfelt invitation to the public to see their more than adequate facilities for themselves.

Shhh...Embajador is resting.
Shhh…Embajador is resting.

He ensures that Embajador is strictly adhering to Mexican and global regulations, and that when the public samples any of the tequilas produced at the fabrica that they can be assured of its propensity for high standards of excellence.

Learn all about tequila from field to glass and then get paid to share your love of agave spirits with others! Buy Them Both Now!

Embajador Tequila: Business As Usual

[Transportation, room and board were provided to M.A. “Mike” Morales by Embajador Tequila in order to research this article.  No monetary compensation was received and no guarantee of a favorable article was given by M.A. ‘Mike” Morales or Tequila Aficionado Media.  This article was written by, and is the opinion of, M.A. “Mike” Morales.]

Let’s Review…

Embajador Tequila: Business As Usual http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4lfIn Part 1, Embajador Tequila:  Rectifying The Situation, we listed all the minor infractions that the distillery, Fabrica Santa Rosa, was charged with by COFEPRIS (Comisión Federál para la Protección contra Reisgos Sanitarios) and SAT (Servicio de Admistración Tributaria).

We also brought to light the fact that every breach was addressed within hours, and that the real delay of lifting the ban on the Embajador distillery’s operations was the bureaucratic read tape surrounding the method of documenting and tracking of raw materials and supplies.

Before we tackle this topic, however, a word about the yellow journalism popular with Mexican news agencies.

Scraping A Dead Horse

The phrase “beating a dead horse” is often used when the same story is repeated over and over again, until the subject matter becomes tiresome.

Scraping is a term used by copywriters when expounding on a press release Embajador Tequila: Business As Usual http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4lfthat is distributed to several news agencies at once.  It’s extracting pertinent information from the news release or website, sometimes copied word-for-word, without proper credit given to the original source material.

In essence, it’s stealing (plagiarism), but, it helps to keep the topic fresh and different from the rest of the reports seen on other news channels.

Making matters worse, name any reputable producer allegedly busted during COFEPRIS’ and SAT’s “Juntos Contra la Ilegalidad” (“Together Against Illegality”) blitzkrieg, and they are instantly guilty by association.

While there are many honorable news writers in Mexico (many having lost their lives, especially those reporting on narco trafficking activities), most Mexican newspapers are tabloids using this archaic, unethical and unprofessional style of reporting.

The more controversial the titles and the more alarming the descriptions, the more the reader feels like an actual eyewitness to the alleged crime, and, the more newspapers are sold.

It resulted in sensational headlines for the copywriters who, chances are, had never even set foot onto a tequila distillery, and high fives all around for COFEPRIS and SAT.

Embajador Tequila: Business As Usual http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4lf

No one at the Fabrica Santa Rosa denies that they were guilty of the minor infractions they had been charged with, but, in reviewing the aforementioned articles in Part 1, you’d think the Untouchables had just captured Al Capone for tax evasion.

In true Elliot Ness fashion, there was a loophole.

But, it’s wasn’t what you thought.

The Loophole

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Imagine driving across the state line and being immediately pulled over by a state trooper.  When he asks you for your home state’s current registration, the smokey takes one look at your paperwork and tells you that your registration is not legally recognized by his state’s laws.  He then impounds your car until you can prove that your registration is legal.

That’s exactly what happened to Tequila Embajador.

Embajador Tequila: Business As Usual http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4lf

After a mound of paperwork providing and proving their procedural accurateness, converting to the more approved methods of record keeping–ninety days later–the ban on Fabrica Santa Rosa was lifted and it’s back to business as usual.

Embajador Tequila Goes On The Record

In this snippet, Licenciado Cristobal Morales Hernández introduces himself as the legal representative for Tequila Embajador and the Fabrica Santa Rosa.

Lic. Morales explains that while Embajador has never suffered infractions due to the wholesomeness and quality of their tequila (in other words, it has never produced illegal tequila), the main problem was in providing proper documentation as per the normas.

