There 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….”
[Tweet “Mezcal was seen lacking the “symbolic capital” necessary to represent Mexico.”]
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.
[Tweet “Thru programs like Distintivo T, people are recruited to demonstrate their commitment to tequila and Mexico.”]
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.
We’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:
A vital voice that every potential Tequila Boss Lady should heed, here are Sarah’s responses to our handful of questions.
[Tweet “.@sarahkbowen1 – A vital voice every potential Tequila Boss Lady should heed”]
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?)
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.
[Tweet “I think that in some cases, being a woman gave me an advantage. @sarahkbowen1”]
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.
[Tweet “.@sarahkbowen1 A voice for the important issues facing the tequila & mezcal industries”]
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.
[Tweet “NOM 199, the absurd proposal that would force many small mezcal producers to use the word “komil” @sarahkbowen1”]
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.
[Tweet “Consumers are aware of issues related to sustainability and fairness in #tequila @sarahkbowen1”]
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.
[Tweet “Rules of #tequila #mezcal have favored big companies over small producers @sarahkbowen1”]
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.
The 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.
[Tweet “Consumers know little about how people who make #tequila #mezcal are paid @sarahkbowen1”]
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.
[Tweet “We must question a #mezcal DO that excludes people with histories of making it @sarahkbowen1”]
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.”
[Tweet “NOM 199 threatens to make people call their products #komil @sarahkbowen1”]
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.
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.
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!
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.
[Tweet “The Pastry War @ThePastryWar in Houston refuses to serve tequilas & mezcals produced with diffusers”]
“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.
[Tweet “Diffuser denotes watering, stripping, deflecting or softening down. Is it necessary for 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.”
[Tweet “AgaVodka: Tequila that has been stripped of all personality”]
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.”
[Tweet “They can add “notes of cooked agave?” Yes they can…I’ve seen & 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.
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.
[Tweet “Diffuser use is not prohibited in tequila production. Read about it here.”]
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.
[Tweet “Why is there a stigma attached to using a diffusor in #tequila production?”]
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.
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.
[Tweet “The diffuser is used in the Antiguo, El Jimador & Pepe Lopez brands of #Tequila”]
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).
[Tweet “Destilería Leyros (NOM 1489) doesn’t hide its #diffuser use, taking pride in its efficiency.”]
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 telenovelaDestilando 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.
“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.”
“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).”
[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.”
[Tweet “Diffused or no? Consumers have the last word in choosing between one #tequila flavor & another.”]
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
(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?”
[Tweet “Consider the economics: As more distilleries use the #difusor, there will be less jobs available.”]
At the risk of being redundant, it bears repeating what noted agave ethno-botanist, Ana Valenzuela said about the diffuser here…
“…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?
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.
[Tweet “Are tequileros from #Jalisco raiding tons of #espadín to produce #tequila?”]
Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You
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.
[Tweet “Is filling #tequila orders for #China more important than the blatant disregard for the DO?”]
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!
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.
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.
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?”
[Tweet “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.
[Tweet “Does small mean craft? More small distilleries means more inexperienced 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.
Let’s face it–
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.
[Tweet “Build a token distillery, get a fresh nom number and call it craft? Rubbish!”]
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.
[Tweet “Don’t market tequila like you did 20 years ago. We won’t believe you.”]
The Craft Tequila Gauntlet
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.
[Tweet “a craft brand with a good chance of survival in the market will be …”]
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.
[Tweet “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.
[Tweet “Does your craft tequila have some skin in the game?”]
#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.”]
[Tweet “Can a diffuser tequila be considered a craft tequila?”]
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.
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.
[Tweet “Can we automatically consider organic tequila “craft” tequila?”]
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.
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?
[Tweet “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.
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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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!
We continue our Women In The Tequila Industry series with arguably the most recognizable Tequila Boss Lady in the business–
Dr. Ana Valenzuela.
Apart from her many accomplishments (briefly summarized in our article, Tequila Boss Ladies), Ana is also the founder of Signo Tequila, a non-profit organization established in 2007 and dedicated to educating the public about tequila, agave conservation and Mexican cultural products.
Encompassing nearly 20 years of her personal research, Signo Tequila encourages agave plant conservation projects in Mexico and sustainable agricultural training. Blue agave genetic research and resources are the most important projects in development with the aid of participating agave farmers in Mexico.
In sharp contrast to Ana Maria Romero Mena, and similar to Cecilia Norman, Dr. Valenzuela pulls no punches when it comes to voicing her opinions about her concerns on the Tequila Industry.
[Editor’s note: For the convenience of our interviewee and our Spanish speaking audience, this article is in both English and Spanish.]
TA: How would you describe your experiences as a high ranking woman in your position in a primarily male dominated industry?
(¿Cómo describiría sus experiencias como una mujer de alto rango en su posición en una industria dominada principalmente masculina?)
AV: My experiences in the industry have been favorable [enough] to spur me onto the challenge. This has helped me to have great dedication, discipline and concentration in my scientific work, in my career and in the advances I’ve obtained in the conservation of the genetic resources of blue agave, my greatest dream that I have yet to realize.
The majority of the agriculturalists [agave growers] have been my greatest allies. The misogynistic attitudes are probably more observed in middle and upper levels of tequila organizations with a large lag [gap] like modern organizations in which women are treated equally. No doubt, other industries in different sectors of Mexico and in other countries are inequitable [unfair]. The Tequila Industry isn’t the only one with this unfavorable characteristic.
