Women In the Tequila Industry: Erika Vargas Flores

Women In the Tequila Industry: Erika Vargas Flores http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4WpErika Vargas Flores has spearheaded Altos Cienega Unidos (NOM 1570) in the village of Rancho Lagunillas, nestled in Atotonilco El Alto, for the past four years.

When upstart flagship brand, El Consuelo, won the coveted 2016 Brands Of Promise(C) award in the Organic category, tequila aficionados everywhere took notice.

Subsequently, we came to discover that this dynamic micro-distillery where El Consuelo is lovingly produced, and that put the world–and our taste buds–on notice, is also managed by this competent young lady.

Women In the Tequila Industry: Erika Vargas Flores http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4Wp

Naturally, we had to ask if she would agree to join our gallery of Tequila Boss Ladies.

Here’s what she had to add to our handful of questions about being a woman in the male dominated 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 woman in a primarily male dominated industry?  (What are the challenges you face when dealing with the male dominated Tequila Industry?)

(¿Cómo describirías tus experiencias como una mujer de alto rango en su posición en Women In the Tequila Industry: Erika Vargas Flores http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4Wpuna industria dominada principalmente masculina?)

EVF:  It hasn’t been easy, but this is an industry where a woman as much as a man can be capable of carrying out at least 80% of the activities that are implemented for the production of tequila.

The majority of our staff is really made up of women.  In our micro-distillery, the personnel is qualified to perform various duties.

For instance, not only am I the general manager, but I’ve learned to cultivate the yeasts [used in fermentation], and to carry out the distillation and bottling.

Right now, the jobs that belong to the men are the rough ones that at no time can be substituted [performed] by a woman, but are no less important.

Personally, my knowledge and achievements that I’ve obtained with Tequila El Consuelo are recognized by men.  My husband, Pedro Alvarado López, has always motivated and supported me to continue in the industry.

Women In the Tequila Industry: Erika Vargas Flores http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4Wp

Associates, who are all men, have confidence in my abilities.  My being a woman hasn’t made a difference in negotiating with Tequila Spirits, LLC, that imports the brand Tequila El Consuelo.

My right hand is Juan Gerardo Hernández Ramírez who also executes a large part of the industry activities.

I realize that the top leadership of the Tequila Industry is male dominated.

(No ha sido fácil, pero es una industria que tanto el hombre como la mujer puede ser capaz para desempeñar por lo menos un 80% de las actividades que se ejecutan para la elaboración del tequila.

(Nuestra plantilla efectivamente la mayor parte es ocupada por las mujeres.

(Es una micro pequeña empresa en la que el personal está capacitado para ejecutar diferentes actividades. Yo por ejemplo además de ser quien dirige he aprendido a crear las levaduras, realizar la destilación y envasado.

Women In the Tequila Industry: Erika Vargas Flores http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4Wp

(Ahora sí que las actividades del hombre son los trabajos rudos en los cuales en ningún momento puede ser sustituido por la mujer por lo cual no dejan de ser parte importante.)

(En lo personal mis conocimientos y logros que hasta el momento se han obtenido en Tequila El Consuelo SI son reconocidos por los hombres.  Mi esposo, Pedro Alvarado López, siempre me ha motivado y apoyado a continuar en la Industria.

(Los socios los cuales todos son hombres han confiado en mi capacidad.  Tequila Spirits LLC quien distribuye la Marca de Tequila El Consuelo no han hecho la diferencia en las negociaciones conmigo por el hecho de ser mujer.

(Mi mano derecha es Juan Gerardo Hernández Ramírez quien [también] ejecuta gran parte de las actividades de la Industrias.

(Reconozco que los altos mandos de la Industria Tequilera aun es dominada por los hombres.)

TA:  How have you been able to change things within the Tequila Industry?

(¿Cómo han sido capaces de cambiar las cosas dentro de su industria?)

EVF:  The tequila consumer gets more demanding every day, rejecting one brand they Women In the Tequila Industry: Erika Vargas Flores http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4Wphave imbibed for years when its quality changes.

As opposed to men, women are more methodical when it comes to repeating the tequila process to conserve its consistency.

(El consumidor del tequila cada vez es más exigente, rechaza una marca que por años ha bebido cuando su calidad cambia. 

