Review of Tequila! Distilling the Spirit of Mexico

Review of Tequila! Distilling the Spirit of Mexico https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5Q1There are too many fascinating facets to Marie Sarita Gaytan’s book, Tequila! Distilling the Spirit of Mexico.

Gaytan takes the reader on a sweeping journey of Aztec myths and legends, pre-and post colonial occupation; from the Mexican Revolution to Mexico’s Golden Age of Cinema, all the way up to 2014, the date of the book’s publication.

Written in an academic-style format, complete with footnotes and references, one realizes the scope of Gaytan’s daunting undertaking–

Detailing tequila’s trajectory from a drink just for “country people” to the spirit of a nation.

In every epoch explored, the author pinpoints where tequila (and pulque and mezcal) fit into the overall image of lo mexicano—what Ms. Gaytan refers to as “an idea, a sensibility, and the fiction that there exists a collective, unified Mexican national consciousness. The notion that there is one true way of being Mexican….”

Some of the memorable highlights exposed are:

–Pulque was seen as “associated with native identity and urban unrest” and “made it an unlikely contender to symbolize the modernizing [Mexican] nation.”

–Likewise, mezcal was seen as lacking the “symbolic capital” necessary to represent Mexico.

–Pancho Villa’s reputation as a violent bandit fueled by excessively drinking tequila was actually an image made up by the American Media, most notably, the Los Angeles Times, which arguably may have cost him his life.

–Mexican cinema (1936-1969), and its popular charro icons like Jorge Negrete and Pedro Infante, managed to indelibly imprint “macho” images and gender roles between men and women. Yet, there were a handful of women on screen, as well as on stage and in radio, who at the time successfully pushed the limits of these gender roles.

–The jimador, the Aztec goddess Mayahuel, and even the Virgen de Guadalupe have each been used to “portray Mexico as a simultaneously modern, unified and prestigiously prehistoric,” as well as, “…fostering the perception of a nostalgic indigenous past [that] is crucial for appearing to unite the population under a single—and easily commodified—Mexican identity.”

–Mexican state and federal officials, executives of transnational tequila companies, and the tourism industry help to fashion tequila as “…a vital and vibrant symbol of the nation.”

–Through the use of programs like the Distintivo T and others, individuals are recruited to “demonstrate their commitment not only to tequila but to the nation [of Mexico] itself.”

The most intriguing section of Tequila! Distilling the Spirit of Mexico, is by far the interviews Ms. Gaytan conducted with several individuals that examined consumers’ drinking traditions on both sides of the border.

Considering the current political climate between the United States and Mexico, and the present uncertainty surrounding NAFTA, the outcomes of these interviews prove to be culturally enlightening.

Here’s a hint…

Take a look at the substantial footnotes and references listed at the end of Tequila! Distilling the Spirit of Mexico. You are sure to come across several books and published papers that you might feel compelled to investigate yourself.

Among them are several solid resources from Ana Valenzuela Zapata, Sarah Bowen, and Ms. Gaytan herself, who have each been featured on Tequila Aficionado’s Women in The Tequila Industry series.

Our apologies to Ms. Gaytan for being so tardy in insisting that every student of tequila, and lover of Mexico, should include this extremely important book in your personal reference libraries.

Tequila!  Distilling the Spirit of Mexico is available at Amazon.com and other booksellers in both ebook and hardcopy.

The Agave Shortage of 2017 Is Worse Than We Thought

We tried to pretend it didn’t already exist.

Articles on an impending agave shortage had been showing up since late 2015, but we thought safety precautions were in place.  The Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT) had it all handled.

Then, this happened…

The Agave Shortage of 2017 Is Worse Than We Thoughthttp://wp.me/p3u1xi-4DZ

Snow In Arandas

On March 10, 2016, Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico, considered part of the all-important Agave Golden Triangle of Tequila (Atotonilco, Tepatitlán, Arandas and Jesús María), woke up to this–

The Agave Shortage of 2017 Is Worse Than We Thoughthttp://wp.me/p3u1xi-4DZ

An anomaly that has occurred only twice in 100 years.

Beautiful, yes.

We couldn’t look away.

Then, fear stuck.

Would this weather phenomenon increase the odds of a real agave shortage?

Initial reports like this one from revered agavero and tequilero, Felipe Camarena Curiel (Pasote, ArteNOM 1579) on his Facebook page, made us breathe a sigh of relief.

“The conditions of 1997, [the last major agave shortage that shook the Tequila Industry] and the most recent one, were very different.

“In 1997, the low temperatures affected the entire state of Jalisco, reaching -17 C (1.4 F) in Los Altos for a considerable amount of time, freezing the shallow roots of 1-to-3 year old agave and provoking the anticipated maturing [flowering] of the surviving agave.

“The current [snowfall] affected some municipalities in Los Altos de Jalisco, but not the entire state.  The temperatures were not so low and they rapidly returned to normal.

“Of course, in very concentrated areas, there will be total losses.

“We’ll know the magnitude of the damage in the next few days, but in my personal opinion, in the long run, it [the loss; damage] won’t be as grave as that of 1997.”

