Sotol’s Cultural Appropriation

sotolFor over the past seven years, I’ve been a huge supporter of the Mexican spirit known as sotol.  You can read what I had to say about it in Tom Barry’s excellent article, A Sotol Story.

In case you’re unaware, sotol is made from the Desert Spoon plant (Dasylirion wheeleri) that grows in Northern Mexico, as well as Arizona, New Mexico, West Texas, and what is known as the Texas Hill Country, and all the way south to Oaxaca.

Sotol has its own Denomination of Origin, and can only be produced in the Mexican states of Durango, Chihuahua, and Coahuila.

In the latter part of 2017, there has been a good bit of positive press like this one in Forbes, for three gentlemen from Austin, Texas who have produced their version called Desert Door.  They’ve even opened a distillery in Austin and are giving tours of their facility.

Claiming historical evidence that it has always been smuggled across Texas borders as moonshine, the owners of Desert Door have been quoted in the Forbes article as “…We want to make sotol to Texas what bourbon is to Kentucky.”

In other words, they propose that their version of sotol be adopted as Texas’ official spirit.

Caution:  Rant Ahead

The above statement prompted the following late night Facebook Live rant on one of our final days of the Wild Wild West 2017 Tour.

It was brought to our attention that the above rant was considered “strained,” “weak,” and “petty” after it aired on Facebook.

While the reader had some valid points for his argument, here’s what we do know–

The Facts on Sotol

–Sotol does have a Denomination of Origin (DO), as mentioned above, since 2001-2002.  It is recognized by 27 countries, except the USA.

–Under the original North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1993-94, only Tequila and Mezcal were recognized by both the US and Canada, while Bourbon Whiskey, Tennessee Whiskey, and Canadian Whiskey were all recognized by Mexico.

–However, the 1997 agreement between the European Union and Mexico recognized the intellectual property of Tequila, Mezcal, Sotol and Charanda.

–At this writing, we have solicited samples of Desert Door Texas sotol for our Sipping Off he Cuff(c) series, but have yet to receive any.

–We have tasted Genius Liquids’ version of Texas sotol made from the Dasylirion texanum, a variety of the plant that grows in Texas.  You can read all about it in our article A Sotol By Any Other Name.

Pay close attention to the owner, Mike Groener, as he explained the lengths he took to distill an authentic product by conferring with several sotol producing families in Mexico.

–It is true that Mexico has been less-than-stellar in protecting and maintaining its DOs, especially lately when it comes to amending the Mezcal normas (regulations) and admitting additional states into the producing and growing regions.

It seems that whenever the transnational corporations that heavily lobby for such changes in order to line their pockets (remember NOM 199 ?), the Tequila or Mezcal Regulatory Councils see fit to do so.

The Denominations of Origin in Mexico have failed small agave spirits producers.  The fact that the US has randomly recognized only a few of these DOs, doesn’t help, either.

–Our sources point out that the Sotol Regulatory Council is not as well financed as the other two major councils.  Their efforts to police and protect its DO are hindered by disorganization and (shocker, here), corruption.

Those sotol producers with pedigree find this fact a source of frustration and disappointment.

–In Sotol’s defense, the original petition for its Denomination of Origin clearly states the archaeological and historical evidence of its existence south of the border, as well as north of it.

The indigenous people who inhabited what is now considered the Borderlands, have a centuries old cultural tie to the sereque (sotol) plant.  Its everyday uses were discovered and exclusively utilized by them.

–The oldest permit to distill sotol commercially on both sides of the border belongs to the famed Jacquez family of Janos, Chihuahua, makers of the Don Cuco and Por Siempre brands.

–And, yes, sotol has been smuggled into the US since before Prohibition.

Probably, the most famous of these smugglers was Pancho Villa, who at one time maintained a “stash house” in El Paso, Texas.

Ironically, he was a teetotaler.   He did, however, partake of sotol for medicinal purposes.  After all, he was born in the Mexican state of Durango, part of the Sotol Denomination of Origin.