(Mis experiencias en la industria han sido favorables para incitarme al reto. Eso me ha ayudado a tener una gran dedicación, disciplina y concentración en mi trabajo científico, en mi carrera y en los avances que he obtenido en la conservación de recursos genéticos de agaves azules, mi gran sueño a realizar.
(La mayoría de los agricultores han sido mis grandes aliados. Las actitudes misóginas probablemente se observan entre los mandos altos e intermedios de los organismos del tequila, con un gran rezago como organizaciones modernas en las que se traten igualitariamente a las mujeres. Sin duda otras industrias en otros sectores de México y en otros países son inequitativos, no solamente la Industria del Tequila tiene esta característica desfavorable.)
TA: How have you been able to change things within your industry?
(¿Cómo han sido capaces de cambiar las cosas dentro de su industria?)
AV: My work with agaves is my religion, my diversion [enjoyment] and my science. The first book of blue agave and its agriculture, as well as the knowledge [awareness] of agaves tequileros, among others, are my contributions that have yet to change many things. In the near future, the great change to promote will be the planting of my hybrids of the blue agave variants that will change the negative history of genetic erosion. This change has required more than 20 years of constant work.
(Mi trabajo con agaves es mi religión, mi diversión y mi ciencia. El primer libro de agave azul y su agricultura, asi como el conocimiento de los agaves tequileros -entre otros- son mis aportes que aun están por cambiar muchas cosas… En el futuro cercano el gran cambio a promover es la plantación de mis híbridos de las variantes de agave azul que cambiará la historia negativa de la erosión genética. Este cambio ha requerido mas de 20 años de trabajo constante.)
TA: What do you see as the future of women working within the Tequila Industry?
(¿Qué ves como el futuro de las mujeres que trabajan en la industria del Tequila?)
AV: I see a future that is more equitable in the professional scope. For the future of women in the tequila industry to be egalitarian [equal] in opportunities, there has to be congruent [consistent] actions of solidarity among vulnerable groups of women in the industry.
(Yo veo un futuro mas equitativo en el ámbito profesional. Para que el futuro de las mujeres en la industria del tequila sea igualitario en oportunidades, hay que tener acciones congruentes de solidaridad con grupos vulnerables de mujeres en la industria.)
TA: What things would you like to see changed?
(¿Qué cosas gustaría cambiado?)
AV: Less industrial mass production and less contamination.
(Menos producción masiva e industrial y menos contaminación.)
TA: Is there anything you’d like to say to women who may be contemplating entering and working in the Tequila Industry in one form or another?
(¿Existe algo que le gustaría decir a las mujeres que pueden estar contemplando entrar y trabajar en la industria del Tequila en una forma u otra?)
AV: Intergenerational solidarity [of gender] and to take great challenges [risks] to realize great achievements not just in favor of the industry, but for Mexico.
(Solidaridad intergeneracional de género y tomar grandes retos para realizar grandes proezas, no solamente a favor de la industria sino de México.)
Exclusivity breeds demand and Clemente’s Jurado Tequila, nicknamed the Black Swan (a metaphor used to describe hard-to-predict, high-impact and far-reaching events), is so rare that you’ll have to travel to Asia or the Middle East to find it.
Solely at Duty Free stores winter 2013, with rock star celebrity chef Grant MacPherson supplying added culinary deliciousness for the tequila connoisseur and world traveler.
Not only does Paula own her own brand, but she comes from a family of Highlands agave growers. Fiercely protective of her family’s land, heritage and tradition, Paula is involved in every aspect of Nobleza’s growth.
Find award winning Nobleza Azúl throughout Southern California and parts of Chicago, Las Vegas and Utah.
The mysterious Ingeniera García craftily flies under the tequila radar.
Quietly going about her business supervising the quality of the tequilas churned out at the famed Tequilas del Señor distillery, she has also managed to develop the critically acclaimed Don Diego Santa Tequila.
“…women would become the ‘saviors of the global economy.'”
CEO Villarreal is the only female distillery owner to date.
Launching the legendary brand Carmessí in 1999, created with the essence of today’s women in mind, its website declares, “At Casa San Matías we’ve developed different tequilas to suit all of our clients, from daring women to experienced consumers.”
Known by some as “La Diosa Mayahuel” (the Goddess Mayahuel), Ana is the final word on agave ethno-botanics and the conservation of all native species of agaves in Mexico.
This published author frequently consults to agave growers and tequila brand owners.
An outspoken advocate for agave biodiversity and defending tequila’s Appellation of Origin, her next book, The Geographic Indication of Tequila, will cover just that.
Ana Maria Romero Mena…
The only woman to be given the title of “Maestra Tequilera” by the powerful National Chamber of the Tequila Industry (CNIT), Ana Maria has consulted and taught seminars for every major tequila producer in the business, as well as developed several signature tequila brands for others.
The next hottest Mexican spirit to hit the market is not exactly tequila or mezcal. Don Cuco Sotol has been described as the best of both worlds.
Outside of its own Denomination of Origin in the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Durango and Coahuila, sotol has been a mystery for over 800 years.
Jacquez, the great-granddaughter of Don Cuco, trademarked the name in both Mexico and the US and then began exporting this sixth generation distillate into New Mexico, Texas, California, and New Zealand.
Bertha González Nieves—CEO, Casa Dragones tequila…
Along with co-founder and Clear Channel CEO Bob Pittman, Bertha has managed to craft a highly sought after joven tequila, an often overlooked expression in the industry.
With a flavor profile that’s perfect for pairing with a myriad of cuisines, it has been praised by celebrity boss ladies Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey.