מסקל Kosher Mezcal from Oaxaca, Mexico: Kashrut or Canard

By Alvin Starkman, M.A., J.D.

How Far Does Kosher Go?

A palenquero in a Oaxacan field is harvesting agave espadín destined to be distilled into kosher mezcal. He comes across a rattler or coral snake.  Can he kill the snake with the machete he is using to cut the pencas off the maguey?  I’m far from a Talmudic scholar or an Orthodox Jew, and I don’t even keep a kosher home, but I have been around the production of agave distillates in southern Mexico for more than a quarter century, so the question intrigues me.  More importantly it leads to the broader issue of the extent to which traditionally made mezcal, labeled as kosher, actually complies with biblical dictates.

How Observant Must You Be?

Can those Jews who are “observant,” a loaded word in and of itself, confidently drink any mezcal, kosher via kashrut certification,  and truly be assured that it is pareve (neutral) or otherwise drinkable?  Should they be at all concerned regarding imbibing the agave distillate despite the label designating the contents of the bottle as COR, U, KA-Kosher, K, or another way of identifying the spirit as kosher? Is there another way of satisfying oneself that the spirit is drink-worthy by rules set out in the Bible?

kosher tequilaDoes Size Matter?

It is suggested that perhaps the only really kosher mezcals, regardless of what’s stated on the label, are the most industrialized products in the marketplace, or perhaps from the most traditional smallest scale production. The latter would likely never find its way out of Mexico based on economies of scale. The corollary is that if the Orthodox Jewish imbiber wants to drink artesanal or ancestral mezcal, he may not be enjoying what the Law of Moses suggests is the only spirit he should be ingesting.  It is submitted that rabbis, directors and employees of kosher certification boards, as well as owners of kosher mezcal brands and their palenqueros, have a vested interest in assuring the public that kosher means Stricly Kosher in compliance with accepted standards. Admittedly I’ve become more of a skeptic while a permanent resident of Oaxaca, and so interviews with any of the foregoing people regarding practices and procedures doesn’t satisfy my curiosity nor allay my trepidation.

Who Decides?

The rabbinical certification of food to make it kosher involves ascertaining  that the food (or drink) has no ingredients or processes forbidden by Jewish law.  Nothing anyone can say or do, including a rabbi, can make non-kosher food kosher. There are organizations which monitor process, from the initial production stages to mezcal being packaged and ready to go on the shelf of the retailer.  The organization is then able to certify something as kosher, with its icon clearly identifiable on a label.  But every organization has its own standards, and not all Orthodox Jews accept every board’s seal of (kosher) approval. In virtually every religion where there is ancient text, different groups, sects and individuals interpret some words, phrases and chapters, differently. So right off the bat we have the makings of a concern, for me an issue when it comes to passing judgment upon what is kosher. If you are Orthodox, perhaps no mezcal should be deemed kosher. In any event, I would suggest that only a tiny fraction of the approximately 22% of American Jews who follow a kosher diet, would be uneasy if their spirits are not Certified Kosher.

 

Does Pareve Make it Kosher?

The agave, a succulent, is, in and of itself, pareve. It’s not meat, and it’s not dairy; nor has it ever swam, hopped, flown or slithered.  But what does happen to agave and with what it comes into contact in the process of becoming mezcal, typically  takes it out of the category of being kosher. Or does it?

What Are the Rules?

Most of what can and what should never be consumed, and in what and when, is contained in Deuteronomy Chapter 14, and Leviticus Chapter 11. Different books in the Torah cover other related matters as will be explained further along. The latter chapter is more comprehensive and subsumes the former, and so its pertinent paragraphs (only) are reproduced hereunder:

1 And the LORD spoke unto Moses and to Aaron, saying unto them:

2 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: These are the living things which ye may eat among all the beasts that are on the earth.

3 Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is wholly cloven-footed, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that may ye eat.

7 And the swine, because he parteth the hoof, and is cloven-footed, but cheweth not the cud, he is unclean unto you.

8 Of their flesh ye shall not eat, and their carcasses ye shall not touch; they are unclean unto you.

9 These ye may  eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them may ye eat.

10 And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the waters, and of all the living creatures that are in the waters, they are a destestable thing unto you,

20 All winged swarming things that go upon all fours are a detestable thing unto you.

21 Yet these may ye eat of all winged swarming things that go upon all fours, which have jointed legs above their feet, wherewith to leap upon the earth;

22 even these of them ye may eat; the locust after its kinds, and the bald locust after its kinds, and the cricket after its kinds, and the grasshopper after its kinds.

23 But all winged swarming things, which have four feet, are a detestable thing unto you.

24 And by these ye shall become unclean; whosoever toucheth the carcass of them shall be unclean until even.

25 And whosoever beareth aught of the carcass of them shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even.

32 And upon whatsoever any of them, when they are dead, doth fall, it shall be unclean; whether it be any vessel of wood, or raiment, or skin, or sack, whatsoever vessel it be, wherewith any work is done, it must be put into wáter, and it shall be unclean until the even; then it shall be clean.

33 And every earthen vessel whereinto any of them falleth, whatsoever is in it shall be unclean, and it ye shall break.

35 And every thing whereupon any part of their carcass falleth shall be unclean; whether even, or range for pots, it shall be broken in pieces; they are unclean, and shall be unclean unto you.

41 And every swarming thing that swarmeth upon the earth is a detestable thing; it shall not be eaten

  1. Whatsoever goeth upon the belly, and whatsoever goeth upon all fours, or whasoever hath many feet, even all swarming things that swarm upon the earth, them ye shall not eat; for they are a detestable thing.

44 For I am the LORD your God; sanctify yoursleves therefore, and be ye holy; for I am holy; neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner or swarming thing that moveth upon the earth.

46 This is the law of the beast, and of the fowl, and of every living creature that moveth in the waters, and of every creature that swarmeth upon the earth;

47 to make a difference between the unclean and the clean, and between the living thing that may be eaten and the living thing that may not be eaten.

