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This old, outdated, and unreliable list is not only supposed to be a guide to fully enjoy and appreciate the Jewish holidays and to help “keep kosher” year round, but it also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.

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!

Jessica’s Journey – Epic Marketing or Sauza History Lesson?

Epic Marketing or Sauza History Lesson?

You Be the Judge

Part 3 in Jessica’s Epic Journey

By Jessica Arent, Tequila Aficionado Contributor

Sauza History, tequila, jessica arent, tequila aficionado, la cofradia, jaime sauza, cuervo, distillery, wine, dobecq, brandyMy second day in Mexico was focused on the product and team brainstorming for a market launch. Believe me when I say Mel Gibson’s character in “What Women Want” wasn’t so far off in the process of branding and advertising. Total immersion into the product to help identify the audience, and the creativity necessary to capture the attention of the targeted audience can be taxing, especially when the tasting begins before the first cappuccino.

I walked into the meeting feeling the weight of travel, the mess of humidity, and trying to pull myself together. Guadalajara has a humid climate and the morning had already proven challenging with the struggle to tame my ever-frizzing hair. If you have ever attempted to straighten and smooth naturally curly hair in humid climates you know this can be an exercise in futility and frustrating endeavor, and yet we still attempt the battle. It tends to leave you irritable and makes for a difficult start to the day…until there was tequila? For breakfast? No way!!!

Several unmarked bottles sat on the table along with dozens of glasses.

And so the work day began, with a flute of 5-year Anejo in one hand and a double cappuccino in the other. . .

While I will not bore you with the details of the work day and the brainstorming that went into it, I will say that I felt like I consumed more tequila on this day than I have in all my years of drinking! 5-year, Plata, Reposado, 7-year…

Glass after glass, note after note…

It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

What?! It’s work!!

The truth is, while an extraordinary team, the incredible opportunity to work side by side with Jaime Sauza, and garner some of his knowledge and the rich family history that is his in the world of tequila, was without a doubt an incredible experience, and it was exactly this way that I spent the work day, collaborating with this extraordinary man…

Sauza History

Sauza History, tequila, jessica arent, tequila aficionado, la cofradia, jaime sauza, cuervo, distillery, wine, dobecq, brandyOriginally considered “Mexican Moonshine”, the poor man’s drink, Don Cenobio Sauza recognized opportunity early on(“Don” makes you think of the Godfather, doesn’t it?) In 1873 Don Cenobio Sauza founded Sauza Tequila at “La Perseverancia” distillery. He was the first distiller to call the spirit produced from the blue agave plant “tequila”, and the first to export the drink to the United States.

The Story goes like this….

Don Cenobio Sauza was born on a farm in Jalisco, Mexico. He was the third child of Hilario Sauza and Doña Margarita Madrigal Navarro. He worked on his father’s farm along with his siblings Adelaida, Juana, Fernanda, Luis and Herminia until he was sixteen. In 1858 Cenobio traveled to Tequila to visit his cousin Ramon Corona Madrigal. Enamored with the countryside and the rich soil, Cenobio settled in Tequila and got a job working at the distillery of José Antonio Gómez Cuervo. There he learned how to farm agave and distill mezcal-tequila.

Cenobio began to export mezcal-tequila from Tequila to other parts of the country. In 1870, no longer content to just sell, Sauza leased the “La Gallardeña” distillery from Lazaro Gallardo. Sauza saw great success, and three years later, on September 1, 1873 , purchased the “La Antigua Cruz” (The Old Cross) distillery (the oldest registered tequila distillery, founded in 1805 by José Maria Castañeda) from Don Felix Lopez. The transaction equated to 5,000 pesos and he promptly renamed it “La Perseverancia” (Perseverance).The former employee of Cuervo had successfully founded Sauza Tequila and become one of Cuervo’s great rivals.

In 1873 Sauza was the first to export tequila to the United States; crossing through the border at El Paso del Norte (present day Ciudad Juarez) carrying three casks and six jugs of his mezcal-tequila. This was the beginning of the export market for tequila.