Sotol Smugglers’ Blues

Lastly, we salute the partners of Desert Door and their well funded efforts.  Texas has a long entrepreneurial history of Empresarios.

What it does not have is a history of distilling this particular spirit as part of its culture in order to support whole families and communities.  This, in fact, is what Appellations of Origin were designed for.

As Sarah Bowen , a member of our Women In The Tequila Industry gallery discussed in this Facebook thread–

…what is really needed is a more rigorous and thoughtful legal system that recognizes DOs across borders.

Failure to do so could result in a reverse effect for Bourbon Whiskey, Tennessee Whiskey, and Canadian Whiskey within its own borders.

Tit for Tat

The obvious question is–

Why doesn’t Mexico just make their own version of Whiskey and call it Bourbon?

As Ricardo Pico of Sotol Clande so eloquently put it in his response to this Facebook thread…

“…out of respect for an existing category and because we don’t have a tradition or heritage…on Bourbon production.”

Open Doors

Showing respect–a true Texas tradition–especially for an existing spirits category, was successfully accomplished by Genuis Liquids.

Perhaps, someday, like the Karakasevic family when they produced their Charbay Tequila at the renowned La Altena distillery with the blessing of Tapatio’s Carlos Camarena, someone on this side of the border will distill a true sotol at a proper vinata (sotol distillery) on the other side?

It could–and should–happen.

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!

From Babes to Boss Ladies: Women & Tequila

Tequila Aficionado Exclusive Series

babes-to-boss-ladiesWe’ve had a special place in our hearts for the unsung heroines and muses in tequila for a very long time.  After reading Ilana Edelstein’s The Patron Way, Mike & I felt it was time someone brought other women’s stories to light – and what better place to do that than at the leader in tequila information since 1999 – Tequila Aficionado.

It all began with Tequila Boss Ladies and grew from there.  This series has grown over the years to include sotol, mezcal and agave spirits so there is still more to come!  In the meantime, you can catch up on the entire series to date.

From Babes to Boss Ladies

The contributions of women who create some of the amazing spirits we enjoy, direct production and distillation, support educational efforts, own brands we love, and otherwise contribute to the tequila industry are often overlooked beyond the 80’s throwback bikini-babe marketing efforts of behind-the-times brands.  (Perhaps that’s a bit harsh, but when women make 80% of the buying decisions in America today, don’t you think brands would be better served by changing their marketing approach with the times?)

Catch Up With The Series

Click on the links below to visit our ongoing series and explore some of the amazing contributions made by women in today’s tequila 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!

Tequila Boss Ladies by M.A. “Mike” Morales

Carmen Villareal, san matias

Tequila Boss Ladies

 “The world will be saved by the western woman.”

The Dalai Lama, Vancouver Peace Summit, September 2009

We’re pretty sure His Holiness had no idea that his proclamation would also include this Who’s Who of women in the Tequila Industry and beyond.

Mary ClementeJurado Tequila…

Mary Clemente gets her close-up.Exclusivity breeds demand and Clemente’s Jurado Tequila, nicknamed the Black Swan (a metaphor used to describe hard-to-predict, high-impact and far-reaching events), is so rare that you’ll have to travel to Asia or the Middle East to find it.

Jurado Tequila (photo by Ian Cuttler).
Jurado Tequila (photo by Ian Cuttler).

Solely at Duty Free stores winter 2013, with rock star celebrity chef Grant MacPherson supplying added culinary deliciousness for the tequila connoisseur and world traveler.

Paula TorresNobleza Azúl tequila…

Nobleza Azul Tequila.
Nobleza Azul Tequila.

Not only does Paula own her own brand, but she comes from a family of Highlands agave growers.  Fiercely protective of her family’s land, heritage and tradition, Paula is involved in every aspect of Nobleza’s growth.

Paula Torres
Paula Torres

Find award winning Nobleza Azúl throughout Southern California and parts of Chicago, Las Vegas and Utah.

Watch our Sipping off the Cuff episode for Nobleza Azul here.