(La mujer a diferencia del hombre es más metódica lo que hace que en el proceso de elaboración del tequila conserve siempre las mismas características.)

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?)

EVF:  That little by little, women attain higher administrative and operational posts without substituting [replacing] men in the rough jobs of the process that requires physical strength.

(Que poco  a poco logren ocupar los altos mando administrativos y operativos, sin sustituir al hombre en el trabajo rudo del proceso de elaboración por la fuerza física que se requiere.)

Women In the Tequila Industry: Erika Vargas Flores http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4WpTA:  What facets of the Tequila Industry would you like to see change?

(¿Qué cosas gustaría cambiado?)

EVF:  The consumer’s mentality that marries them to a particular brand without taking the opportunity to try other tequilas of equal or better quality simply because a brand isn’t recognized in the marketplace.

(La mentalidad del consumidor ya que estos llegan a casarse con una marca sin dar oportunidad de probar otros tequilas de igual o mejor calidad, por el hecho de que la marca no es conocida en el mercado.)

TA:  Do you approve of how tequila brands are currently marketing themselves?

(Esta Ud de acuerdo con la comercialización de marcas de tequilas, hoy en dia?)

EVF:  No because there exists unfair competition, cheap prices and cheaper quality.

(No, porque existe mucha competencia desleal, bajos precios, baja calidad.)

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?)

Women In the Tequila Industry: Erika Vargas Flores http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4Wp

EVF:  Well, that it’s an interesting occupation, competitive, and with opportunities for growth, both professional and personal.

(Pues que es un trabajo interesante, competitivo, con oportunidades de crecimiento tanto laboral como personal.)

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!

One With Life at Bracken Cave

 [From September 11 to October 2, 2016, Tequila Aficionado Media, sponsored by 34 expressions representing 21 brands, embarked on an epic RV road show dubbed, The Heartland Tour.  In these next passages, we recount the historic–and epic–highlights.  *FTC Disclosure: Brands appearing on the Tequila Aficionado Dia de Los Muertos & Heartland Tour had to be vetted as Brand of Promise Nominees and paid a nominal fee to be on the tour.] 

Bat Fascination

One With Life at Bracken Cave http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4x6From watching the campy Batman TV series, or seeing Michael Keaton’s classic Batman movie at least 8 times when it premiered back in 1989, or devouring vintage Dracula movies with Bela Lugosi, I’ve always been captivated by bats.

Despite my fascination with them, I’d only seen bats in captivity at zoos, or in film documentaries.  I’ve never actually seen them in the wild until our visit to Bracken Cave on the first leg of Tequila Aficionado’s 2016 Heartland Tour.

Bracken Cave, Texas

Also known as the Devil’s Sinkhole, it’s a mere 20 miles from San Antonio and houses the largest bat maternity colony in the world.  More than 15 million Mexican free-tail bats call Bracken Cave their summer home.

This enormous vertical cavern is considered to be the largest single-chamber cavern in Texas.  The opening is a shaft approximately 50 feet wide that drops 140 feet into the cavern.  The shaft then balloons to a diameter of over 320 feet and reaches a total depth of over 350 feet.

One With Life at Bracken Cave http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4x6

Braken Cave:  The Largest Mammal Nursery on Earth

Every square foot of Bracken Cave is jam packed with gestating or nursing female bats (almost 500 per!) that return every March and April after wintering in Mexico, to give birth to their pups.

While it is the nectar feeding bats that service our beloved agaves, specifically One With Life at Bracken Cave http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4x6the lesser long-nosed bat that the “Batman of Mexico,” Rodrigo Medellin, has so tirelessly championed, along with the Tequila Interchange Project’s “bat friendly” tequila and mezcal certification program, the Mexican free-tail variety also plays an important role in agriculture.

In fact, the estimated 100 million free-tail bats living in Central Texas caves eat approximately 1000 tons of insects and agricultural pests nightly at altitudes of anywhere from 1000 to 10,000 feet feeding primarily on the cotton boll-worm moth (a.k.a. corn ear worm moth) that alone costs American farmers up to a billion dollars annually.