Aside from some of the standard prohibitions of which virtually all Jews and most non-Jews are aware (i.e. against pork and seafood), the paragraphs reproduced also includes additional rules which are particularly relevant to the thesis herein, regarding:

  • flying insects v. those which hop such as our beloved Oaxacan chapulines (grasshoppers);
  • slithering creatures such as snakes and our cherished Oaxacan gusanos (“the worm,” actually a larva);
  • the use of utensils, pots and tools, which have come into contact with the “unclean” or “detestable.”

Kosher is in the Process

Kosher beverages (and food) must start out as such, and follow a kosher process from start to finish, right up until and including imbibing that first sip of mezcal in an appropriate vessel.  Great care should be taken at each step begining with growing of the agave. Consideration should be given to the character of the raw material, tools and equipment used at every stage leading up to and including bottling, as well as  how the maguey has been harvested, cooked, crushed, fermented and distilled.  The transformation into mezcal should take place in facilities that have been retrofitted for kosher production.

Con Gusano?

From the outset, that is planting agave, there is an issue, even assuming that the seed, pup or hijuelo transplanted into a furrow where it will remain for the better part of a decade, is kosher.  When the small maguey is sown, the more industrialized operations may spray a bit of insecticide in each hole to assure no immediate infestation. Traditional campesino growers, and palenqueros producing artesanal or ancestral mezcal, likely will not.  There is a reasonable likelihood that flying insect and/or larvae infestation (i.e. the slithering gusanos), both un-kosher, will begin to interact with the piñas grown by traditional means. If a home remedy 100% natural insecticide is employed, do we have to examine the kosherness of the ingredients used to make it (i.e. how the garlic, the chiles and all the rest have been produced)?

Organic and Kosher Aren’t the Same

The foregoing suggests that, contrary to some lay belief, there is not a relationship between on the one hand kosher, and on the other certified organic, 100% natural, etc. Furthermore, the industrial mezcal (labelled by CRM dictates as simply mezcal, as opposed to artesanal or ancestral) which most present-day mezcal aficionados loathe, is more likely than the others to comply with biblical standards. Traditionally produced mezcal indeed may approximate organic or natural standards, but tends to be further removed from the ambit of kosher, right from the beginning.

Kosher at the Expense of Artisanal?

Taking the Bible literally, perhaps the only truly kosher mezcals are those produced in the most industrialized plants.  Sterility is maintained using stainless steel, versus clay or copper, diesel versus ant infested firewood, bleach versus cola for cleaning floors of concrete as opposed to dirt, and exacting particular tools designed and reserved for each specific task, versus our machete used to both cut agave and kill that (prohibited) snake. Nary a forbidden fly is found in such facilities.  Of course these factories are the furthest removed from those of biblical times.

Traditional vs. Kosher

Means of production and tools of the trade in agave distillate manufacture lie along a continuum. It is suggested that, regardless of kosher certification,  in some respects the closer one moves towards the traditional mezcal production axis (coveted by many, and assumed to be more organic and natural), the less likely the spirit complies with strict biblical standards. Yet in other respects this doesn’t hold wáter.  For example if we move to the absolute smallest scale of production, the palenquero controls everything, from planting through to bottling. It’s his own agave, harvested from the quiote or transplanted from clones.  He simply cannot afford kosher certification and his production is extremely limited, though he has the ability to be extremely vigilant.  By contrast, those who produce kosher mezcal may state that they examine every piña to ensure no gusanos have infested.  But can we really take at face value their assurances? They are successful business people. They, as most who now produce mezcal for export and many who do not, purchase piñas from growers, by the lot or three ton truckload.  Will they discard every piña where they see a gusano? And what about the piñas where the existence of gusanos cannot be readily detected? The non-Jewish grower just wants to ensure that he gets his fair price, infested or not.

A Puff of Smoke

Ants, and well as other creepy crawlers and flyers often infest the logs used to bake agave traditionally in that conical shaped below-ground airtight chamber.  They are surely impacting the flavor and character of those pristine piñas. Is that permisible based on biblical dictates?

Who’s Watching?

A kosher certification board member visits a palenque or factory operation, certifies the premises enabling proprietor  and/or brand owner to put the kosher insignia on the labels, and then returns periodically for audits.  The literature suggests that the representative may return once or twice a year for inspections, but depending on his schedule and the location of the operation, he may not.

What About the Tools?

The Old Testament would appear to approve of crushing the baked sweet agave by hand, provided the machete used to initially chop the maguey hearts has not come into contact with anything un-kosher. It could be ants when it was used to cut the firewood, or that coral snake. The wooden mallet of course must be free of infestation. The rule regarding utensils suggests that those which have come into contact with hot non-kosher food may not be used with kosher food. But hot is relative, and may include spicy hot.  It is so confusing that for generations rabbis have been fielding questions from their congregants, seeking interpretations for biblical conundra on the topic of utensils, and of course much  more.  Now there are websites where those in the know are consulted for their expert rabbinical advice. To what extent, if at all, are campesinos and traditional palenqeros trained in such matters, or even consider kosherness in the course making mezcal?  And even if they are, does one really think that they would thrust a machete into the ground ten times, each time into a different part of the earth, to return it to its usable status? It would appear that it is virtually impossible to meet any reasonable standard of kosherness when distilling in “earthen vessel” clay pots, since degree of hotness is not really an issue and given the frequency of the “detestables” flying around.

And the Animals?

When it comes to crushing traditionally, using a beast of burden, the Bible provides a complete code of conduct regarding treatment of animals.  Chapters in Books such as Genesis, Exodus, Proverbs, Samuel, Deuteronomy and Leviticus instruct, as does the Talmud.  Jewish law  prohibits causing unnecessary suffering or cruelty to animals.  In many cases they are afforded the same sensitivity as human beings. They can be used to satisfy legitimate needs, like food for sustenance and clothing, and even within these contexts we must use and kill using the least painful way possible.  The Bible is specific in forbidding the muzzling of an ox to prevent it from eating while it is working in the field.