The arrival of the railroad in Tequila, Jalisco, increased Sauza’s business and in 1889 he purchased the “La Gallardeña” distillery from Lazaro Gallardo. That same year he purchased the “Hacienda de San Martin de las Cañas”. This became Sauza’s headquarters and was simply known as “La Hacienda Cenobio”. Here he planted more than 2 million agave and started producing an estimated 800 casks of tequila per year. He purchased and sold thirteen more distilleries and numerous fields of agave, always working at least three at a time in order to remain the leader in tequila production and sales. Don Cenobio is credited with determining that the blue agave was the best agave for tequila in the 1890. Obviously the rest followed suit.

Sauza History, tequila, jessica arent, tequila aficionado, la cofradia, jaime sauza, cuervo, distillery, wine, dobecq, brandyDon Cenobio’s son, Don Eladio Sauza, was born in Tequila in 1883. At age 20 Eladio moved to Tecolotlan to take charge of his father’s distillery, “La Hacienda La Labor”. It was there that he learned the business of producing and selling tequila. Later, he moved to Mazatlán, a major port in the Northeastern part of Mexico, to establish a Sauza Tequila distribution center in order to increase exportation.

Upon Don Cenobio’s death in 1909, Eladio returned to Guadalajara to mourn his father and to take control of the Sauza Tequila Empire. Shortly thereafter, the Mexican Revolution threatened to expropriate Eladio’s business and farmland. During the Revolution, Eladio rallied patriotic sentiment and helped to establish tequila as the official spirit of Mexico.

Eladio modernized and expanded the family business by opening branches in Monterrey and Mexico City, as well as a concession in Spain. When Don Eladio Sauza died at the age of 63 on July 22, 1946, he left the Sauza Tequila business to his firstborn son, Francisco Javier Sauza

The Third Generation is Born

Sauza History, tequila, jessica arent, tequila aficionado, la cofradia, jaime sauza, cuervo, distillery, wine, dobecq, brandyFrancisco Javier Sauza was born in Tecolotlan, Mexico on December 8, 1903 to Don Eladio Sauza and Doña Silveria Mora Enriquez. Francisco Javier Sauza, like his father, was raised on tequila, and in the family tradition of his father and his grandfather he too grew to become part of the family legacy.

When Javier Sauza took over Tequila Sauza, shortly before his father’s death in 1946, he began at once to change the image of tequila from a “drink of the campesinos” to a refined spirit of the upper classes. His competitors scoffed when he redesigned the bottles and labels for a more tasteful look and began to age some of the tequila in wooden barrels for a smoother taste and color.  He took his product to fairs and expositions throughout Mexico, the United States, and Europe, and promoted it as “the drink of romance.” He also modernized production and transportation systems and built a bottling plant in Guadalajara.

In 1950, Francisco Javier added the Sauza Hornitos brand to the Sauza family of tequila. In 1963, he created Sauza Conmemorativo, a tequila that commemorated the 90th anniversary of the La Perseverancia distillery.

In 1973, to celebrate 100 years since the founding of the La Perseverancia distillery, Sauza created a specially aged tequila that he presented in a limited edition, green ceramic bottle. He called his creation Tres Generaciones in honor of the three generations that had produced Sauza Tequila: Don Cenobio, Don Eladio and Don Francisco Javier.

Traveling throughout Europe and Asia, Sauza grew concerned about the number of “pseudo-tequilas” being produced. Working with other tequila producers from Jalisco, Francisco lobbied President Jose Lopez Portillo saying, “Tequila is the only one made in the State of Jalisco, Mexico.” On December 9, 1974 the Label of Integrity decree stated that true tequila only came from the State of Jalisco.

Sauza History, tequila, jessica arent, tequila aficionado, la cofradia, jaime sauza, cuervo, distillery, wine, dobecq, brandyFrancisco Javier continued his father and grandfather’s legacy, but in 1988, for personal reasons, he decided to sell the Sauza Tequila business to Mexican brandy producer Pedro Domecq. The tequilas Sauza innovated – Sauza, Hornitos, Tres Generaciones – are still in production. Today Sauza owns about 300 agave plantations and is the second largest tequila manufacturer in the world.

The Fifth Generation

And here I was, spending my day working side by side with Jaime Sauza, the great, great grandson of Cenobio Sauza, getting the education of a lifetime in tequila. It just doesn’t get much better than this.

Or does it?

Well, that’s another segment anyway.