Morales goes on to describe that what the authorities actually did was to seal the distillery and the remaining tanks and barrels of tequila, but the product was never destroyed as is customary for the aforementioned government agencies to do during their “Juntos Contra la Ilegalidad” offensive.

The distillery was allowed to finish elaborating the tequila in all its various stages of production until the matter of the paperwork documentation was in compliance with the normas.

Embajador Tequila: Business As Usual http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4lf
Lic. Cristobal Morales with flagship tequilas, El General, Embajador and Jalisciense.

They were not allowed to truck out finished product, however, or to receive more harvested agave until that matter was resolved.  These same conditions were enforced on all of their contracted brands, as well.

In fact, even though the method of paperwork was not in keeping with the two agencies’ guidelines, paperwork DID exist making every step of Embajador’s tequila making process traceable to the very last agave plant and liter of tequila.

Lesson Learned

Cristobal asserts that in the 90 days of the plant’s closure, the company not only met the requirements of the agencies, but exceeded their expectations throughout the distillery, particularly concentrating in the fermentation, distillation and warehouse sections of the fabrica.

Lic. Morales admits that while the agencies’ reaction to the minor infractions were considered harsh, the situation served as a wake up call to step up their game on all levels of each department to stay on par with their indisputable high quality.

***

In the next segment, Embajador Tequila showcases its Framework for The Future.

Learn all about tequila from field to glass and then get paid to share your love of agave spirits with others! Buy Them Both Now!

Embajador Tequila: Rectifying the Situation

[Transportation, room and board were provided to M.A. “Mike” Morales by Embajador Tequila in order to research this article.  No monetary compensation was received and no guarantee of a favorable article was given by M.A. ‘Mike” Morales or Tequila Aficionado Media.  This article was written by, and is the opinion of, M.A. “Mike” Morales.]

The Situation

Embajador Tequila: Rectifying the Situation http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4iZSince that morning in early April when a news report in the Chinese press first announced that the Embajador distillery (NOM 1509) had been cited by COFEPRIS (Comisión Federál para la Protección contra Reisgos Sanitarios) and SAT (Servicio de Admistración Tributaria), and shut down for various minor infractions, I’d been anxious to investigate their situation, in-depth.

Without a single citation in over 12 years, multiple improvements in the works to compete effectively in Asia and Russia, and kosher certification, it made no sense to endanger their forward movement and future plans by being seemingly underhanded and distilling tainted juice.

This family-owned distillery has a stellar reputation for producing such Embajador Tequila: Rectifying the Situation http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4iZexquisite fan favorites like Alma de Agave, Crótalo, Cabresto, along with its highly decorated flagship brand, Embajador.

Things Don’t Add Up

As I expressed in my editorial, Bullying In Tequila, I believed this was clearly a case of government agencies bullying an up-and-coming player poised to enter the burgeoning Chinese and Russian spirits markets, and known to Tequila Industry insiders as a formidable force firmly positioned in the private label sector.

When Andres Garcia, Regional Sales Manager for Embajador Tequila, called to invite me to inspect the day-to-day operations of the Fabrica Santa Rosa, I found their willingness to be transparent refreshing, especially in the wake of such damaging charges.

The “Violations”

Let’s get right down to brass tacks.

According to the initial Chinese report–

Embajador Tequila: Rectifying the Situation http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4iZ
New log book and safety signs.

“Mexican health authorities seized over one million liters of tequila on Friday, which belongs to a production company in flagrant breach of health norms.

“All production of tequila was immediately suspended after the investigation found “sanitary conditions far below standards for production, as well as an inability to trace supplies and a lack of legal documentation.”

“The security included seizing 980,399 liters of tequila in tanks or unmarked bottles, 34,677 liters of finished products in labelled boxes mainly from the El Embajador and El General brands, and around 55,000 liters at various stages of the production process.”

In this news release from Mexico

“The second largest seizure of alcohol in three years is carried out.”

“It concerns the second largest securing of illegal inebriating beverages….  In this operation, 1.70MM liters of irregular alcoholic beverages were seized….”