Now to the extent that the scriptures accord animals the same rights as humans (i.e. resting on the Sabbath), palenquero compliance should not be problematic. However, can mezcal be considered kosher at all if a horse, mule or team of oxen is used to mash the agave? After all, alcohol consumption does not satisfy legitimate needs, although a reasonably argument can be made for drinking wine on the Sabbath and otherwise on religious holidays. This takes us along the industrialization end of our continuum, where machinery is used for crushing and extracting the sweet agave juice. Even if we deem consumption of spirits as a legitimate need, horses are often muzzled when crushing agave, so as to reduce the likelihood of them constantly having their heads down in an effort to consume that enticing caramelly maguey.

Are the Vats Kosher?

You can ferment in any receptable. Industrially produced mezcal employs iron and stainless steel, which presumably is not problematic. In and around the central valleys of Oaxaca, the traditional fermentation vat, the tina, is roughly 1,000 liters and made of oak or pine. Pine can more easily become infested.  How does one prevent that from happening? Cedar is not typically used, but perhaps it should be, but then again the taste of the mezcal would be significantly altered. Depending on the time of year of fermentation, variously bees, flies and knats buzz around the containers, nourishing themselves by feeding off of the sweet agave which has had wáter added.  Yes, one can prevent that by using a metal mesh cover.  Has the vendor of that piece of equipment been eating pork just prior to lifting it off of his truck?

Lawn Fertilizer?

An owner of a particular Certified Kosher agave spirit has stated that he never allows his mash to ferment for more than seven days and relies only on airborne yeasts for fermentation.  However, during the cold weather months it often takes more than two weeks to achieve prime fermentation, unless one adds a chemical compound such a lawn fertilizer to speed up the process. Would you want to drink that mezcal, favoring its kosher status above anything else, given that is is far from being anywhere close to organic or natural by virtue of that innoculation?

Do You Have to be Jewish?

Can non-Jews even make mezcal? Wine made by non-Jews is prohibited. For agave distillates, assuming at face value they can be Certified Kosher, which individuals in the production chain have to be Jewish, and how devout? I’ve never seen a campesino harvest agave in a field while wearing a yarmulka. Wine must be made by Jews because there is a restriction against using products of idolatry.  Wine was regularly sanctified for pagan purposes while it was being processed, and thus the prohibition. Should the rule apply to only wine, since mezcal, just as wine, is an intoxicant? Talmudic scholars have debated the suggestion that wine should be no different than whisky, rum and other non-grape based spirits.  Further discussion on the issue is beyond the purview of this essay.

You Be the Judge

Taking any ancient religious text literally is dangerous. When the Bible was written there were no exacting standards.  Sanitation and cleanliness were nowhere near where they are today.  We pick and choose what suits us.  It is not suggested that you should only drink industrially produced mezcal, but rather that class of agave distillate more closely approximates what the drafters of the Bible had in mind. Satisfy yourself as a devout Jew, that the processes employed in producing your favourite artesanal or ancestral mezcal, meet your personal standards as you extrapolite them from the Torah.

Is the Label Really Important?

alvin starkman, mezcalRecall the continuum.  Kosherness comes in degrees, as is evidenced by the fact that some Jews opt for trusting in one certification board versus another.  The system of defining which foods are kosher was developed by the rabbis of late antiquity, hundreds of years ago. Given that the word kosher means fit or appropriate in Hebrew, perhaps as long as one is confident of current day sanitary standards, and the treatment of any animal used in the process, that should weight more importantly than that little logo on the can of tuna, or bottle of mezcal.  Cleanliness is essentially irrelevant since we are dealing with a distillate. Know your palenquero, visit his palenque to assure yourself of his treatment of any beast of burden used in production, and don’t sweat the rest.  Conduct your own rabbinic supervision (remember that no blessing is required) and drink up:  cheers, salud, l’chaim and quisbheú.

Alvin Starkman owns and operates Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca (www.mezcaleducationaltours.com).

 

Sources researched and quoted are:

http://www.answers.com/Q/Does_a_rabbi_has_to_say_something_from_torah_to_make_food_kosher

http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/kashering-utensils

https://www.broadwaybasketeers.com/blogs/what-makes-something-kosher

http://kosherfoodsireland.com/does-a-rabbi-have-to-bless-food-for-it-to-be-kosher/

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/kosher-food/

https://www.kashrut.com/articles/liquor2/

http://www.jewmalt.com/category/kosher-spirits/mezcal/

http://tequilaaficionado.com/2015/12/14/big-business-kosher-tequila-part-iv/

http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d040402.htm

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/overview-of-jewish-dietary-laws-and-regulations

http://www.jewfaq.org/animals.htm

http://www.jewfaq.org/kashrut.htm#Utensils

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Leviticus+11&version=NIV

https://www.beverlyhillsliquorandwine.com/el-secreto-no-33-mezcal.php

 

 

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Kosher Tequilas for Hanaukkah

kosher tequila

Looking for something more exciting than Kosher wine for Hanaukkah?  Try a Kosher tequila!

Kosher Tequilas for Hanaukkah https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5z4
Click on the image to buy the E-Book or Paperback now

Try some of these Kosher Tequilas that we’ve enjoyed:

 

Vida

One with Life

El Consuelo

4 Copas

Santera

Cava de Oro

3 Amigos

Karma

Embajador

 

For more information on Kosher tequilas, read our series The Big Business of Kosher Tequila:

kosherThe BIG Business of Kosher Tequila, Part I

The BIG Business of Kosher Tequila, Part II

The BIG Business of Kosher Tequila, Part III

The BIG Business Of Kosher Tequila, Part IV

How to Survive the Tequila Turmoils of 2018

How to Survive the Tequila Turmoils of 2018 https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5zQ

Whether you’re in the business, a savvy consumer, or just an Average Joe overwhelmed by the hype of agave spirits, how can you ensure that you’ll survive the upcoming tequila turmoils of the rest of this year, and beyond?

