Men In Tequila: Martin Grassl Speaks Out

International Man of Mystery

Men In Tequila: Martin Grassl Speaks Out https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5GrThroughout his checkered career in the Tequila world and beyond, Porfidio’s Martin Grassl has been largely viewed by the general public as an “international man of mystery.”

Disrupting a Mexican Tequila Industry that doesn’t take kindly to outsiders telling it how to make its own emblematic spirit, Grassl’s vintages of tequila in the iconic cactus bottle has been sought after, stashed and horded by collectors for its unique flavors and aromas.

In hindsight, one could argue that since 1991, Grassl had single-handedly established what is now the fastest growing segment of the Tequila market–

The Super-Premium category.

Grassl’s Reinvention

Now, along with Desmond Nazareth, an Indian-American computer whiz of Silicon Valley fame, and originator of DesmondJi Premium Spirits, Liqueurs and Cocktails, he has reinvented himself, again.

Men In Tequila: Martin Grassl Speaks Out https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5Gr

Single Agave(R) 100% Agave Americana Edition (S3xA) is one of a series of three planned releases by Grassl using different agave plants cultivated in different countries.  This one, a joint venture with Nazareth, is harvested and distilled entirely in India.

Bane or blessing, innovator or interloper, prophet or pariah, Profidio’s Martin Grassl has been perceived as all of these, and more.

In the next few paragraphs, Martin Grassl–in his own words–discusses his global views about the future of agave spirits.

Marching Forward

History moves forward.  Agave spirits are going international.

It happened to the Europeans in the wine industry: no one could stop grapes travelling!

When California and Australia, not to mention Chile and Argentina, joined the premium wine world half a century ago, initially it drove the French in Bordeaux crazy.  But over decades, it made important contributions to California’s and Australia’s economy and provided a much respected delightful alternative enjoyment for consumers.

Men In Tequila: Martin Grassl Speaks Out https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5Gr

Today, both Australia and California, not to mention Chile and Argentina, are wine superpowers, equivalent, if not superior to, their European ancestors.

How dreary the world would be with only French wines!

Single-Agave® 100% Agave Americana

Single-Agave® 100% Agave Americana, an agave spirit proudly made in India from 100% Indian-grown mezcal [agave] pinas, is history on the march.

Men In Tequila: Martin Grassl Speaks Out https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5Gr

It is the first in a Porfidio-initiated series of international single-varietal agave spirits; soon to be followed by the second release, a single variety agave spirit from Venezuela (100% Agave Cocuy).

Cultural (Mis-)appropriation

The CRT’s recent national press campaign in Mexico honored the Indian agave spirit with full page articles in every major newspaper, but was typically inaccurate.

Contrary to its spurious claims, “agave” is a botanical term like the word “grape,” or “barley” and, like them, cannot be claimed under  A.C. status (A.C = D.O.) [Denomination of Origin].

Click to read PDF

It is as if Peru tried to trademark “potato.”  

The plant’s original name, Mezcal, is the name Mexicans used, and the term “Agave” was invented by a Swedish botanist based on the observations of a German researcher.

So the allegations of cultural (mis-)appropriation make hardly any sense, since if equally applied on both sides, the Old World could claim property in the origins of the donkey, distillation, stainless steel, invention of electricity, and indeed, to the very oak barrels, all of which were “(mis-)appropriated” by Mexico from abroad, and without which tequila would have hardly existed.

The Colombian Exchange

The key concept is “The Colombian Exchange” which brought horses, donkeys, wheat, stills and oak barrels to the Americas in return for the potato, corn, tobacco and agave that went to the rest of the world.

We should not forget the royal role of Queen Victoria, who so greatly continued Columbus’s work across her Empire when the British planted agave in all her various dominions where it would grow.

Some claim that this product was created as a response to the present Blue Agave shortage in Mexico. However, Single-Agave®100% Agave Americana is not made from the Blue Agave, but Mezcal Americana, a different variety of agave that is indeed used to make Mezcal, but not Tequila®, under the CRT’s own rigorous definition.

 

Bored Consumers

Men In Tequila: Martin Grassl Speaks Out https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5Gr

More importantly there are signs that consumers are actually bored with the limited palate of the Blue Agave, which is, after all, the dull chardonnay of agave spirits.

They are ready to move on to other agave varietals–

“Vino de Mezcal,” the new darling of agave spirits lovers.

Made in India, Single-Agave®100% Agave Americana, caters precisely to these bored consumers who expect more from life than just another boring chardonnay; and let alone just another 100% Agave Tequila® made from cloned plantation-grown Blue Agave.

How to Survive the Tequila Turmoils of 2018

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

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

We’ll show you how.

But first…

Let’s Review

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

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

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

Mega Distributors

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Do It!  It’s A Trap!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instead…

Support Your Local Distributor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Savvy Consumer

You’re one smart cookie.

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

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

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

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

Add Kosher

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

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

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

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

The Average Joe

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

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

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

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

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

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

To purists, news like this breaks their heart.

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

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

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

Don’t let them!

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

What Else You Can Do

Support small producers of agave spirits.

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

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

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

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

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

The Agave Panic of 2018: Bloodshed on the Streets of Tequila

Bloodshed

The Agave Panic of 2018: Bloodshed on the Streets of Tequila https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5mAOn Jan. 22, 2018, a particularly savvy tequila brand owner announced in a private message to this office:

“Agave prices out of control.  $22/kilo.  Industry getting destroyed!”

Coincidentally, earlier that same day, another brand owner/ambassador admitted to us that the current cost had blown up to $24/kilo.

That savvy brand owner then added to his message–

“…but Cuervo started it.  Bought up a ton of [agave] before their IPO.  Increase balance sheet.  That’s, at least, the word on the street.”

But, shit got REAL for Jose Cuervo when…

Cuervo Cries Wolf

In this El Financiero article dated December 21, 2017, Francisco Beckmann Vidal, owner of Tierra de Agaves and Jose Cuervo, warned of a looming agave shortage.  He…

“…urged agave producers to increase plantings because whether in tons or in number of agaves, the industry requires more of your prime material.  Planting must begin now.  Eyes have to be opened and decisions need to be made.  Only the industry can provoke the necessary changes.”

[“…instó a los productores agaveros a que incrementen los plantíos porque tanto en toneladas o en número de agaves la industria cada vez requiere de más de sus materia prima, “hay que empezar a plantar desde ahorita. Hay que abrir los ojos y tomar decisiones. Solamente la industria es la que va a provocar estos cambios que se necesitan hacer.”]

Like Shaggy said–

It wasn’t me!

 Here’s Your Sign

All the signs of an impending shortage were there.  Major spirits distributors, tequila and even mezcal brands jockeyed for position in the Agave Triple Crown race.

In 2015, Diageo, the world’s largest producer of spirits, swapped its Bushmills Irish The Agave Panic of 2018: Bloodshed on the Streets of Tequila https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5mAwhiskey brand for Don Julio, previously owned by José Cuervo.

After Cuervo’s early February 2017 initial public offering, Davos Brands acquired a controlling interest in Master Sommelier Richard Betts’ Sombra Mezcal and Astral Tequila brands, in March.

Then, in early June 2017, spirits and wine behemoth, Pernod Ricard, purchased a significant stake in founder Ron Cooper’s beloved Del Maguey Single Village Mezcals amid uproar from long time fans claiming “sell out.”

Later that June, in a surprising move, Diageo bought Casamigos tequila, co-founded by celebs George Clooney and Rande Gerber, for up to $1 billion.

All this time, Bacardi, lurking like a shark in the water, in January 2018, bared its jaws and swallowed up Patron for a reported $5.1 billion.

The Agave Panic of 2018: Bloodshed on the Streets of Tequila https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5mA

Pernod Ricard, in an attempt to get the last word in January 2018, shelled out the big bucks to purchase the remaining 16% of Ken Austin’s Avion tequila that it had invested $100 million in back in 2014.

M & A was the name of the game in the spirits distribution sector, too.

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

Real, or Fake?