(“Realizan el segundo decomiso más grande de alcohol en tres años 

“Se trata del segundo aseguaramiento de bebidas embriagantes ilegales mas grande….En esta acción…se aseguararon 1.70MM litros de bebidas alcoholicas irregulares…”)

In this incendiary report from El Financiero

Embajador Tequila: Rectifying the Situation http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4iZ
New delineation of departments.

“Federal authorities confiscated one million 70 thousand liters of tequila outside the normas in the locality of Atotonilco el Alto, and it concerns the largest securing of irregular alcoholic beverages.

(“Autoridades federales incautaron un millón 70 mil litros de tequila fuera de norma, en la localidad de Atotonilco el Alto, y se trata del aseguramiento más grande de bebidas alcohólicas irregulares.)

[Aforementioned federal authorities] imposed seals of closure and immobilized the product and installations of Tequila Embajador, where work and services were suspended due to deficient sanitary conditions in the production process, lack of traceability of supplies and scarcity of legal documentation.”

(“…impusieron sellos de clausura e inmovilizaron el producto e instalaciones de la empresa Tequila Embajador, donde se suspendieron sus trabajos y servicios por deficientes condiciones sanitarias en procesos de producción, falta de trazabilidad de insumos y carencia de documentación legal.”)

Embajador Tequila: Rectifying the Situation http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4iZ
New department signs.

“Security measures applied included the seizure of 980,399 liters of product in bulk inside storage tanks and bottled without labels; 34,676.7 liters of finished product in cases and labeled primarily of the brands El Embajador and El General; as well as 55,000 estimated liters of product in various stages of production, chopped, shredded, fermented and distilled.”

(“Las medidas de seguridad aplicadas, incluyeron el aseguramiento de: 980 mil 399 litros de producto a granel dispuesto en tanques y en botellas sin etiqueta, 34 mil 676.7 litros de producto terminado en cajas y etiquetado principalmente de las marcas El Embajador y El General, así como 55 mil litros estimados de producto en proceso, troceado, molienda, fermentación y destilación.”)

“Sanitary irregularities were also detected such as tanks without protection,

Embajador Tequila: Rectifying the Situation http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4iZ
Protection and delineation.

[and] accumulated dirt and grime.  Additionally, there were no physical separations between the fermentation and distillation areas from the rest of the spaces of the distillery.”

(“También se detectaron irregularidades sanitarias, como tanques sin protección, y acumulación de suciedad; además que no había una separación física entre las áreas de fermentación y destilación del resto de los espacios de la empresa.”)

“In addition, there were flies present in the fermentation and distillation zones due to a lack of pest control, evident lack of order and cleanliness and there were no log books registering the carrying out of cleaning and maintenance of equipment.”

(“Además, se detectó la presencia de moscos en zonas de fermentación y destilado, debido al deficiente control de plagas, evidente falta de orden y limpieza en las instalaciones y no se contaba con bitácoras de limpieza actualizadas ni registro de mantenimiento de equipos.”)

And, from this blatant smear campaign–

Embajador Tequila: Rectifying the Situation http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4iZ
More coverage and delineation.

“Any person who would want to consume any of the brands of tequilas involved should know that these products were elaborated under dubious sanitary conditions.  For instance, the inspectors found a platform over the reception tanks and one over the fermentation tanks that did not have any protection.

Moreover, there were gutters without protection with an accumulation of grime, evidence of consumed foods in the processing areas and lack of cleanliness in the fermentation area with the presence of non-useful materials including a motorcycle.”

(“Cualquier persona que guste consumir alguna de las marcas de los tequilas involucrados, debe saber que estos productos fueron elaborados en condiciones sanitarias muy dudosas; por ejemplo, los inspectores encontraron una plataforma sobre las tinas de recepción de jugo y uno de los tanques de fermentación, las cuales no tienen protección; además, se encontraron canaletas sin protección y con acumulación de suciedad, evidencia de consumo de alimentos en las áreas de proceso y falta de limpieza en el área de fermentación, con presencia de materiales en desuso, incluyendo una motocicleta.”)