The Agave Shortage of 2017 Is Worse Than We Thoughthttp://wp.me/p3u1xi-4DZ

[“Las condiciones de 1997 y las recientes fueron muy diferentes.

“En 1997 la temperatura baja afectó a todo el Estado de Jalisco, llegando en los Altos a -17°C por un tiempo considerable, congelando las raices poco profundas de los agaves de 1 a 3 años y provocando madurez anticipada de agave que sobrevivió.

“La actual afectó a algunos municipios de los Altos de Jalisco, no a todo el Estado.  Las temperaturas no fueron tan bajas y se recuperaron rápidamente.

“Por supuesto en áreas muy focalizadas habrá pérdidas totales.

“La magnitud del daño lo sabremos en los próximos dias pero mi opinión personal es que el daño no será ni lejos tan grave como en 1997.”]

Not everyone in the Camarena family was so cautiously optimistic.

In this blog post from the UK, Carlos Camarena, Felipe’s brother and master distiller of Tapatío tequila, warned a roomful of British bartenders, “…buy up tequila now as in 3 to 5 years there will be a worldwide tequila shortage.”

Blame Global Warming

In a thought provoking post by Clayton Szczech via his website, he firmly attributes the weather aberration to global warming.The Agave Shortage of 2017 Is Worse Than We Thoughthttp://wp.me/p3u1xi-4DZ

With accelerated climate change comes the uncertainty of once predictable annual weather patterns reported Alquimia Tequila’s owner and organic agavero, Dr. Adolfo Murillo, via its Facebook page.

“…we have been talking about [global warming] for some time now.  This is man’s effect on our Mother Earth.  Will our agaves survive?”

That Didn’t Take Long

By April 2016, articles like the one referenced above were reissued to drive home the possibility of an agave shortage, whether real or rigged.

By late June to early July 2016, confirmed reports reached this office of transnational corporations locking in major contracts with medium sized maquiladoras (distilleries that produce tequila for various other brands) to provide them with enormous quantities of tequila to be bottled under their labels.

By mid-August, confirmed reports reached us verifying that other distilleries were already hiking their prices to their clients in anticipation of, or in answer to, an increase in agave prices.

By late October 2016, other well known brands were feeling the squeeze of a spike in agave prices.

What We Know

Reliable sources tell us that estimates of agave losses are ranging in the millions of plants.

The Agave Shortage of 2017 Is Worse Than We Thoughthttp://wp.me/p3u1xi-4DZWhile initial reports stated the snowfall reached only 1-3 centimeters [.093 to 1.96 inches], there are now unsubstantiated claims of up to 8 inches of snow had actually fallen in many areas of the Los Altos region.

Unsubstantiated reports reached this office in mid-July 2016 of small agave farmers selling off up to 2 year old agaves before they completely rotted in the fields.

There are also unconfirmed reports of agricultural engineers recommending a scorched earth solution to these small farmers.

Hectares of agave fields are to be plowed under and burned due the danger of crops being infected by the dreaded snout-nosed weevil that prefer to lay their eggs inside weakened plants.

These same small farmers are reluctant to take such a heavy financial hit and would rather sell off what they can rather than destroy their rapidly wilting crops.

Due to the agave glut 7-8 years ago, many other growers stopped planting agave.  Now, because of the unexpected freeze, brokers (coyotes) are scrambling to meet demand.

At this writing, master agave growers are said to be demanding $3.00 per pound for their piñas–and getting it!

Don’t Hate the Game–Hate the Player

Who will survive?

As per usual, any pedigreed distillery with their own agave estates will ensure The Agave Shortage of 2017 Is Worse Than We Thoughthttp://wp.me/p3u1xi-4DZthat their flagship brands have plenty of plants and juice on hand.

Those maquiladoras that grow agave should also be able to ride out the storm.

Of course, the Big Boys, those transnational corporations with deep pockets, will also pull through, and even thrive.  As we mentioned above, they’ve been busy securing long term contracts since late spring and early summer 2016.

Those brands that are considered handcrafted, small batch, and micro-distilled tequilas should also prevail since the vast majority only produce enough for their own labels.

Virtually any master agave grower who tended his fields properly will prosper The Agave Shortage of 2017 Is Worse Than We Thoughthttp://wp.me/p3u1xi-4DZduring this looming crisis.

Who won’t?

Those short-term players with little or no experience who were only in it to make a quick buck.

But, this is a good thing, according to Patrón tequila’s Chief Marketing Officer, Lee Applbaum in this article.

Basically, Applebaum asserts, the shakeout of short-term growers will ensure that the market maintains plenty of quality juice while preventing the dilution of the ultra-premium category that Patrón covets so deeply.

Ante Up

The Agave Shortage of 2017 Is Worse Than We Thoughthttp://wp.me/p3u1xi-4DZ

So, what will drive tequila prices up?

Freezing snow?

The weevil?

Amateur agave growers?

A blue agave shortage?

All of the above.  The simple economics of supply and demand.

But, there’s a new scourge in Tequila Town, and this one is set to be a real thorn in the sides of the Big Boys.