The end of the day had me returning to the hotel to change into cocktail attire for the evening ahead. Still wrestling with the humidity and the unruly mass that was once my hair, I managed to pull myself together (after an ice cold shower and having room service deliver a double espresso) and hustle back to the office for a “roof top CATA”.  Stepping into the elevator I smoothed down my dress, and checked my makeup in the reflection of the doors one last time. As the elevator approached the roof, I could hear a Spanish guitar and the tinkling of glasses.

Then the Doors Opened

Sauza History, tequila, jessica arent, tequila aficionado, la cofradia, jaime sauza, cuervo, distillery, wine, dobecq, brandyI walked into the most elegant setting I could imagine. A pergola covered the rooftop with climbing bougainvillea in vibrant colors. Elegant wicker seating with crisp white linen cushions was strategically placed for lounging and open conversation. Small teak tables, dressed with glowing candle lanterns and aromatic orchids in purples and whites were the centerpieces of the seating arrangements.

In one corner stood a bar with dozens of amber colored unmarked bottles.  Mike Vernardo, the master mixologist brought in from Austin, Texas, masterfully created artistic libations, served by four beautiful young Mexican women wearing little black dresses and engaging smiles.

The League of Extraordinary “Tequilans”

Sauza History, Mike Vernardo, tequila, jessica arent, tequila aficionado, la cofradia, jaime sauza, cuervo, distillery, wine, dobecq, brandyOut across the terrace the sun was setting over Guadalajara, in hues of pinks and oranges and purples and the lights of the city slowly came on.  As I looked around I saw the most beautiful people begin to come in to the party. Elegant, sophisticated women of Guadalajara on the arms of distinguished gentlemen, and as I began to mingle, I came to realize every attendee was a part of the process of the production of Tequila. From the General Director of La Cofradia Distillery, and his wife, to the master bottle cap maker, who works in precious metals of gold, silver and copper to make the cap and label of this emerging product, to the glass bottle designer himself, and their respective wives. Every person that walked into this party had some part in the creation of an extraordinary elixir from Tequila. I felt as though I was in a League of Extraordinary “Tequilans”.

Not long into the evening, Jaime arrived with his beautiful wife, and the party really got started. Charismatic and congenial, Jaime began to expound on the notes and virtues of each of the samplings of the evening. Elaborating on the legs, crown and brilliance of each, he offered his insights on comparisons and values. Although this might sound dry to some, Jaime’s communicated his thoughts congenially with a touch of humor and was entertaining and engaging. Who wouldn’t be mesmerized by a man who can conclude a tequila lesson with a course in popping a champagne cork with his glass stem?

Sauza History, tequila, jessica arent, tequila aficionado, la cofradia, jaime sauza, cuervo, distillery, wine, dobecq, brandyIt’s true. . . Jaime is very versatile!

Waiters in white jackets and great big smiles weaved in and out with delicious food pairings that included fresh ceviche in guacamole sauce served in shot glasses, miniature ranchero tacos, and Ahi tartar tostadas.  The menu was created exclusively by Josue Banuelos for the tequilas we tasted that evening. Mike mixed incredibly creative concoctions of epic proportions out of recipes specifically designed around this tequila, and a joyful mood of what could only be described as “success” filled the air.

I think we all knew we were on to something extraordinary, something epic…

This Cinderella turned in her dancing shoes and cocktail dress for pajamas and a nightcap not long before midnight. My nightcap was a special “gift” given to me by my new friend Jaime.  I fell in love with this dream libation after one sip. An unlikely recipe, this “moonshine” (let’s face it, isn’t it really “moonshine” until it has a NOM, label, and is legal the eyes of the CRT?) takes you to Italy and Mexico at the same time in a seamless blend of liquid perfection.

I cannot tell you more yet, but I can tell you it was the perfect finish to my day.

I closed my eyes in anticipation of the next day and the adventure that lay in before me and drifted off to dreamland.

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Read the continuation of Jessica’s Journey coming soon!