Maribel Garcia CanoTequilas del Señor

The mysterious Ingeniera García craftily flies under the tequila radar.

Quietly going about her business supervising the quality of the tequilas churned out at the famed Tequilas del Señor distillery, she has also managed to develop the critically acclaimed Don Diego Santa Tequila.

Don Diego Santa Tequila
Don Diego Santa Tequila

 

 

“…women would become the ‘saviors of the global economy.'”

  CNN, October 2012

Carmen Alicia Villarreal TreviñoTequila San Matías de Jalisco

Carmen Villareal
Carmen Villarreal

 

 

CEO Villarreal is the only female distillery owner to date.

Launching the legendary brand Carmessí in 1999, created with the essence of today’s women in mind, its website declares, “At Casa San Matías we’ve developed different tequilas to suit all of our clients, from daring women to experienced consumers.”

Available in major markets in the US and Europe.

Dr. Ana Valenzuela-Zapata

La Diosa Mayahuel (Photo by Alberto Ramirez)
La Diosa Mayahuel (Photo by Alberto Ramirez)

Known by some as “La Diosa Mayahuel” (the Goddess Mayahuel), Ana is the final word on agave ethno-botanics and the conservation of all native species of agaves in Mexico.

This published author frequently consults to agave growers and tequila brand owners.

An outspoken advocate for agave biodiversity and defending tequila’s Appellation of Origin, her next book, The Geographic Indication of Tequila, will cover just that.

Ana Maria Romero Mena

Maestra Tequilera, Ana Maria Romero Mena.
Maestra Tequilera, Ana Maria Romero Mena.

The only woman to be given the title of “Maestra Tequilera” by the powerful National Chamber of the Tequila Industry (CNIT), Ana Maria has consulted and taught seminars for every major tequila producer in the business, as well as developed several signature tequila brands for others.

She’s even designed a kit to help describe tequila aromas and written an award-winning book on the subject.

Sophie DecobecqCalle 23 Tequila

How does a nice French biochemist/engineer become a tequila brand owner?   Simple…

Sophie Decobecq (Photo by Chris Mac)
Sophie Decobecq (Photo by Chris Mac)

She falls in love with the fermentation process, develops three different yeast cultures and produces three very different tasting tequilas.

Infusing them with her wacky sense of humor (“Tequila drives a Cadillac” is a favorite t-shirt slogan), Calle 23 is an award winner in both the US and the UK.

Calle 23.
Calle 23.

 

 

Jaclyn JacquezPresident, Don Cuco Sotol

The next hottest Mexican spirit to hit the market is not exactly tequila or mezcal.  Don Cuco Sotol has been described as the best of both worlds.

Outside of its own Denomination of Origin in the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Durango and Coahuila, sotol has been a mystery for over 800 years.

Jaclyn Jacquez, President of Don Cuco Sotol.
Jaclyn Jacquez, President of Don Cuco Sotol.

Jacquez, the great-granddaughter of Don Cuco, trademarked the name in both Mexico and the US and then began exporting this sixth generation distillate into New Mexico, Texas, California, and New Zealand.

Bertha González NievesCEO, Casa Dragones tequila…

Bertha González Nieves, CEO of Casa Dragones.
Bertha González Nieves, CEO of Casa Dragones.

Along with co-founder and Clear Channel CEO Bob Pittman, Bertha has managed to craft a highly sought after joven tequila, an often overlooked expression in the industry.

With a flavor profile that’s perfect for pairing with a myriad of cuisines, it has been praised by celebrity boss ladies Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey.

(For more with Bertha González Nieves click here  and Casa Dragones, here.)

“…women need to be comfortable seeing themselves as qualified leaders and risk takers.”

Arianna Huffington

With these female front runners leading the charge for change, the Dalai Lama, CNN and Arianna Huffington might not be too far off the mark.

If you enjoyed this article, look for more articles, video, and interviews on women & tequila coming soon from Tequila Aficionado Media.

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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!

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Salud!!