They’re called…

Los Mieleros

Sources report that representatives of large pharmaceutical companies have courted well-respected agaveros for their brix-rich piñas to be used for inulin production, a projected $2.4 billion industry by 2024.

The Agave Shortage of 2017 Is Worse Than We Thoughthttp://wp.me/p3u1xi-4DZ

These same sources confirm that Los Mieleros have consistently and extravagantly outbid tequileros for their agave in just the past few years.

The option for large tequila producers to raid Oaxacan mezcaleros for their espadin like they did back in the mid-1980s, and as Sarah Bowen documented on page 46 of her book, Divided Spirits:  Tequila, Mezcal and the Politics of Production, is gone.  The current burgeoning Mezcal Industry will see to that.

In the meantime, get ready to ante up.

The 2017 Agave Shortage is much worse than we thought.

From Babes to Boss Ladies: Women & Tequila

Tequila Aficionado Exclusive Series

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

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

From Babes to Boss Ladies

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

Catch Up With The Series

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

Women In The Tequila Industry: Sarah Bowen

Divided Spirits, Sarah BowenI have many fond memories of my first meeting Sarah Bowen during the historic Ian Chadwick Blue Agave Forum tour of tequila distilleries in 2006.

She was a young student then, relentlessly recording every interview with master distillers and jimadores on a digital voice recorder, in flawless Spanish.

Who knew that ten years later she would be a wife, mother, and an Associate Professor of Sociology at North Carolina State University?

No doubt, she did.

Her years of intricate research into the tequila–and the now booming mezcal–industry led her in 2015 to publish Divided Spirits:  Tequila, Mezcal and the Politics of Production.

A vital voice that every potential Tequila Boss Lady should heed, here are Sarah’s responses to our handful of questions.

***

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

SB:  I am a researcher, not a part of the tequila or mezcal industries, so I think that matters.  I have thought a lot, however, about how being a woman mattered for my research.

For my book, I did over 100 interviews, and most of these were with men, who still hold most positions of power in the industry.  I think that in some cases, being a woman gave me an advantage.

Many of the men I interviewed did not perceive me, a young woman and a student at the time, as a threat or even as someone with a lot of knowledge of the industry.

This meant they were often willing to share politically controversial perspectives or details about their companies that I don’t know they would have shared with someone they saw as more of a contemporary.

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

SB:  In my book and in some of my other writing, I have tried to communicate the important issues facing the tequila and mezcal industries and show how consumers in the U.S. can advocate on behalf of small producers, farmers, and workers.

Consumers in the U.S. and Mexico helped defeat NOM 186 several years ago, and I hope we will be able to defeat NOM 199, the absurd proposal that would force many small mezcal producers to use the word “komil” to sell their spirits.

In a certain sense, I have more hope for the future of mezcal, in particular, than I have [tequila] in the ten years since I started studying these industries.

Consumers are increasingly knowledgeable about issues related to sustainability, quality, and fairness in these industries, and I hope that I might have played some small part in that.  But I also realize that it’s an uphill battle.

The rules that define tequila and mezcal have evolved in one direction for the last 60 years, and almost every decision has favored the big companies over small producers and workers.  Changing that trajectory is difficult, but I think we’re starting to see some positive changes.

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

SB:  I think that women are going to become more visible in the tequila and mezcal industries in the next few years.

Sarita Gaytán and Ana Valenzuela’s research on women in the tequila industry has shown that women are represented in increasingly diverse positions in the tequila industry:  from tequila companies to the CRT.

GracielaAngeles, Sarah BowenThe diversity and amount of mezcal being sold in the U.S. has grown so much in the last few years, and women are an important part of that growth as well.

For example, we see women like Graciela Angeles heading up Real Minero, one of the most interesting mezcal brands, and also being an influential and important voice about many current debates related to mezcal.

I think that these trends are going to continue, and that this is really important for the future of these industries.

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

SB:  We need more transparency about how profits are being distributed.

As I said above, savvy American consumers and bartenders are increasingly knowledgeable about the practices used to make their tequila and mezcal, and in the case of mezcal, about the type of agave that goes into it.  I think this has had positive effects.

But consumers know very little about how the people who make tequila and mezcal are compensated.

We live far away from the communities where [mezcal] is being produced, and it’s easy to romanticize these producers and their traditions.

We need to ask questions about how their mezcal is being produced—and perhaps most importantly, about how the small producers, farmers, and workers are being paid.

We also need to question a mezcal Denomination of Origin [DO] that excludes so many people and regions with long histories of making mezcal.

The rules of the DO excludes many people by setting standards that are more appropriate for large, industrial producers.  Even more egregiously, the geographical boundaries of the DO exclude people in many regions of Mexico where people have been making mezcal for multiple generations.

And NOM 199 threatens to make this even worse, by now making these people call their products “komil.”

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

SB:  I hope that they will continue, and I hope that they will support each other.

Bowen_agave

Diversifying the voices we hear from regarding the future of these industries–in terms of gender, but also in terms of geography, size, and ethnicity—is the best way to preserve the quality of tequila and mezcal and also support all of the people that make them.

Women In The Tequila Industry: Marie Sarita Gaytán

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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