We’ll show you how.

But first…

Let’s Review

You’ve heard the news of the current agave crisis that we covered in The Agave Panic of 2018:  Bloodshed on the Streets of Tequila. 

You’ve kept track of the trend since last year when we explained that The Agave Shortage of 2017 is Worse Than We Thought.

If you’re launching agave spirits brands during this time of crisis, we need a short discussion about–

Mega Distributors

Aside from some notable craft brands being swallowed up by corporate distillers, M & A has been the name of the game in the spirits distribution sector, too.

How to Survive the Tequila Turmoils of 2018 https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5zQ

Late November 2017 brought the news that distributor Breakthru Beverage was set to combine with Texas based distributor Republic National Distribution Company to match 2016’s mega-merger of Southern Wine and Spirits with Glazer’s, Inc.

This means that smaller agave spirits labels are in danger of never gaining the attention of these behemoth corporations.

And, if your small batch agave distillate has been promised a slot in the hulking distributors’ newly formed “craft spirits division,” specifically to “incubate” promising brands, my advice…

Don’t Do It!  It’s A Trap!

How to Survive the Tequila Turmoils of 2018 https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5zQ

Whether they’ve promised your juice a small amount of attention, or you’re in the “full book” (entire spirits catalog), these divisions are engineered to give the up-and-coming little guy a false sense of hope–and a false sense of security–that your gem will be distributed nationwide, some day.

Fat chance.  It’ll never happen. Wake up!

These mammoth distributors are in bed with the Big Boys, and won’t lift a finger to help you get the word out or build your brand.

Whatever that friend-of-a-friend-who’s-been-in-the-business-a-long-time-and-you’ve-been-golfing-buddies-forever has pledged to you, these departments are engineered to safely “sit” on your precious tequila or mezcal because it has been deemed a threat to the shelf space of their higher paying bread-and-butter flagships.How to Survive the Tequila Turmoils of 2018 https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5zQ

With the recent pay-for-play scandals that have been in the booze news lately, this technique is tougher to detect.

You’ll still be in the same boat you’re in now, doing all the work yourself.

Instead…

Support Your Local Distributor

Not a day goes by where a rising agave star doesn’t ask us for recommendations on a “good distributor” [There’s an oxymoron!] in any state.

Personally, I hesitate to recommend any particular distributor.  I’m not a big fan of them.  Some will argue that the Three Tier System of distribution in the United States is archaic, and serves only the Big Brands.

That said, small-to-mid sized distributors, in my opinion, will become even more important in the grand scheme of things, especially in light of the next impeding mega-merger between Republic National and Breakthru Beverage.

If you’re lucky enough to find hustlers like agave-centric Glass Bottom Distributors in Southern California, or Creospirits in Arizona, your troubles might be fewer.

On the other hand, if you decide to go with a small wine house, or choose a beer distributor or some other arrangement, you’ll still need to instruct their sales staff on how to sell your agave spirit.

Assume that they are simply order takers and woefully under trained (they are!) on anything other than wine or beer, or what’s “on spiff.”

When instructing these salespeople, speak to them in terms they will understand, and don’t have high expectations.

Maybe, just maybe, they won’t disappoint you too much.

Savvy Consumer

You’re one smart cookie.

Not too many people can pull the wool over your eyes, but…

You’re afraid of falling for the excessive marketing that’s endlessly broadcasted to you from all sides of the tequila aisle.

Relax.How to Survive the Tequila Turmoils of 2018 https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5zQ

We suggest you re-read our 2-part series, Craft Tequila:  WTF Does THAT Mean? Part 1.  And, the guidelines put forth in the Craft Tequila Gauntlet in Part 2.

Add Kosher

While you’re at it, add kosher tequila and mezcal to your arsenal, too.

Don’t laugh.  It’s a billion dollar business.

If Rothschild can release a kosher rose champagne, what’s keeping tequilas and mezcals from doing it, too?

Check out our 4 part series, The BIG Business of Kosher Tequila, Part 1 , Part 2 , Part 3 , Part 4 .

The Average Joe

If you’re just an Average Joe, and even if you’ve done all the aforementioned due diligence, you’re still in danger.
How to Survive the Tequila Turmoils of 2018 https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5zQ

Rather than taking shortcuts in order to meet heavy worldwide demand and risk losing quality, some reputable tequila makers have reportedly stopped distilling temporarily in the hopes that agave prices will level out.

[At this writing, agave prices are at $25 pesos per kilo.]

One industry insider confessed to us, however, that a major brand name tequila had switched completely to using diffusers to produce its tequilas.

Asked whether the owner of this large distillery was concerned that the quality of his juice would suffer, he admitted that he didn’t care.

He defended his position by saying that his tequila had been around for so long, and was moving a significant amount of cases, that consumers would never know the difference, anyway.

To purists, news like this breaks their heart.

To savvy consumers, this deliberate disrespect of the public’s intelligence should raise their hackles.

To the Average Joe, this will make your head spin because you make your buying decisions based mostly on tried and true names that you’ve always trusted.

Mainstay brands that were standouts before being bought by global companies, or invested in by foreigners outside of Mexico, are banking that you’ll fall for their marketing–and, on your ignorance.

Don’t let them!

How to Survive the Tequila Turmoils of 2018 https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5zQ

What Else You Can Do

Support small producers of agave spirits.

The Big Boys will always weather the storm, but a few of the little guys could be out of business over the course of the next five years or so.

In promoting them–and even some of the more popular brands, it seems–expect to pay more at your local bar or liquor store.

Whether the agave crisis is fact, fiction or a fusion of both, the scarcity of a commodity will always drive prices higher.

In this thoughtful article by the non-profit advocacy group, Tequila Interchange Project, here’s what else you can do to prepare for what’s to come–without selling out.

Informed agave spirits consumers should always strive to drink for a greater, and more balanced, agave distillates industry.