Bats Are Dying, Part 2

As we mentioned in the above article written during last year’s Dia de los Muertos Tequila & Mezcal Tour, not only is the industrialization of tequila and mezcal tampering with the bats’ migratory behavior, but a new killer, White-nose Syndrome (Pseudogymnoascus destructans), is also a threat.

Known as WNS, it is a cold-loving white fungus found on the wings and faces of infected bats.  It causes bats to awaken too often during hibernation and to use up stored fat reserves while flying in winter.  These creatures usually freeze or starve to death.

One With Life at Bracken Cave http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4x6

First detected in 2006 in a cave in New York, it is still a mystery as to how this disease has spread so quickly (7 bat species, 26 states and 5 Canadian provinces, and counting).  The national park system, however, is doing its part to cut down on the spread of this epidemic.

Later on in our Heartland Tour at Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, also a home to bats, hikers were asked to walk onto a soap soaked carpet for several feet after a shortened cave tour.  It is believed that tourists who visit national parks could be inadvertently spreading WNS via footwear.

Bat-nado!

Witnessing the appearance of 4 million bats from a true bat cave is a sight like no other.

The first sign that alerts onlookers are the groups of Peregrine falcons that prey on the Mexican free-tails.  These birds instinctively know when the first nightly pilgrims dare to ascend.

Let’s just say that not every bat makes it out of Bracken Cave alive.

One With Life at Bracken Cave http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4x6No flash photography is allowed so as not to upset the bats during their nightly emergence, and once photography is no longer possible, it’s time to just enjoy the phenomenon of the “bat-nado,” the counterclockwise vortex that the bats create when leaving the cave on their quest for food.

We stood wide eyed in quiet reverence as literally millions of bats flew overhead gathering speed and altitude to feed on the moths and insects that attack corn and cotton farms outside the city of San Antonio, and well beyond.

The fluttering of millions of pairs of wings sounded like rain lightly tapping on a tin roof.  The breeze created by their flight cooled the muggy air around us.

Just close your eyes and smile.

One With Life at Bracken Cave http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4x6

Open your eyes and smile.

By the light of the half moon, the waves of bats disappeared like clouds of smoke over the tree tops of Bracken Cave reserve.

One With Life

Later that evening in the RV park, safely tucked away for the night, we selected One With Life certified organic tequila to toast our first magical experience on OWL_labelsthe Heartland Tour.

On the inside label of every batch of One With Life tequila there is a “tequila fortune cookie” or inspirational message.  Ours read–

“Wherever you go, be fully there.”

And, if you listen closely, you might even hear a bat flutter by.

***

Enjoy these few minutes of the bat emergence from Bracken Cave.

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!

Women In The Tequila Industry: Lisa Elovich

FullSizeRender_LisaELisa Elovich is a relative newcomer to the tequila business.

Accompanied by a small army of family, staunch supporters and fans, and guided by some savvy tequila industry veterans, Her One With Life (OWL) organic tequila is gaining a firm foothold in her native New York state.

She is also no stranger to working–and thriving–in male dominated industries.

This mother of two has been a Parole Commissioner since 2007.  She served as an Administrative Law Judge for the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, and was a Deputy Attorney General for the New York State Attorney General’s Office with a focus on juvenile justice and crime prevention programs.

If that wasn’t enough, Elovich was also at one time the state’s only licensed female professional boxing promoter!

Throughout her life experiences, Lisa has learned to remain present in the moment and the importance of balance.  Using her tequila brand as a vehicle, she imparts these lessons to all who enjoy One With Life.

Besides personally hand-selecting and test-tasting every batch in Mexico, each bottle is printed with a spiritual toast on the label and a special hidden quote inside.

Tequila Aficionado Media asked Ms. Elovich a handful of questions that, in the past, have been answered by our illustrious gallery of Women In The Tequila Industry.

Here’s what she had to say….

TA:  What are the challenges you face when dealing with the male dominated Tequila Industry? 

LE:  I have never felt like being a woman in a male dominated industry is a negative factor.  I was the only licensed female boxing promoter in New York State for awhile and I found that for the most part, people really only care about the results you produce, quality of the product and one’s character.

The same holds true for being a woman in the tequila industry. 

TA:  How have you been able to change things within your industry?

LE:  I am new to the industry but I think that I can help with dissolving egos and collaborating rather than always competing.

