Sotol’s Cultural Appropriation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caution:  Rant Ahead

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

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

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

The Facts on Sotol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sotol Smugglers’ Blues

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

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

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

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

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

Tit for Tat

The obvious question is–

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

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

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

Open Doors

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

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

It could–and should–happen.

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USA Today 10 Best Current Leaderboard for Best Craft Tequila Brand

“This is your tequila bucket list.”  

~ Rick Levy of Tequila Aficionado

If you’ve seen Mike Morales’ article on the Top 20 Craft Tequilas you’ve overlooked then you’ll understand that picking one (or even 10) from this list is like picking your favorite child.  It’s too difficult to do, so your best bet is to vote twice a day for your favorites and spend the rest of your time sipping all of them.

Congratulations to all the nominees.  If Mike could pick a top 50 list, it still wouldn’t be enough.  Thank you to all the wonderful brands out there who are constantly striving to produce the finest tequilas they can.  We love you all!

USA Today 10 Best Current Leaderboard for Best Craft Tequila Brand http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4qmIn order to be called tequila, this spirit distilled from the juices blue agave must be made in specific regions of Mexico, most prominently Jalisco and the town of tequila. While no tequilas are produced in the United States, we want to find the best craft tequila brands available in the country, and to do so, we asked a pair of tequila experts to nominate their favorites. Unlike other spirits, tequila brands often share distilleries – there are about 70 of them producing more than 500 brands – so it’s often the brand rather than the distillery that indicates quality. Many of these 20 nominees for best craft tequila brand use traditional methods. Many of the brand owners grow their own agave and personally oversee the entire tequila-making process. All produce high-quality, distinctive tequilas available in the U.S. market. Vote for your favorite once per day until voting ends on Monday, September 12 at noon ET. Read the official Readers’ Choice rules here.

 

USA Today 10 Best Current Leaderboard for Best Craft Tequila Brand http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4qm

1. Embajador Tequila

 

USA Today 10 Best Current Leaderboard for Best Craft Tequila Brand http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4qm

2. Suerte Tequila

 

USA Today 10 Best Current Leaderboard for Best Craft Tequila Brand http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4qm

3. DesMaDre Tequila

 

USA Today 10 Best Current Leaderboard for Best Craft Tequila Brand http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4qm

4. Tequila Gran Dovejo

 

USA Today 10 Best Current Leaderboard for Best Craft Tequila Brand http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4qm

5. Siete Leguas

 

USA Today 10 Best Current Leaderboard for Best Craft Tequila Brand http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4qm

6. T1 Tequila Uno

 

USA Today 10 Best Current Leaderboard for Best Craft Tequila Brand http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4qm

7. Tequila Tapatío

 

USA Today 10 Best Current Leaderboard for Best Craft Tequila Brand http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4qm

8. Tequila G4

 

USA Today 10 Best Current Leaderboard for Best Craft Tequila Brand http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4qm

9. Tequila Don Modesto

 

USA Today 10 Best Current Leaderboard for Best Craft Tequila Brand http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4qm

10. Tequila Alquimia

 

USA Today 10 Best Current Leaderboard for Best Craft Tequila Brand http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4qm

11. Dulce Vida Tequila

 

USA Today 10 Best Current Leaderboard for Best Craft Tequila Brand http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4qm

12. Pasote Tequila

 

USA Today 10 Best Current Leaderboard for Best Craft Tequila Brand http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4qm

13. Tequila Fortaleza

 

USA Today 10 Best Current Leaderboard for Best Craft Tequila Brand http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4qm

14. Casa Noble Tequila

 

USA Today 10 Best Current Leaderboard for Best Craft Tequila Brand http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4qm

15. Siembra Spirits

 

USA Today 10 Best Current Leaderboard for Best Craft Tequila Brand http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4qm

16. Tears of Llorona

 

USA Today 10 Best Current Leaderboard for Best Craft Tequila Brand http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4qm

17. Tequila Ocho

 

USA Today 10 Best Current Leaderboard for Best Craft Tequila Brand http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4qm

18. Tequila ArteNOM

 

USA Today 10 Best Current Leaderboard for Best Craft Tequila Brand http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4qm

19. Don Fulano

 

USA Today 10 Best Current Leaderboard for Best Craft Tequila Brand http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4qm

20. IXÁ Organic Tequila

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The Top 20 Craft Tequilas You’ve Overlooked

USA_Today_comIn early August of 2016, I received an email from USA Today asking me to weigh in on their craft spirits-themed Readers’ Choice contests, and in our case (at press time), the soon-to-be-launched craft tequilas list.