Suave Organic Blanco Tequila Review

El Consuelo Blanco Tequila Review [Transcript]

Watch the original video review here.

Mike: You are watching Sipping off the Cuff on TequilaAficionado.com.  I’m Mike Morales and that gentleman over there…

Rick: Rick Levy in San Diego.

Mike: I’m here in San Antonio.  We’re enjoying a respite from the heat wave.  We’ve actually had rain the last 2 days, which is nice.

Rick: The heat has moved out here.

Mike: Oh, really is it hot out there?

Rick: Little over 100 outside the house.

Mike: Wow, you don’t have air-conditioning in San Diego as I remember.

Rick: Yeah. Yeah.  Most people have it now.

Mike: Oh, really?  When I lived in Rancho Penasquitos up a little higher we didn’t have a need to air-conditioning because in the summer if it gets to hot you get that ocean breeze that comes all the way inland.

Rick: Yeah.

Mike: And it was nice; it was, you know, not here in Texas.

Rick: This house didn’t have it when we bought the house.

Mike: Well, then enjoy it.  By Thursday we should have it back I think.  I’m excited, dude, this is going to be your first, this is a brand new Tequila that just contacted us.  It’s called El Consuelo and the neat part about this, Rick, is that it’s organic and its kosher. I don’t know if you can see that down in there but that’s the organic and kosher seal.

Rick: USDA and is it Bioagricert?

Mike: Yeah, it’s Bioagricert and right now I think they are the only one in town but I understand that the CRT will soon be getting involved in certifying tequila. I’m not sure how that’s going to work, it will be interesting whether that becomes a reality at the end of the year.  Who knows? But for now, they were really cool.  They sent us information on the tequila.  I want to make sure.  Certified by, no, not Bioagricert its Mayacert.

Rick: Ah.

Mike: I have never heard of Mayacert, I’m going to do a little research on this one for my own sake, Mayacert that’s interesting.  It is organic however and it is or at least it’s being recognised as organic and it’s also kosher.

Rick: So that’s some information on their website too.  So you can use Jalapeño water as insecticide around their base so you know.*

* Pepper infused water is NOT used as an insecticide on El Consuelo’s agaves.  This is a website error.  No insecticides are used on the El Consuelo agaves.

Mike: Yeah, yeah.

Rick: Repels insects rather than using industrial chemicals.

Mike: Well you know they were nice enough to send us information, basically a press release with a lot of stuff in it from James Goll, who I believe is the 24 Group PR.

Rick: Well the company that produces the tequila is called tequila spirits LLC.

Mike: Right.

Rick: And then James Goll is the 24 Group PR marketing contact.

Mike: Ok. You know they reached out to us and bingo we got tequila.  I like their bottle it’s just a real simple bottle and it’s got a wood cork.

Rick: Yeah.

Mike: It’s a wood topper.

Rick: Natural cork.

Mike: Natural cork too, check that out.

Rick: It did leak a little when I got the bottle.

Mike: Yeah and you know when we got it, it was over a 100 degrees when we got our sample so we had a little bit of leakage. I’m going to use my Glencairn glass tonight, my little copita which I seem to really enjoy, look at that.

Rick: That’s a hefty pourer there.

Mike: That’s ok, it’s not like it’s going to go to waste.

Rick: Pay no attention to the man behind the wheel.

Mike: Yeah, (laughter) nice legs and tears, really.  I don’t know if you can see this, my lighting here is not the best but it pours really nicely, pretty pretty legs and tears, nothing runny, not too clingy.  The bottle itself, if you look at the bottle it’s got that hammered look.  I think, you haven’t had it yet Rick, but Papa Bueno Tequila comes in a bottle that’s got that hammered look, it looks like its hand blown.

Rick: It’s got that same texture to the glass as well.

Mike: Yeah, I like calling it that hammered metal, it’s got that hammered metal look to it but its glass. Really nice.  It handles nicely. It’s a nice bottle to pour from, really old school look at it.  Now what they said in the press material is that they’re using Webber agaves sourced from Jalisco in the Mexican region of Tequila which, if you read that correctly, if you take it word for word, it sounds like they’re using lowlands tequila at this distillery

Rick: 1570.

Mike: Yeah its 1570.

Rick: And it’s in Atotonilco.

Mike: I was probably just down the road from there when we visited Embahador but that’s a highlands distillery.

Rick: But on the bottle it says release out to the world.

Mike: Yeah, but their press material it says something else and so it’s a little confusing.

Rick: PR firms.

Mike: It’s press you know, so we will assume that they are using highlands tequila or highlands agaves.

Rick: It said on the website that they are using agaves from Altos.

Mike: Oh good. Ok.

Rick: It says they are 8 to 9 years old, organic, and are trimmed close when they harvest them.

Mike: Ok, we did not get, and I’m not even sure if they are available yet, Reposado and Anejo.  It seems like they are going to go way traditional with this.  The reposado was supposed to be six months aged and the anejo aged for 12 months.  Both are aged in cognac barrels* so it will be kind of nice to be able to taste those aged varietals.

*El Consuelo is not aged in cognac barrels.  El Consuelo ages their Reposado and Anejo in once-used Jack Daniels Whiskey Barrels.

Rick: Check that out, on their website they have some contradictory information.

Mike: What do they say on the website?

Rick: They said that the reposado was aged 11 months and that the anejo was 24 months and in those they also used, in addition to cognac, American Whiskey barrels.*

*This too is incorrect.  Cognac barrels are not used at all.

Mike: Well who do we believe?

Rick: I don’t know they will just have to send us the juice and let us decide.

Mike: That’s OK.  This is the start of it, so obviously you know the Blanco is the root of all good or evil.  I like the smell.  Its got that nice fruity, floral smell right on the tip of the nose.  You don’t even have to go dig very deep, very far, for it.

Rick: Right. Very fresh.

Mike: It’s a beautiful aroma.