I believe that when you help others try to succeed you are more likely to succeed yourself.

TA:  What do you see as the future of women working within the Tequila Industry?

LE:  Women can bring a softer and more feminine perspective to the tequila world.

owl

One With Life Tequila’s niche is the health conscious female who enjoys organic products and the mild smooth taste of an ultra premium tequila

Now that high end tequilas are growing at a rapid pace, I think there will be more women entering the industry.

TA:  What things would you like to see changed?

LE:  I would like to see the smaller companies get more attention.OWL_labels

It should not only be about who can spend the most money but about quality of a product and its unique contribution to the tequila market.

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?

LE:  I would recommend speaking with others that are already in the industry.  I was lucky enough to get advice from people who have founded tequila brands.  It is important to listen to people who have already been through the fire and come out the other side.  It is extremely labor intensive, time consuming and takes a lot of persistence.

For me it has been mostly trial by fire and sometimes I run into road blocks.  The key is to just stay focused and positive.  Work hard and have faith.  I encourage others to follow their passion and to not give up even when things get difficult.

It takes time and patience to build a brand.  Build it slowly and don’t get in over your head.

The most important thing is to enjoy the ride!  Tequila, like life, is supposed to be light hearted and fun!

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!

Bats Are Dying!

1016151502aDuring Tequila Aficionado Media’s historic Dia de los Muertos Tequila Tour, Lisa Pietsch and I paid a visit to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico.  Before exploring the awesome depths of the caves and the formation of stalactites and stalagmites, we were also met with this alarming notice.

Even though it’s the Mexican freetail bats that are suffering man’s encroachment onto their turf, all bats are going through a hard time, including the “tequila bat.”

1016151441

Vicious Circle

The industrialization of the tequila making process, and to a certain extent some mezcals,  has made the preservation of the agave (blue, espadin, etc.) vital to the longevity of these industries and to the survival of the people who rely upon them for their existence.

It’s no secret that the weber blue agave is susceptible to diseases now that it is not allowed to bloom a quiote or stem for pollination by the lesser long-nosed bats.

By not letting the agave run the length of its lifespan, it is also upsetting the eco-system and natural migratory patterns of bats that rely on the agave for sustenance.

The agave gene pool has been tampered with by the explosive growth of the 1016151541tequila and mezcal industries.

The plant’s natural defenses against diseases and pests are compromised.  This means that pesticides are required to defend the valuable agave crops against diseases and pests.

In turn, the pesticides are hazardous to the health of harvesters, bats, bees and birds alike.  Not to mention the eventual pollution to the soil, ground water and water supplies.

It’s a vicious circle that agave growers can remedy by simply letting a portion of their agave crops grow naturally.

What Can Consumers Do?

Look for certified organic tequilas, mezcals, or sotols for starters.  These must follow certain protocols which prohibit the use of pesticides in order to earn the USDA seal.

1016151438aIn addition, though considered a marketing buzz phrase, look for agave spirits that are produced with agave or sotol that has been “wild harvested.”  Chances are, none of them are using pesticides.

Secondly, seek agave spirits brands that claim to be “bat friendly.”

According to Angelica Menchaca Rodriguez, whose PhD studies are concerning this very subject, look for mezcal made with maguey papalote (agave cupreata) since “…this species cannot reproduce without the intervention of bats and can be found mainly in the state of Guerrero.”

The Tequila Interchange Project is working with Rodrigo Medellin–the Batmanbatfriendly of Mexico–in the pilot stages of a massive Bat Friendly Tequila & Mezcal Recognition Program that will likely include some beloved brands of tequilas and mezcals.

In the meantime, be kind to bats.  Build bat houses for them to roost in as suggested by the Bat World Sanctuary.

The bat you save could be your best sipping buddy.

 

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!

The Montelobos Mezcal Project

[After The San Antonio Cocktail Conference held in January, 2015, Tequila Aficionado Media caught up with Dr. Iván Saldaña, producer of the upstart mezcal, Montelobos, a partnership project with the makers of Milagro tequila.  A featured speaker during the conference, here’s our in-depth discussion held at the bar of the lavish Westin Riverwalk Hotel.]