“Also, an open bag was identified with detergent and a bottle containing liquid with the smell of disinfectant over the barrels.  There was lack of maintenance of the walls and a presence of clearings, windows without protection [screens] in different areas.  The distillery had no physical separation between the

Embajador Tequila: Rectifying the Situation http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4iZ
Barrels naturally protect against…birds.

fermentation and distillation areas from the rest of the spaces.  It also had no identification and delineation of the areas such that packing material, products, chemicals and bottles were found in the same place.”

(“También identificaron la presencia de una bolsa abierta con detergente y un envase conteniendo un líquido con olor a desinfectante sobre las barricas; hay falta de mantenimiento en paredes y presencia de claros, ventanas sin protección en diferentes áreas; la empresa no cuenta con una separación física entre las áreas de fermentación y destilación del resto de los espacios del lugar, ni tiene identificación y delimitación de áreas, de tal forma que el material de empaque, productos químicos y envases se encontraban en un mismo sitio.”)

And finally, a simple English translation from the original press release by COFEPRIS and SAT by trade magazine, The Spirits Business.

The Rest of The Story

What all these news services failed to mention was that each of the above infractions, except one, was addressed within a couple of hours.

So, why was the lifting of the closure of Fabrica Santa Rosa distillery not met with equal timeliness by these government agencies?

Why allow the escalation of a situation that normally requires only a warning, and malign a distillery’s spotless reputation?

Why did it take almost 90 days to rectify the situation and to restore the Embajador family’s impeccable integrity within the industry?

Two reasons–

Embajador Tequila: Rectifying the Situation http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4iZ

COFEPRIS’ and SAT’s ongoing three year campaign (some call it a smoke screen or a witch hunt) called “Juntos Contra la Ilegalidad” (“Together Against Illegality”), to reduce illegally produced alcoholic beverages on the Mexican market, and…

Paperwork.

***

Click for Part 2, Embajador Tequila:  Business As Usual.

 

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Women In The Tequila Industry: Marie Sarita Gaytán

Sarita_book Ever wonder how Tequila got to be “The Spirit of Mexico?”

Dr. Marie Sarita Gaytán explains how in her landmark book, Tequila!  Distilling the Spirit of Mexico. 

While we’ve interviewed other Tequila Boss Ladies who have a hand in producing their own brands, this tequila and mezcal researcher, who is also an Associate Professor at the University of Utah, can explain how it came to be known as Mexico’s National Drink.

Besides, when it comes to Women In the Tequila Industry, she’s the one best suited to explain how Tequila actually became an industry.

Here, she gives us her responses to our customary handful of questions.  Afterwards, do yourself a favor and add her book to your tequila library.

***

TA:  How would you describe your experiences as a woman in a primarily male dominated industry?  What are the challenges you face when dealing with the male dominated Tequila/Mezcal Industries?

MSG:  I think that it’s important to note that, although a woman, I am not actually involved in these industries.  Instead, I’m a tequila and mezcal researcher, so my experiences are much different than those women who are navigating the business side of these trades.

What I can say, however, is that during the process of conducting fieldwork in Sarita_crop (2)Mexico for my book, industrialists, regulators, and tourism employees, both men and women, were generous with their time.

I approached the topic with sincere curiosity—I did not have a hypothesis to prove, I wanted to learn as much as I could, and folks were very open to sharing their experiences.

TA:  How have you been able to change things within the Tequila/Mezcal Industries?

MSG:  What I have done is try to resituate the focus on tequila by paying attention to the people behind the product.

I am less interested in which tequila tastes best, or experimenting with the latest agave-based cocktail.

My work underscores how and why tequila emerged as Mexico’s drink—that is, my aim was to dig into the politics that created the conditions for tequila’s rise to fame within the nation.

TA:  What do you see as the future of women working within the Tequila/Mezcal Industries?

SaritaMSG:  Women have always been working in the tequila industry.

What’s changed somewhat, is that now they are creating their own brands, starting their own companies.

As tequila and mezcal become more global, there is more room for the entrance of new actors, new competition.

Women are definitely making their mark as the market continues to widen.

TA:  What facets of the Tequila/Mezcal Industries would you like to see change?