I’ll be honest, I dread these lists.  What’s worse is, I dread being asked to participate in compiling them.

Let me tell you why.

It’s A List

In the Digital Age, everyone wants things in bite sized form and they want it now.  It is also proven that numbered lists draw attention.  And, there are so many of them out there on the Interwebs–

Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover…

The 10 Best Ways to Cheat On Your Mate…

Six Ways Your Cat Plots to Kill You…

A Word About Your Sins

Ever wonder why those numbered titles are so enticing?7-deadly-sins

It’s because they are aimed at the 7 Deadly Sins.

A steadfast rule of copywriters is to compose content that elicits an emotional response from readers to take action.

To drive your particular sin even further to cause you to read the content, the word YOU is hammered into every title.

[Editor’s note:  See what I did with my title?  You choose which sin fits best for YOU.]

Craft Is A Buzzword

As we thoroughly examined in our reports, Craft Tequila:  WTF Does That Mean? Parts 1 and 2, the term craft has been kidnapped by marketers writing fancy copy to confuse the consumer.

Only 10?

gato sorprendido

While the instructions in the email required at least 20 selections from me, the contest will butcher the selections down to only 10–

Selected by those who are unaware of what a craft tequila really is, and…

Curated by someone whose job it is to find ways to engage USA Today’s readers.

It’s A Contest

check-list-red-wfjgrkbmmkvlWhen our COO, Lisa Pietsch, examined the contest website and the myriad of other pre-existing lists, she found that this is a clever way for USA Today to increase reader engagement.

Reader engagement translates to readers’ time spent on USA Today’s mammoth website, which in turn translates to money they charge advertisers.

The term we use is “sticky” as in spider’s web sticky.

Which leads me to–

Paid Advertisers 

Having been paid to ghost write Editor’s Choice lists in the past, I am fully aware that many times, spirits sponsors of major magazines and websites tend to sneak onto them.

This, despite my vehement objections to the editors that such a move invalidates the list altogether.

So, before any of the Usual Suspects wind up on USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards Craft Tequilas list, here are my selections.  Bear in mind, I was limited to only twenty brands.

The Top 20 Craft Tequilas You’ve Overlooked

In no particular order…

  1. Fortaleza
  2. T1 Tequila Uno
  3. Tears of Llorana
  4. Suerte
  5. Siembra Azul
  6. Siembra Valles
  7. Tapatio
  8. Tequila G4
  9. ArteNOM 1414
  10. ArteNOM 1580
  11. ArteNOM 1146
  12. ArteNOM 1549
  13. Trianon
  14. Pasote
  15. Embajador
  16. Alquimia
  17. DesMaDre
  18. Dulce Vida
  19. Don Fulano
  20. IXA

The Fallout

12995-anxiety_news

Whether any of my selections make the cut, remains to be seen.

Depending on who the other “tequila experts” were that contributed to the final list to be voted on, the results, if nothing else, should be interesting.

One thing is for certain–

Not everyone will be happy.

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Tequila Tapatío And The Source of Life

Welcome Back, Old Friend

On two separate occasions, Carlos Camarena, the third generation master distiller of El Tesoro de Don Felipe and the equally famous and classic Tequila Tapatío, stepped outside of Las Perlas mezcal and tequila bar in the heart of downtown Los Angeles to enjoy a cigarette.

Taking in the scenery of a chilly and overcast Sunday afternoon in early June, he witnessed the pursuit of a purse snatcher by LAPD, and then an attempted carjacking by another perpetrator while the police were arresting the purse snatcher!

Carlos smiled and shook his head.  Surrounded by movie cameras and flood lights outside the front entrance to Las Perlas, his only thought was…

Another average day in LA.

La Perla Tapatía

Once inside the rustic and darkly lit Las Perlas, one of the more complete tequila and mezcal bars in Los Angeles, one realized that the movie cameras weren’t there to record street crimes or another TV reality show.  They were there to film an historic event–

The triumphant entrance of  the iconic Tequila Tapatío into California and the rest of the United States.

The press wall.
The press wall.