La Anatomia del Mezcal

Iván Saldaña (Photo courtesy of David Suro)
Iván Saldaña (Photo courtesy of David Suro)

In Dr. Iván Saldaña’s nifty little primer, The Anatomy Of Mezcal–which, by the way, belongs in every serious agave students’ reference library–he goes to great lengths to demystify maguey (agave) and mezcal in a concise and easy-to-understand fashion. As an introduction into the fundamentals of mezcal, the book covers it all, from what it is to how it’s processed.  Saldaña also defines the differences of artisanal mezcals distilled in palenques and haciendas from those using industrial methods. The latter is a situation currently being hotly contested inside the Mezcal Industry as it tries to cope with its alarming expansion without repeating the mistakes made by the Tequila Industry while still in its infancy.

A Double PhD.

Montelobos_ABVFrom his research, Saldaña asserts that the maguey plant efficiently evolves when affected by environmental stress.  It is precisely the plant’s adaptability to extreme conditions that makes it not only a versatile prime material for tequila and mezcal production, but also gives it its unique flavors and aromas that set it apart from other spirits. The same could be said about Iván’s versatility as a passionate scientist, researcher, environmentalist and mezcal developer who prefers to be challenged to come up with unique solutions. Here, Dr. Saldaña elaborates on his academic background leading to his PhD. In this segment, Iván recounts how his wine and spirits experience working for global distiller, Pernod Ricard, led to a craving to create something more intrinsically fulfilling.

My Way

Montelobos_derecho

Taking a lesson from Frank Sinatra, Iván explains what it was like to compose a mezcal like Montelobos without following any commercial guidelines.

Montelobos Explained

Iván has been quoted as insisting that “Mezcal is too often dominated by either an excessive smokiness or inopportune proportions.”  In his quest for the perfectly balanced mezcal, he concentrated on bringing forth Montelobos’ sweeter notes, along with citrus and smoke using cultivated espadin. 006The successful result garnered Montelobos a double gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2013. Not wanting to create a single faceted mezcal, or replicating an old family recipe, Dr. Saldaña further breaks down Montelobos’ complexities.

The Value of Innovation

Dr. Saldaña produced his mezcal under the guidance of fifth generation Maestro Mezcalero, Don Abel López Mateos, but still believed in exploration and experimentation when designing its unique flavor profile.  Coupled with innovation, Iván contends that Montelobos is not about science, but about passion.

43.2 ABV

Montelobos_label   Iván explains how he arrived at the perfect 43.2% (86.4 proof) alcohol by volume to achieve the flavors and aromas unique to Montelobos.    

Sustainability

Agave_MontelobosNot only vigilant on creating Montelobos his way, Dr. Saldaña was also concerned about its environmental footprint on Oaxaca where it is distilled. Montelobos uses only organic, commercially grown espadin, certified so by certifying agency, Certimex.  Iván also makes sure that the wood used in roasting the espadin comes from a sustainable source.

The Universe Within the Universe

Dr. Iván Saldaña’s expedition into the anatomy of mezcal is by no means over. He confessed to having an urge to distill other variations of Montelobos that would emphasize additional flavors and aromas often hidden in traditional mezcal flavor profiles. For the time being, he prefers to continue to examine and discover the world within the world of mezcal.

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!

Craft Tequila–WTF Does THAT Mean? Part 2

Blurred Lines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember Fact #1?  Tequila belongs in Mexico.

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

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

There Is No Backpedaling

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

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

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

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

*Rant Alert!*

Let’s face it–

No backpedaling!
No backpedaling!

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

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

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

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

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

The Craft Tequila Gauntlet

El Tesoro handmade tequila.
El Tesoro handmade tequila.

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

#1:  NOM list

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

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

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

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

#2:  Pedigree

Don Felipe Camarena
Don Felipe Camarena

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

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

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

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

#3:  Distillery ownership/partnership/co-op

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

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

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

#4:  Agave and land ownership

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

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

#5:  Use of a Diffuser

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

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

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

[“…to prohibit the use of diffusers (in hydrolysis of agave juices) that takes the “soul” (the flavor of baked agave) out of our native distillates, singular in the world for its complexities of aromas and flavors.”]

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

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

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

#6:  Organic

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

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

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

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

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

#7:  Transparency

This might be the toughest test of all.

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

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

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

 Craft by Any Other Name

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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