MSG:  I am not especially impressed with the Tequila Regulatory Council’s close connection to the government, their support of the interests of transnational liquor conglomerates, and their myopic focus on profit.

Together with Sarah Bowen (from North Carolina State University), we’ve published several articles critiquing their politics—extralocal actors, in particular, multi-national companies—have more influence over the direction of the industry at the peril of small-scale agave farmers, local craftsmen/women, and the residents of Tequila.

This remains a critical problem, one that is not poised to change anytime soon.

TA:  Do you approve of how Tequila/Mezcal brands are currently marketing themselves?

I’ve never thought about this question as a matter of approval or disapproval, but what I will say, is that I’m very interested in seeing how tequila and mezcal branding unfolds in China.

What do producers think about Chinese consumers?  What will Chinese consumers be looking for when they purchase certain brands?  This is fascinating stuff.

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

MSG:  Continue to network and find a mentor, woman or man, to help you understand the nuances of the industry.

Learn all about tequila from field to glass and then get paid to share your love of agave spirits with others! Buy Them Both Now!

Mexican Tequila to Take on Sake in Asian Market

Must Love, tequila, asian, MEXICO CITY, Jul 15, 2002 (Notimex/Corporate Mexico by Internet Securities, Inc. via COMTEX) — Mexican tequila is preparing to take on sake and other traditional Asian drinks as demand for the Mexican drink grows on that continent. Tequila producers accompanied Jalisco state Governor Francisco Ramírez on a tour in Asia to explore business opportunities in five Southeast Asian countries.

“The number of inhabitants makes the Asian market potentially the largest in the world,” said Ramón Yañez, president of the Tequila Regulation Council. To counteract tequila’s low profile in this part of the world, Yañez said producers would make a large publicity effort to introduce Asians to the Mexican liquor.

Currently, 50% of Mexican tequila is consumed in Mexico. The rest is exported: 80% to the United States, 15% to Europe, and the rest to other regions. Yañez predicted the industry would produce some 130 million liters of tequila this year.

Learn all about tequila from field to glass and then get paid to share your love of agave spirits with others! Buy Them Both Now!

Tequila Aficionado Media Presents Last Tequila Standing

national tequila day, last tequila standing, tequila aficionado, TV show, reality show

First ever Tequila Reality Show kicks off on National Tequila Day!

For Immediate Release!

In 2011, eighteen tequila start ups had vied to be crowned the top Brand Of Promise(TM) in the world’s first broadcasted Tequila Reality Show.

Tequila Aficionado Media Presents Last Tequila Standing

July, 2015, San Antonio, TX:  Starting July 24, 2015, National Tequila Day, 45 exclusive episodes of Last Tequila Standing will be streamed daily over Tequila Aficionado Media’s website and on-demand over its own YouTube playlist, as well as featured throughout all of its powerful social networks.

“Through the expansion of opportunities on the Web, and Tequila Aficionado

Last Tequila Standing.
Last Tequila Standing.

Media’s own explosive growth, we are proud to present for your enjoyment, Last Tequila Standing,” declared Tequila Aficionado’s CEO, M.A. “Mike” Morales.

Never-before-seen raw footage of some of the tequila industry’s most promising labels will be aired.  Each will relate their start up stories and demonstrate their tasty signature cocktails, too.

Colorful brand owners, master distillers, and top flight brand ambassadors took the stage with their enduring tequilas, many of which are still thriving even in 2015’s more competitive tequila market.

 The Dare

Judging_LTSIn the late summer of 2011, 18 brave tequila brands took up this challenge–

To appear on the first ever televised tequila reality show to share with the world their personal stories and to participate in a judged tasting competition to be named the Last Tequila Standing.

Rocky Road

As with most TV pilots and shows that are ahead of their time, Last Tequila Standing struggled to find a permanent network home.

“After a series of fits-and-starts, several failed business deals and cable company mergers that never happened, Last Tequila Standing was all but lost,” recounts Morales, a producer and one of the hosts of the show.