Rick: Yeah and then you know I just cracked the seal on this today and nothing weird was coming off the top.  It didn’t need to oxidise or open up or anything.

Mike: No its very clean.  Very, very clean smelling. Obviously you can see the legs and tears off of my glass.  It’s perfect.  There is nothing that says this isn’t going to be good for you.

Rick: Yeah, and you know in their materials they really boast about doing everything in a traditional way, so you know I looked into it a little bit more.  They are using masonry ovens for extraction.  I was glad to see.  I loved this.  I see for their fermentation they are using a natural open air fermentation process and they are using stainless vats.  They also say they are using a proprietary exclusive yeast, so its exclusive to El Consuelo.

Mike: Well you know what that means right?

Rick: No.

Mike: When they say proprietary, you know the first thing that comes into my head is that this is a yeast that is coming from their own agaves.  It doesn’t say that they are estate grown agaves so I’m assuming that they are using yeast from agaves that they purchase and that’s the yeast that they are using.

Rick: So natural yeast from the plants that they are distilling, of course.

Mike: Right. Generally when you hear that it is because they are estate owned and then they produce their own yeast from their own plants and at least that’s the way I interpreted it.  I could be wrong.  They could be using, I don’t know, a Champaign yeast, but it doesn’t smell like it.  It smells just, you know, if anything I get some citrus notes on it.

Rick: You know that.

Mike: That lime zest. I’m getting lime zest again; I’m going to dig in here. Wow.

Rick: Ah, that’s just excellent.  I can’t find anything that I can…

Mike: Nothing to complain about.

Rick: There is nothing, there is nothing off, nothing strange, nothing peculiar its just wow, its luscious.

Mike: It’s not beefy either, it’s got a great finish.  You notice that finish lingers; it’s a lingering finish, a medium to long finish.

Rick: Yeah, I’m getting that great pepper sensation around the outside, the tongue and back of palate.

Mike: Yeah, this is a star man; this is a stellar, stellar stuff.

Rick: Well it’s great to see, you know, because they seem to really be something.  When I was looking at the website they were really pushing about how they are interested in their commitment to sustainability, social consciousness, and they say stuff like additive free with pure ingredients, with methods passed down through generations of Mexican farmers; their commitment to sustainability, social consciousness, for their farmers and their communities so it really seems like they are trying to develop a partnership with the growers and the distillery.

Mike: It’s their method, like you said, the method where they use the *habanero peppered water to ward off insects rather than pesticides.

* Pepper infused water is NOT used as an insecticide on El Consuelo’s agaves.  This is a website error.  No insecticides are used on the El Consuelo agaves.


Rick:
Yeah.

Mike: It’s really interesting. Having grown my own green chillies in new Mexico I can tell you that the bugs don’t like them, ants don’t like them, there is something the heat, the oils in the chilis.  It just naturally doesn’t have, it’s not like a berry or a fruit when you have birds that will eat some of it or rabbits, nobody touches chili, they leave it alone so that’s kind of cool, that’s really neat they way they have gone to that.

Rick: And they also talk about their special bottling process.  I’m not sure how hard this is for the industry but they say that they wash their bottles; prior to bottling they wash their bottle in a tequila based solution.

Mike: Oh yeah.

Rick: Have you ever seen anything like that?

Mike: There are a few, as a matter of fact I just saw a video on facebook, I’m not exactly sure of the brand of the mezcal and they are showing you it’s a modern bottling facility but it only takes 3 bottles at a time which is kind of odd and they push it underneath the spouts.  The spouts flood, I mean literally wash the empty bottles before they are even filled and then they are turned over and drained like right away.  They move it over and then they are filled with the mescal.  I’m assuming it’s a similar process with the tequila but this was really a small bottling facility so I’m not sure.  I’ve never actually seen an automated bottling facility, but as far as I know, many of these bigger companies wash their bottles out this way.

Rick: This doesn’t seem to be a big distillery at all, it’s ALTOS CIENEGA UNIDOS.

Mike: You know I have my.

Rick: I think they only have 3 brands now the NOM started in June of 2010 and El Consuelo was one of the first marks listed with them but they are saying that El Consuelo was launched into 2016 but they also say that its rich in heritage but I’m not sure if they are saying that this is the process that they are using.

Mike: Yeah.

Rick: Or if this is previously brought up in Mexico and its now available in the US.

Mike: I think what happens is they’re taking some liberties with the information but, you know, the fact of the matter is they are making it in the old school way and you are right, I’m looking at the current NOM list, and from what I can see they have 4 brands that are coming out of there right now so um, that’s a good thing.

Rick: Yeah.

Mike: You know there.

Rick: My guess is that this NOM has been working with the folks behind El Consuelo the longest to make this happen but you know I’m glad they did this.  As you know, this is really what I love to see and you know I love the kind of citrus nose and feel.

Mike: I love that finish at the end too, you know it’s not all perfumes and flowers you know its once you inspect it.  You know you have had tequila and it’s not as much in your face as maybe some of the tequila’s we have had from Amatitan, but this is what its famous for.  I wouldn’t call it a typical tequila, there is not such thing to me, but if you are looking for a flavour profile that you are used to getting out of Highlands tequila then drink this one because its organic and small batch.  We were talking about the top 10 list for USA Today a little while ago.  Had we known these people had been around, they’re probably had to find right now, but maybe next time a list like that comes around, it could be available and in much larger qualities and added to that list.

Rick: Again let’s nominate them for Brand of Promise.

Mike: Nominated for Brand of Promise in the organic category, such a lovely tequila.  Congratulations to the company and everything that they are doing there.  Tequila Spirits LLC, I think is the owner of the brand and did you say that the company is going to come out with traditional spirits also?

Rick: Yeah, yeah, that because of their drive that they have for sustainability and social consciousness and the production process, they are also looking to release a rum, a vodka and a gin with that same kind of commitment.

Mike: Well there you go.

Rick: That’s great, it’s always wonderful to see people trying to do the right thing and producing something that really comes out great.