 

jessica Arent, Sauza History, tequila, jessica arent, tequila aficionado, la cofradia, jaime sauza, cuervo, distillery, wine, dobecq, brandyJessica Arent has spent her career steeped in the Hispanic culture. Passionate about the Latin culture and experiencing roles that have taken her from television to digital marketing throughout the United States and Mexico, Jessica’s passion for Mexico runs in her blood. An accomplished writer, Mexico is where her heart lives and is the focus of her work and writing.  Specializing in marketing Hispanic based products and services, Jessica will tell you there are few people in the world or places she has traveled, from Asia to Europe and in between, who compare to the Mexican culture.  Building websites such as ALL ABOUT MEXICO and fostering the marketing endeavors of a number of tequila products, to name a few, Jessica sets out to inspire the world around her, one person, one relationship at a time, to know and understand the culture she calls home.  Jessica is a partner at Intermountain Media, LLC, the Communications and Media Director of Terra Energy Resources Corp, and shares other travel and tequila adventures on her blog, Jessica’s Mexico.

 
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Embajador Tequila–Building a Legacy

embajador tequila, tequila aficionado, tequila

After a tiring day of meetings and visiting key accounts in Austin, TX, Andres Garcia, Regional Sales Manager for family owned Embajador Tequila, was kind enough to visit with us in our San Antonio offices of Tequila Aficionado Media.  Over pizza and pours of Embajador reposado, Andres shared some insights into the SIP Award winning tequila brand.

We Are Family

In this clip, Andres tells how he and his wife, Esmeralda, first became involved with the estate grown Embajador tequila, as well as some of the symbolism depicted on the bottle.

Shortly after their return from Mexico, Andres continued his preparation by seeking guidance from his father on Embajador’s flavor profile and potential in the tequila market.

Continuing Education is Key

Relentless in his pursuit of proper preparation, Andres discusses the value of continuing education.  He also reveals that by working with famed Maestra Tequilera, Ana Maria Romero Mena, he has improved his tasting techniques in the field, and has amped up his appreciation for the entire tequila process.

The Pride of Telling Your Story

In this clip, Andres admits his passion for the family brand and why he prefers to conduct his own event tastings.

In this snippet, Andres shares how he separates Embajador tequila from the rest of the pack when visiting potential customers.

Slow And Steady

A handful of well known brands already come from the distillery (NOM 1509), but Andres has no illusions of what it will take to make its flagship Embajador tequila successful.

Savvy Guerilla Marketing

Andres & Esmeralda  with FluffyAside from entering carefully selected tasting competitions like the SIP Awards, Andres has also sought unique ways to help promote Embajador.

Embajador tequila signature cocktails are featured prominently on the brand’s website including a whimsical drink inspired by and dedicated to popular Latino stand-up comic, Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias, himself a fan of Embajador.

Mariachi Nuevo TecalitlanThe family has also partnered with Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlan one of the hottest mariachi groups in Mexico.  As they travel globally, these talented mariachis bestow special bottles of Embajador (ambassador, in Spanish) to foreign dignitaries at each Mexican embassy they visit.

Additionally, understanding the value in being a start up company, Embajador was a sponsor of the female led indy film Salt, Liquor, Lime in which they received prominent product placement.

Here, Andres relates the extent of the family’s long term commitment even in the midst of the current agave shortage, as well as a scoop on an upcoming release to its line of award winning expressions. [Spoiler Alert!]

 Not To Go Wide, But To Go Deep

Andres Garcia expresses the family’s philosophy on the future of Embajador tequila.

It’s obvious that the family is building more than just a brand.  They are creating a legacy that is focused on producing quality tequila.

“After all,” concludes Andres Garcia, “tequila is Mexico and we are proud to be one of its Ambassadors.”

Follow Embajador Tequila Online

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Craft Tequila–WTF Does THAT Mean? Part 2

Blurred Lines

Throughout Part 1, we employed the use of more adjectives and descriptors to define, describe and distinguish one booze from another in the same category, as well as to give the illusion that it is actually closer to another booze in the leading categories.

Words like award-winning, artisanal, small-run, limited-production, hand-crafted, and boutique are reused over and over.  So are micro-distilled, limited edition, small batch, small lot, organic (which we’ll cover in-depth in a future article), single village, homespun, authentic, small-lot, prestige, signature, high end and reserve.

They all have real core meanings, but because we see them repeatedly in ads, billboards, packaging, shelf talkers and point of sale (POS) materials, the lines between meaning and true definitions get blurred.