From the moment Season 1’s taping had wrapped, Morales worked tirelessly for months with the Executive Producers to try to fulfill the show’s original mission–

To educate and inform tequila aficionados worldwide in an entertaining fashion LTS_Cameraon the finer points of Mexico’s national spirit, as well as to help promote organic, artisanal, small batch, and boutique tequila Brands Of Promise(TM).

“But just a few years later, with the advent of streaming video made popular by services like Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix, the playing field has changed dramatically,” adds Lisa Pietsch, Tequila Aficionado Media’s COO in charge of social media marketing.  “Last Tequila Standing lends itself perfectly to our binge watching audience.”

The Line-Up

Participating tequila brands include…

Alquimia Organic Tequila, Alma de Agave, Crótalo, Cuestión, Don Pilar, Tributo, SilverCoin,  and many others.

In addition, Sal del Mar gourmet sea salt, Casa ZG sangrita mix, and Nature’s Agave syrup are also highlighted.

Guest Starring

Alquimia and Quinta de Gomez, organic tequilas.
Alquimia and Quinta de Gomez, organic tequilas.

Along with Tequila Aficionado Media’s CEO and Tequila Journalist, M.A. “Mike” Morales, Clayton J. Czczech guest judges on Last Tequila Standing.

Also on hand to impart his vast tasting expertise is industry expert Christopher Zarus, inventor of the only take home tequila tasting kit, TequilaRack, which will also be featured extensively.

A Global Event

“Since the taping of Season 1 of Last Tequila Standing, the Tequila Industry has aggressively pursued global expansion into countries like China, Russia, India, and Brazil,” explains Morales.

“Given that our audience is not only viewing Tequila Aficionado from these locations,” asserts Pietsch, “but all across Canada, the United States, Germany and Mexico, we can truly say that the airing of Last Tequila Standing will be a global event of epic proportions!”

 ***

Watch for new episodes of Last Tequila Standing premiering every day–for 45 days–beginning on National Tequila Day, July 24, 2015 at 11AM CDT.

 

[*Editor’s note: As a courtesy and at the request of Clayton J. Czczech, Tequila Aficionado has attempted to remove all videos and photographs in which he was featured without degrading the balance of the Last Tequila Standing content provided to us.] 

Learn all about tequila from field to glass and then get paid to share your love of agave spirits with others! Buy Them Both Now!

Ambhar Tequila–The Recalibrating of A Brand

[Between seminars during the Fourth Annual San Antonio Cocktail Conference, Tequila Aficionado Media was invited to the Ambhar Tequila Relaxation Lounge inside the historic Sheraton Gunter Hotel where we finally sampled each expression of this elusive brand with a jaded past.

The following day, we caught up with the new Ambhar CEO, Jaime Celorio, at the acclaimed Bohanan’s Restaurant while the staff prepared for the busy dinner shift.]

The Deceptive Dragonfly

In the spirits realm, and in particular, the tequila segment, brands come and go for a variety of reasons–

Either the juice is not up to par,  or the ineptitude of the brand owners or importers causes a rift between them, or the marketing is all wrong.  You name it, it happens.

Every once in a while, a brand gets lucky and all the elements click and a star is born.

Partida’s Gary Shansby, a self-proclaimed student of one of Patrón‘s founders, Martin Crowley, once declared that a tequila brand needed three things to be successful–

Good juice, a pretty bottle, and a symbol with a story.

Ambhar appeared to have all three.

On the other hand, a tequila label could experience the worst

Ambhar Goddess review.
Ambhar Goddess review.

case scenario, but for some reason, it just doesn’t go away.

The latter may be the perfect example of what happened to Ambhar tequila.

All That Glitters…

Launched in 2009, Ambhar was originally based in Austin, Texas, but made its big splash on the Las Vegas Strip.

Ambhar Lounge logo.
Ambhar Lounge logo.

Owing to key friendships among the principals, Ambhar became a part of the Tropicana Hotel’s facelift in 2010 and established the Ambhar Lounge.

More key relationships allowed the brand to have a very visible presence, especially among the MGM properties.  Ambhar soon became Las Vegas’ go-to tequila for many events including several outdoor pool parties during the warmer months.