Some skeptics still don’t believe that an agave shortage exists.

Unlike the more seasoned, and–dare I say–older sippers, this may be the first time Millennials and Gen Xers have ever experienced a truly severe Agave Crisis.

Others completely ignore the fact declaring an upcoming tequila boom, instead, instigated by the Big Three named above.

Even in this article in the Spirits Business, Vinexpo, the leading wine and spirits trade show, and IWSR (International Wine & Spirits Research) predict that:

“The fastest-growing spirit category in terms of volume will be Tequila, which is predicted to increase by 118% between 2016 and 2021 to 35m cases.”

Seriously?

 Thank You, Captain Obvious

We told you last year this was coming.The Agave Panic of 2018: Bloodshed on the Streets of Tequila https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5mA

Weren’t you paying attention?

In the article The Agave Shortage of 2017 Is Worse Than We Thought we outlined the reasons for the then looming crisis.

Still, you bought ALL the tequila and mezcal you could drink, didn’t you?

The Numbers Don’t Lie

According to DISCUS, 17.2 million cases of tequila were sold in 2017.  3.2 million of those cases were in the pricey Super Premium category, alone.

Must have been a good year for some of you.

On the Mexico side of the border, things aren’t so rosy.

Freak Out

According to these articles in Joe  , Telam , and Reuters

“This year [2018], a total of 42 million agave plants were projected to supply 140 registered companies.  However, only 17.7 million of those planted in 2011 are ready to be harvested, the Tequila Regulatory Council and National Tequila Industry Chamber have said.”

That’s assuming producers are using full grown agave.  As explained in the above articles–including our own–2 to 4 year old immature agaves are being sold, as well.

With the use of diffusers by the large producers like Sauza and Bacardi (Cazadores), the age of agave plants used to make tequila is irrelevant.

The Agave Panic of 2018: Bloodshed on the Streets of Tequila https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5mA

About Those Stolen Agave

For several years, now, growers in Oaxaca had reported that truckloads of stolen (or purchased) espadin used to make mezcal were headed for tequila distilleries in Jalisco.

Now, a reported 15,000 blue agave plants have been hijacked from blue agave growers supplying the Big Boys.  That’s triple the amount reported in 2016.

It is presumed that these pilfered plants were going to los mieleros (Big Pharma) since they pay bigger bucks for blue weber agave.

So, there is some poetic justice during this Agave Crisis.

 The Blame Game

As much as major metropolitan areas would like to believe that they carry this much clout, cities like New York are NOT to blame.

On the other hand, brands like Houston based Pura Vida blames the Big Guys, too.

Austin based Dulce Vida tequila agrees.

And, one more for good measure from this small brand owner via LinkedIn on February 5, 2018:

[“The sad reality for small producers that depend on purchasing ripe agave that results in extraordinary 100% blue agave tequila is that the Large Makers are the ones who have stockpiled huge quantities of premature agave.  But the 4 year old plants don’t yield good tequila.  Moreover, it requires double the amount of prime material [agave] for the production of tequila.  In short, the very same Large Producers have aggravated the problem and devastated the cultivation of blue agave.”]

While we’re pointing fingers, let’s accuse the real culprit of this economic and agricultural mess, shall we?

Greed

In October 2017, we spoke to Master Distiller of G4, Terralta, and Pasote–and agave grower–Felipe Camarena.

Minutes before the VIP Hour of El Cholo’s yearly Tequila Tour began, he briefly outlined to me in simple mathematical terms, how much per kilo he’d require to make a nice, honest living growing agave.

The amount was not unreasonable.  In fact, it was in the single digit range.

By waiting at the last minute, and selling to the highest bidder, Camarena blamed the greed of amateur agave growers for the skyrocketing maguey prices.

How Long?

How long will this agave crisis last?

In January 29, 2018, Master Distiller of Tapatio and Tequila Villa Lobos, Carlos Camarena, gave this gloomy prediction:

What… Me Worry?

The Agave Panic of 2018: Bloodshed on the Streets of Tequila https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5mA

Not everyone is worried, however.  Pernod isn’t

And neither are George and Rande.  Having pocketed their nearly $1 billion, they’re venturing into mezcal, now.