Mike: We are not sure what the price points will be or are on this tequila.  It’s a wait and see, but keep an eye out for it.  It’s called El Consuelo, I think you’re right, Brand of Promise for the Blanco.  So there you go, that’s our take on this tequila.  I’m Morales here in San Antonio.

Rick: Right, well I’m Rick Levy in San Diego.

Mike: And you’ve been watching Sipping off the Cuff on Tequila Aficionado Media, www.tequilaaficionado.com.  Please subscribe to the channel down below in the red button, you will be really, really happy and so will we.

Rick: Push red buttons.

Mike: Yeah, push that red button.  Well, as we like to say at Tequila Aficionado, “Tomar Sabiamente”.

 

Sipping off the Cuff | El Consuelo Tequila Reposado

Sipping off the Cuff | El Consuelo Tequila Anejo

Follow El Consuelo Tequila online: Facebook | Pinterest | Instagram | Twitter

El Consuelo Anejo Tequila Review

 

 

Sipping off the Cuff | El Consuelo Tequila Anejo http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4TJEl Consuelo’s tequilas are made in small batches. The Reposado and Añejo are single-barrel aged in Cognac barrels, achieving rich amber colors and unique full-bodied flavors with hints of barrel wood alongside the delicate agave flavors. Our Reposado is aged for 6 months and our Añejo for 12 months.

FTC Disclaimer: All samples are received free of charge but no payment is accepted by Tequila Aficionado or its agents for reviews. All reviews are the opinions of those participating in the tasting and positive reviews are never guaranteed.

El Consuelo Reposado Tequila Review

 

Sipping off the Cuff | El Consuelo Tequila Anejo http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4TJEl Consuelo’s tequilas are made in small batches. The Reposado and Añejo are single-barrel aged in Cognac barrels, achieving rich amber colors and unique full-bodied flavors with hints of barrel wood alongside the delicate agave flavors. Our Reposado is aged for 6 months and our Añejo for 12 months.

Milagro Anejo Tequila Review

milagro-anejo__72137_zoomMilagro Tequila Anejo

Milagro Añejo is an estate-grown, 100% blue agave tequila which is aged in American oak barrels for a minimum of 14 months and a maximum of 24 months. The aging results in a taste that is smooth, refined and still agave-forward.
COLOR Pale amber
NOSE Caramel, coconut, toasted oak
TASTE Caramel and coconut with chocolate, tobacco and tropical fruit notes, and a sweet, yet spicy finish

 

 

Sipping Off The Cuff™

Sipping Off The Cuff™ began as an audio podcast in 2006 and is Tequila Aficionado’s first and longest running tequila review program.

Sipping Off The Cuff(TM) is broadcast every Friday (and occasionally Tuesdays) on YouTube and TequilaAficionado.com. If you are a Tequila, Mezcal or Sotol brand owner and would like your product(s) reviewed on an upcoming episode of Sipping Off The Cuff(TM), please contact Mike@TequilaAficionado.com.

The BIG Business of Kosher Tequila, Part II

[An urgent text message about Kosher tequilas from an agave beverage manager at a thriving new bar in New York City, and the resulting questions raised from research into this misunderstood market from all points–tequila and mezcal brand owners, consumers, and rabbinical representatives of the Jewish faith–prompted me to finally discuss the positive, often flawed, and vastly under served kosher tequila and mezcal segments of the market.]

But first, if you’re a…

Tequila or Mezcal Brand Owner

…take a quick peek at Part 1, in case you’re still in the dark about what being kosher means.

Next, before you decide whether being certified kosher is the right move for your brand, here are a few things to consider.

Reliability

siembra_azulDoes the rabbinic field representative of the kosher certifying agency actually understand the tequila or mezcal making process?  Is this person willing to do his due diligence?  And, is he willing to be on-site and to participate at each stage of the certification process?

David Suro, importer and brand owner of the famed Siembra Spirits brands of tequila and mezcal, recalled only positive experiences with the rabbi who oversaw the kosher certification of the first batches of his tequila, Siembra Azul.

“The rabbi was thorough and always there,” recalls Suro.  “I was very comfortable with someone who cared that much.”

(Tequila Treasure Bottle Hunters take note:  Only the first three batches of Siembra Azul were ever designated kosher.)

Is It A Hassle?

Depending on the agency you use, your particular distillery, and if your processes and recipes are consistent, you may be subjected to only one on-site audit and subsequent annual fees to continue using the kosher seal.

Other agencies could require unannounced visits by rabbinical field representatives to determine if your brand should continue to carry its hechsher.

What About Going Organic?

dulce vida, tequila, reposadoRichard Sorenson, founder of Dulce Vida Tequila that is both organic and kosher, admits that the company tends to focus more on being certified organic, but doesn’t feel the two certifications “…are mutually exclusive, but go hand-in-hand.”

This helpful article on the EarthKosher website could help you weigh the differences and similarities of the two certifications.

What’s All This Gonna Cost?

Here’s where it gets sticky.

Depending on the brand’s (or distillery’s) needs, an approximate cost could range from $25,000 pesos ($1437.98) per year, to tens of thousands of dollars– per batch!

The price varies from business to business, and from industry to industry.  Your best bet is to get an on-site estimate from a respected agency and then determine…

What’s My ROI on Kosher Tequila? 

Baron-TequilaDepending on which estimates you believe, you could be missing out on your cut of a multi-billion dollar market.

With the spirits industry anxious to tap into Millennials, you might heed the words of Mordy Dicker, Executive Vice President of Business Development for KEDEM/Kayco, who was quoted in this 2015 Kosherfest press release, “‘People think positively about kosher food.  It’s become trendy.’  Dicker said millennials, vegetarians and people who are glucose intolerant can now find what they need in the kosher space.”

Perhaps they should be looking for your tequila or mezcal, as well?

***

If you’re a tequila or mezcal aficionado and want to “keep kosher,” or simply a consumer looking for new kosher sipping experiences to share with your friends and family, we’ll show you how in Part 3.