Then, things began to unravel.

After unbridled spending, Ambhar accrued a rumored debt of up to $2 million.  Another round of funding gave it a much needed infusion of $2.7 million from investors in 2011, but still, rumblings of unpaid bills and payrolls persisted.

Ambhar banner.
Ambhar banner.

To make matters worse, a series of ho-hum reviews, including this scathing blog by the OC Weekly, made Ambhar the butt of jokes among the tequila cognoscente who took particular issue with the label’s claims of being distilled five times.

It seemed that the powers behind Ambhar at that time had been blinded by the glitz and glam of Las Vegas, and paid a hefty price.

Saving A Broken Brand

Coming from a solid financial background, Jaime Celerio, CEO of the newly formed Ambhar Global Spirits, LLC., explains what attracted him to purchase the troubled label in 2013.

Challenges

Here, Jaime explains the dilemmas of taking over a broken brand and what is being done now to revive it.

Further, he illustrates the problems in dealing with the Nevada market, and which states Ambhar will target, instead.

 

Retooling

Ambhar Texas having fun at #SACC2015.
Ambhar Texas having fun at #SACC2015.

Overhauling the former sales and marketing division, Jaime Celorio has surrounded himself with both a young, enthusiastic crew along with some premier seasoned veterans to reestablish a foothold in Ambhar’s home state of Texas.

Damage control, and distancing itself from the past, also requires making some improvements to the packaging.

No tinkering will be done to the substantial and elegant bottle, but the corks will be changed from real to synthetic, and the stoppers, as well as the wearable dragonfly charm around the bottlenecks, will be made of a much lighter alloy.

To continue to win back customer loyalty and regain goodwill,

Ambhar barrel.
Ambhar barrel.

Celorio insists on concentrating on Ambhar’s strong points by demanding complete honesty and transparency on the website, subsequent point of sales (POS) materials, and from his sales team.

The More Things Change

When we met with the Ambhar Texas unit, they admitted that Jaime Celorio felt the brand itself would not have survived its tumultuous circumstances had the juice not been favorable in the first place.

Celorio next discloses the reason why Ambhar’s flavor profile, especially that of its añejo, remains intact even though it’s more labor intensive than the reposado expression.

Future Focus

In this snippet, Celorio recounts the improvements since rebooting the brand, and its focus for the future which includes sales in Mexico and exporting to China.

Here, Celorio discusses the focus on the dragonfly logo and what it means in China.

Cinco Vodka logo.
Cinco Vodka logo.

It’s Not All About Tequila

Like a good portfolio manager, Jaime Celorio has diversified by establishing a sister company to compete in the vodka sector of the spirits market.

The Texas Vodka Trail

In this clip, Celorio reveals plans for Cinco Vodka’s distillery based in San Antonio, Texas.

Cinco Vodka–Imported All the Way From Texas

Jaime further reviews plans for the Texas Vodka Trail Tour and its similarities to tequila distillery tours in Mexico in aiding to educate consumers.

In this portion, Celorio considers how competitive the vodka market is in Mexico, and where you can find Cinco Vodka.

So…Why Tequila?

Jaime Celorio, gives his explanation as to why he chose to sell tequila in the first place.

Same Old Friend, Whole New Character

Described as his “elevator pitch,” Jaime Celorio, gives us the one thing he wants people to know about Ambhar, and shares his vision for its future.

Whether in the US, Mexico, or even China, look for the recalibrated Ambhar tequila to continue to make splashes, but in a much more precise, targeted and cost effective way.

Learn all about tequila from field to glass and then get paid to share your love of agave spirits with others! Buy Them Both Now!

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.

Learn all about tequila from field to glass and then get paid to share your love of agave spirits with others! Buy Them Both Now!

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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Learn all about tequila from field to glass and then get paid to share your love of agave spirits with others! Buy Them Both Now!

How to Get Paid to Drink Tequila:

How you can turn your passion into profits and get paid to drink tequila as a blogger, vlogger, podcaster or author

 

Salud!!