The Agave Panic of 2018: Bloodshed on the Streets of Tequila https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5mA

Be afraid–

Be VERY afraid!

The El Cholo Cafe Tequila Tour

A Southern California Tradition

The El Cholo Cafe Tequila Tour https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5uu

Pasadena, California’s landmark El Cholo Cafe Restaurant’s Tequila Tour has been a major community event for the past 17 years.  Commemorating its 94th year serving authentic Mexican cuisine to Southern California, the October 27, 2017 edition was destined to be special.

Also in 2017, Tequila Aficionado was celebrating its 18th anniversary of the very first Sipping Off The Cuff© podcast episode taped at the family-owned eatery’s original Pasadena location.

Needless to say, it was an honor when El Cholo’s owner, Blair Salisbury, graciously asked Tequila Aficionado Media to anchor an exclusive VIP Hour during El Cholo’s Tequila Tour, and to share the fine craft agave spirits accompanying us on our 2017 Wild Wild West Tour.

The El Cholo Cafe Tequila Tour https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5uu

Flawlessly guided by El Cholo’s point man for this shindig, consultant Alex Delgado, we were given the restaurant’s intimate West Patio to showcase the Brand of Promise(c) nominees that traveled with us throughout the month of October.

A Very Special Guest

The El Cholo Cafe Tequila Tour https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5uuDays before the El Cholo Tequila Tour, with help from the fine folks at PKGD Media who handle publicity for Tequila G4, we managed to convince the “Mad Scientist” of tequila, Felipe Camarena, to make an unscheduled guest appearance at El Cholo’s fiesta.

It was enlightening to discuss the state of the Tequila Industry from a long time agave grower’s point-of-view.  Of great concern was the ongoing Agave Crisis, the ramifications of an agave shortage, and what Felipe considered was the real cause of the problems.

[*FTC Disclosure: Brands appearing on the Tequila Aficionado Wild Wild West 2017 Tour were vetted as Brand of Promise(c) Nominees and paid a nominal fee to be included.]

The VIP Hour

Before we knew it, employees of El Cholo’s opened the floodgates of the West Patio to the VIP Hour.

The El Cholo Cafe Tequila Tour https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5uu

Joined by CMO Lisa Pietsch, Tequila Aficionado’s Founder, Alex Perez, and Tequila TJs Dave Dinius and Rick Levy, as well as some Brand of Promise(c) representatives, we were instantly surrounded by the smiling faces of dozens of passionate tequila aficionados.

These anxious VIPs were more than ready to sample some of the finest small batch, micro-distilled and handcrafted agave spirits that may or may not have been available, yet, in California.

The El Cholo Cafe Tequila Tour https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5uu

Where It All Started

Mid-way through the VIP Hour, Blair, Alex, and myself took a few minutes to reminisce about that first podcast, and how each of our endeavors had grown exponentially with the demand for 100% de agave tequila, and now, mezcals.

The El Cholo Cafe Tequila Tour https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5uu

Alex and I even took a moment to record a brief audio podcast memorializing the humble beginnings of Sipping Off the Cuff(c).

End of The Trail

El Cholo’s regularly scheduled Tequila Tour went off without a hitch, while almost everybody who had purchased VIP tickets lingered throughout the rest of the evening.

It was very gratifying to meet and greet so many fans and followers, to answer their burning questions on the participating Brands of Promise(c), and to experience the level of sophistication of the current crop of agave spirits consumers, whether newbies or seasoned sippers.

To Continue the Battle The El Cholo Cafe Tequila Tour https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5uu

Constant and continuing education on agave spirits is a must these days.

El Cholo’s yearly Tequila Tour is not just an event designed to savor authentic Mexican cuisine, but to also elegantly enjoy your continuing agave spirits education.

We look forward to joining forces once again with El Cholo in 2018 to, as Felipe Camarena put it, “Para darle la guerra.”

You can view more photos of El Cholo’s 2017 Tequila Tour here.