Jeff Couch and Vaughn Halyard, the co-partners of Congenial Spirits, a nimble distributor focused on boutique, handcrafted spirits, and the chosen distributor for Tapatío, had the foresight to sense the importance of documenting its US premier, even adding a professional photographer and a press wall for that red carpet feeling.

The invitees, comprised of LA spirits industry professionals and mixologists, settled in and Raul Yrastorza, the general manager and curator of Las Perlas, began the introductions for this question and answer segment with the guests of honor.

The Charbay Connection

Producing wines, ports, liqueurs, aperitifs, vodkas, rums, and whiskies at the famed Charbay Winery & Distillery in St. Helena, CA, Marko Karakasevic is also the importer of Tapatío under his Marko K Spirits of California banner.

Marko, a bear of a man who looks more like a right tackle for the Oakland Raiders instead of a barely 40 year old 13th generation master distiller, jokingly explains:

“In a family of distillers, no fruit, no root, is safe.”

Here, Marko recounts his first meeting with Carlos Camarena that lead to his family being invited to distill its own brand of Charbay Tequila at La Alteña distillery.

Heads, Hearts & Tails

So what do master distillers talk about in the wee hours of the morning over endless tequila?  Distillation, of course!

Carlos Camarena and Marko Karakasevic tell the story of their awkward first encounter that turned into what can only be an enduring relationship based on mutual respect and admiration.

The Upside Down World of Agave Spirits

Carlos chuckled that Miles Karakasevic, Marko’s father, the retired 12th generation master distiller of Charbay, and he did not get along that evening.

Whenever Carlos tried to explain the physics and biochemistry of tequila distillation versus the distillation of other spirits, it was in complete contrast to Miles’ years of education.

Bullshit was uttered more than once.

“It’s not right!” exclaimed Marko.

Carlos discusses the upside down world of agave spirits distillation in depth…

Why Did It Take So Long To Get Here?

On my first visit to La Alteña in 2006, I asked Carlos what would happen if there was a sudden demand in El Tesoro de Don Felipe.  Would he be able to fill orders, or be forced to cut corners?

He declared that at any given time, he had approximately one million liters of tequila in storage to handle any spike in demand.  There would never be any need to cut corners and suffer a loss in quality.  No doubt, his policy also carried over to the Tapatío brand.

Here, Carlos demystifies his reasons for taking almost 76 years to bring Tapatío into the US market, and gives a bit of family history, as well.

During the course of the question and answer session, Congenial Spirits’ Vaughn and Jeff made sure that each of the Tapatío expressions were being served to the crowd in specially branded Tapatío shot glasses, starting with the 80 proof blanco and ending with the stellar Tapatío 110 proof.

Sipping it immediately brought back fond memories of my first trip to La Alteña and tasting this tequila directly from the still.

It hadn’t changed a bit.

Cocktail Hour

Drinks menu
Drinks menu

Once the Q & A ended, it was time to unleash the infinite possibilities that Tapatío 110 could provide.  Amanda Gunderson, Tapatío’s brand ambassador and designer of the evening’s drinks menu, wowed the crowd with her signature cocktails.

Names like Lolita Swizzle and La Alteña guaranteed that everyone in attendance would get a feel of what it would be like to visit Tapatío’s legendary distillery.  To say that these cocktails were lethally delicious would be an understatement.

La Alteña signature cocktail.
La Alteña signature cocktail.

Be aware that Tapatío 110 proof will not only shine in your cocktail and take you back to the Highlands of Jalisco, but it will sing to you for the rest of the evening.  Definitely, sip wisely.

The Source Of Life

Since many in attendance weren’t as well versed in the science of distillation as Carlos and Marko were, I asked Camarena how he would define distillation to a lay person.

Here’s what he had to say…

When Tequila Tapatío can be considered the source of life on this planet, there can be no such thing as just an average day in LA–or anywhere else, for that matter.

***

View more photos of this momentous event on our Facebook page here.

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National Tequila Day Tapatio Triple Play!

Enjoy a vertical flight of Tequila Tapatio in honor of National Tequila Day!  Alex Perez and Mike Morales taste and discuss Tequila Tapatio Blanco, Reposado and Anejo – Look for their review of 110 coming soon too!

 

Blanco

Reposado

Anejo

 

tapatio tequila

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

How to Get Paid to Drink Tequila:

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

 

Salud!!