Has anyone actually ever been to Los Camachines, where Gran Centenario is made?
Has anyone actually ever been to Los Camachines, where Gran Centenario is made?]

For instance, the definition of the word premium as defined by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) is actually a pricing term.  To the average consumer, however, it has come to mean quality.  And when consumers’ buying habits change and trade up, it has become known as premiumization.

There’s no chance of spirits marketers discontinuing the use of the Tequila Marketing Myth of borrowing benefits any time soon.  How, then, do we really define and measure a craft tequila?

We’ll show you how in a moment, but let’s get two things straight right here–

Remember Fact #1?  Tequila belongs in Mexico.

Though some American micro-distilleries have attempted to distill small batches of agave spirits, it has proven difficult and labor intensive due to it being produced from a plant that takes years to mature as opposed to grains, hops, and grapes that yield more frequent harvests.

It would be silly to define and measure craft tequila in ways that relate to wine, beer and other spirits created in the United States and abroad.  There may be no boundaries in spirits marketing, but to impose limits on the number of barrels, bottles and cases manufactured and sold by a tequila distillery in order to measure a craft product would have no jurisdiction whatsoever in Mexico.  Secondly–

There Is No Backpedaling

The Beer Wench, Ashley Routson said it best when interviewed for this article:

“No one wants to fault the big guys for being successful–that is not what this argument is about.  My main question is–how big is too big?  And as long as a company stays independently-owned, does that mean it will always be craft?”

Indeed, both the craft beer and spirits segments are growing at such a fast rate, that the Brewer’s Association has changed its definition multiple times.   This has allowed the burgeoning brewers more room to expand.  And as spirits writer, Wayne Curtis, discusses in this article from The Atlantic, the alarming growth rate of small distilleries is having an effect on the quality of the finished craft product due to a shortage of experienced distillers.

As a consequence of this exponential growth, in both the craft beer and craft spirits categories, the process–the art form itself–is getting watered down.

*Rant Alert!*

Let’s face it–

No backpedaling!
No backpedaling!

No one gets into the tequila business to be a failure.  Everyone wants to be on top.  And once you get there, the challenge is to stay on top.  We know how arduous the tequila hero’s journey is.

No one with a business plan ever said, “I’m going to mass produce my lousy tequila and once I’ve flooded the shelves with my swill and lost market share, I’m going to distill a tequila the old fashioned way.”

Don’t pretend to continue to still make your tequila like you have over the past 250 years, either.  You are not that home based family operation still harvesting agaves by mule and macerating piñas with a tahona, any more.  That family’s history was forgotten when the brand was sold.

And just because you build a separate, smaller facility on your distillery property to produce a more labor intensive line (and even petition to do so under another NOM number!) when you have never attempted to do so in the first place, does not make your more expensive line a craft tequila.

Moreover, just because you happen to be a colossal consumer of agave, still being emulated for your unique style of 80’s spirits marketing, and prefer to see things differently, don’t expect the rest of us to swallow your slant.

The Craft Tequila Gauntlet

El Tesoro handmade tequila.
El Tesoro handmade tequila.

Following are some tips and suggestions that may help guide you in making more informed decisions when selecting, defining and measuring a craft tequila.

#1:  NOM list

By Mexican law, every tequila must display a number that corresponds to the legal representative, tequila producer or distillery in which it was produced.  Tracing that number to the CRT’s list of distilleries, you can discover what other brands are manufactured under that specific number, and presumably, in that specific factory.

Logic dictates that the fewer labels a fabrica (factory) produces means more care should be taken with its one or two flagship brands.  Logic also dictates the opposite when you see many different brands appearing under a particular NOM number.

Whether the distillery produces only a few lines, or many contract brands for others, is not necessarily a sign of the tequila’s craftiness or quality, but it’s a start.

You can view and download the most recent NOM lists from our website here.

#2:  Pedigree

Don Felipe Camarena
Don Felipe Camarena

Taking a pointer from panel expert, Chriz Zarus’ now industry classic article, “Change is at Hand for the Tequila Market, Part II,” a craft brand with a good chance of survival in the market will be one that “You, your distillery, and your brand have generations of lineage.”

Meet-the-Maker dinner pairings, industry meetings and on-premise tastings showcasing a craft tequila will more than likely feature the brand owner or the master distiller behind the brand.