The BIG Business of Kosher Tequila, Part I

[An urgent text message about Kosher tequilas from an agave beverage manager at a thriving new bar in New York City, and the resulting questions raised from research into this misunderstood market from all points–tequila and mezcal brand owners, consumers, and rabbinical representatives of the Jewish faith–prompted me to finally discuss the positive, often flawed, and vastly under served kosher tequila and mezcal segments of the market.]

A Rant on Kosher Tequila…

For years, anyone who’s ever searched for a current list of kosher tequilas has no doubt been directed to the website of the largest regional Jewish Orthodox organization in North America, the Chicago Rabbinical Council (cRc).

Those same persons were tragically disheartened by the woefully meager list of kosher tequilas–and these days–unmentioned mezcals.  And of the brands that were listed, more often than not, were now, sadly, extinct.

This old, outdated, and unreliable list is not only supposed to be a guide to fully enjoy and appreciate the Jewish holidays and to help “keep kosher” year round, but it also serves Muslims, Seventh Day Adventists, Vegetarians, Vegans and even people who are lactose or glucose intolerant.

So…

What Exactly Is Kosher, Anyway?

kosher_def-filtered

For us gentiles (non-Jews), Kashrut is the set of Jewish religious dietary laws.  Food that may be consumed according to halakha (Jewish law) is deemed kosher meaning fit, and in this case, fit for eating or drinking.

In every case, approved products are given a hechsher, a rabbinical seal of approval, by a trusted and reputable kosher certifying agency that signifies the food or drink conforms to Jewish law.

Here’s a helpful Kosher glossary of terms.

quely-obtains-the-kosher-certificationHistorically, the practice of marking food as kashrut dates back as far as the Byzantine period (6th century CE) where Jews of a particular region in Israel stamped their bread dough with impressions of the Jewish Temple Menorah in order for consumers to verify its kashrut.

In 1911, soap manufacturer, Procter & Gamble became the first company to advertise a new product, Crisco, as kosher.  Over the next twenty years, companies with household names like Lender’s Bagels, Maxwell House, and Manischewitz grew the kosher market.  And who can forget that famous slogan for Hebrew National hotdogs?–“We answer to a Higher Authority.”

Decades later, kosher has come to symbolize both quality and value.  It has also become a very lucrative market according Menachem Lubinsky, founder of the annual two-day Kosherfest trade fair.  As of 2015, he estimates there are as many as 14 million kosher consumers that generate $40 billion in sales of kosher products in the US alone.

Other sources estimate that over $150 billion of kosher-certified products are consumed every year in the US.

Kosher Certifying Agencies

A kosher certification agency is an organization that bestows a hechsher to ingredients, packaged foods, beverages, and certain materials, as well as food-service providers and facilities in which kosher food is prepared or served.  This certification verifies that the ingredients, production methods, and/or food-service processes and utensils complies with the standards of kashrut.

To be certified requires periodic onsite visits, sometimes unannounced, by mashgichim (rabbinic field representatives) in order to verify ongoing compliance.

Today, the largest kosher certification agencies in the United States, known as the “Big Five,” certify more than 80 percent of the kosher food sold domestically.  These five agencies are: the OU, OK, Kof-K, Star-K, and cRc

most_commonK

Other respected kosher certifying agencies around the globe include:

EarthKosher based in Colorado, the logo of both the Johannesburg/Cape Town Beth Din used in South Africa, MK headquartered in Montreal, Canada, and The Kashrut Authority in Sydney, Australia.  Operating across six continents including the United Kingdom, KLBD, based in London, is the Kashrut Division of the London Beth Din.

By far, the greatest number of agencies seems to be in the USA.

Kashrus Magazine publishes a bi-annual guide to almost all kosher certifying agencies worldwide.  As with the tequila NOM lists, the number of agencies, just like the number of tequila brands and distilleries, fluctuates from year to year.  At press time, this number is between 1,151 to 1,253.

When In Mexico…

In Mexico and throughout Latin America, however, KA-Kosher  and Kosher Maguen David (KMD) rule the roost when it comes to certifying products as kosher.

KA Kosher, Kosher

As per KA-Kosher’s Facebook page:

“El sello KA KOSHER es el único en México aprobado por el Tribunal Rabínico de Israel.  Es el logo de la Comunidad Ashkenazí, el único en Latinoamérica aprobado por el Alto Tribunal Rabínico de Israel.  Bajo su sello se encuentran marcas como Nestlé, JUMEX, Del Monte, LALA y casi 500 empresas más.”

(“The KA-KOSHER seal is the only one in Mexico approved by the Rabbinical Tribunal of Israel [Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel].  It is the logo of the Ashkenazi community, the only one in Latin America approved by the High Rabbinical Tribunal of Israel [again, Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel].  Beneath its seal are such brands as Nestlé, JUMEX, Del Monte, LALA and almost 500 more companies.”)

KMD, kosher

KMD’s current website makes even bolder claims such as “Es la empresa líder en certificación kosher en Latinoamérica” (“The leading company in kosher certification in Latin America.”).

It also cites statistics that Mexico is the fourth largest kosher market behind Israel, the United States, and France, and that sales of kosher products, presumably in these countries, exceeds non-kosher sales by 20 percent.  KMD also states that 80 percent of kosher sales are to non-Jewish consumers.

KMD, stems from the Sephardic community of Jews and is known to follow the strictest codes and standards of kashrut, referred to as Mehadrin.

 Decisions, Decisions…

states, jewish

Similar to organic certifying agencies, having your tequila or mezcal brand approved as kosher requires that you hire one of these kosher certifying agencies.  Like buying a car, you don’t necessarily need to purchase one from a local dealership.

You can go anywhere in the world, but with so many certifying agencies and what seems like varying degrees of inspection, can you feel confident about purchasing their services?

Who Do You Trust?

If you’re a tequila or mezcal brand owner considering certification, we’ll offer some tips and steps you can take in Part 2.