In some cases, a well respected Brand Ambassador (not the gal or guy with the tight t-shirt!) will stand in for the owner if there is a scheduling conflict.

Again, this is not a guarantee of craftiness or quality, but most family owned brands will stand behind (or in front) of their tequila with pride.

#3:  Distillery ownership/partnership/co-op

Another tip from Zarus’ treatise that could be useful in determining whether a craft tequila will be successful or not is, “Your company does…own at least a portion of the distillery that produces your product.”

This was successfully accomplished by the owners of Suerte Tequila, one of the few still produced with a tahona (milling stone).  In order to ensure the quality of their tequila and to regulate the brand’s eventual growth, Lance Sokol and Laurence Spiewak purchased the distillery.

Does your craft tequila have some skin in the game?  Most good ones do and will proudly make that information public.

#4:  Agave and land ownership

Similar to #3 above, some craft brands are owned by families with ties to the land and own their own agave.  In some instances, they may or may not own all or a portion of the distillery where they produce their tequila.

In the midst of this current agave shortage, this one asset could make or break a craft brand.  This information should be readily available in POS material, but is also not a guarantee of quality or craftiness.

#5:  Use of a Diffuser

While considered a legitimate tool in tequila production efficiency and has the full blessing of the CRT, it is a dead give away that shortcuts are being taken.

As noted agave ethno-botanist, Ana Valenzuela so succinctly declared in this open letter…

“…prohibir el uso de difusores (hidrólisis de jugos de agave) que les quita “el alma” (el sabor a agave cocido) a nuestros destilados, únicos en el mundo por su complejidad aromatic y de sabores.”

[“…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.”]

El Tesoro's tahona, still in use.
El Tesoro’s tahona, still in use.

This is also in keeping with Zarus’ definition of preserving the process as the art form or craft outlined in Part 1.

Using a diffuser is a closely guarded secret by most mid-sized to large distilleries and hard to spot.  You can read more about them here.

#6:  Organic

If there are any products that deserve to be described with the aforementioned adjectives that spirits marketers are freely throwing around these days to denote a handcrafted tequila, mezcal, or other agave distillate, they are in the organic segment.

Stringent regulations are required in both farm to distillery, and then from factory to bottle, to be given the designation organic and the permission to use the USDA seal that appears prominently on the labels.

By virtue of being organic, the process is considered much more natural and is inherently small batched.

But, not every brand has the budget to become a certified organic tequila.  In addition, some brands may simply not see the value of being certified as organic, especially since some organic certifying agencies have been looked upon distrustfully in recent years.

Still, it could arguably be the most reliable indicator of a craft agave distillate.

#7:  Transparency

This might be the toughest test of all.

As we mentioned above, many brands prefer to play their cards close to the vest.  By the same token, many family owned brands are fiercely proud of their origins and will gladly tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Is your craft tequila brand willing to tell you their story, or just tell you a story?

Many of the more popular craft tequila brands are helmed by creators who are delightfully flamboyant and outspoken, as well.

 Craft by Any Other Name

As our reader in Part 1 stated, the meaning of craft is “all over the place” and then some.

Spirits marketers using their powers for evil.
Spirits marketers using their powers for evil.

With mixology being the leading trend driving the spirits industry and demand for better ingredients on the rise, this means quality tequila is essential for those creating crafted cocktails (there’s that word again!).

But, with  the invention of the wildly popular michelada cocktail, a margarita (which is the favorite way Americans consume tequila) served with a beer bottle upside down in a margarita glass, and chilled tequila on tap, there will surely be more cross pollination between adult beverage categories.

We’ve already seen this with tequila brands selling their used aging barrels to small brewers to create signature craft beers, as well as tequila aged in barrels bought from other brand named spirits.

This will only lead to even more crossovers between categories caused by inspired spirits marketers, PR firms, uninformed spirits journalists, and multinational corporations.  Borrowing benefits has been the norm for some time.

There will always be those who deliberately hide the truth or feed false information to the media and practice opacity.  We can’t control what they will say and do.

The key is to become educated and informed about a tequila’s recipe and process.  Using the Craft Tequila Gauntlet above can certainly help in making the right choices.

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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!!