Women In The Bacanora Industry: Adriana Torres

Women In The Bacanora Industry: Adriana Torres https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5OU

We first encountered Adriana Torres through Novel Spirits Collection, the US importer of her flagship bacanora brand, Pascola Bacanora.

The more we heard about her from Connie and Mel Abert, the owners of Novel Spirits, the more intrigued we became with her background.

You can read about her herculean efforts to revitalize Sonora, Mexico’s once thriving bacanora industry in her own words here.

Launching what we hope to be the first in a long list of Bacanora Boss Ladies, we induct Adriana Torres into our gallery of Women In the Tequila/Mezcal/Bacanora Industry series.

What follows are her answers to our customary handful of questions.

[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/Mezcal/Bacanora Industries?)

(¿Cómo describiría sus experiencias como una mujer de alto rango en su posición en una industria dominada principalmente masculina?)

AT:  My experiences were difficult, primarily because when we began, we were the first to formalize a female owned company in the bacanora industry.

But, truthfully, in all this time, I’ve received lots of support from great men in the industry.

Women In The Bacanora Industry: Adriana Torres https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5OU

(Dificiles, principalmente porque cuando yo inicie en la industria del Bacanora, fuimos de las primeras en formalizarnos y era de mujeres.

Pero la verdad he que en todo este tiempo he recibido muchísimo apoyo por parte de grandes hombres relacionados con la industria.)

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

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

AT:  The truth is, just doing the work.

Doing things right and being loyal to our principles and values.  Being consistent in what we say and do.

And, above all else, taking care of the little details.

(La verdad, solo con trabajo, haciendo las cosas bien y siendo leal a nuestros principios y valores. Ser coherentes en lo que se dice y se hace, y sobre todo cuidando los pequeños detalles.)

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

(¿Qué ves como el futuro de las mujeres que trabajan en la industria del Tequila, Mezcal o Bacanora?)

AT:  We’re growing.

It’s been 12 years since I became involved in this industry and my company was the only one that considered [employed] women.

Over time, many more businesses have incorporated women intoWomen In The Bacanora Industry: Adriana Torres https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5OU their processes [like] wives and daughters, as well as contracting women in the areas of design, management and sales.

We ourselves will be working with female vinateras (bacanora distillers).  The wife of one of our producers will begin to distill one of our own brands.

(Vamos en crecimiento, hace 12 años que me incorpore a esta industria mi empresa era la única que consideraba mujeres, al paso del tiempo varias de las empresas han ido incorporando mujeres dentro de sus procesos, a las esposas, las hijas, contratando mujeres en el área de diseño, gestión y ventas.

Incluso nosotras empezaremos a trabajar con mujeres vinateras, la esposa de uno de nuestros productores empezara a producir una de nuestras marcas.)

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

(¿Qué cosas gustaría cambiado? )

AT:  To stop looking at the [bacanora] industry as just another source for profits.

We should value what the industry really stands for.

That bacanora won’t become like tequila or mezcal, but continues being an exclusive product, based on supply and not demand.

That bacanora truly becomes a driving force for the economy, the environment, and the culture of Sonora, Mexico and the world.

That is what we are striving for.

(Dejar de ver la industria como una Fuente de ingresos unicamente, valorar todo lo que la industria realmente representa, que el Bacanora no sea como el tequila ni el mescal, que siga siendo un product exclusivo, basado en la oferta y no la demanda, que realmente el bacanora se convierta en un motor de la economia, medio ambiente y cultura de Sonora, Mexico y el mundo.

Nosotros en eso estamos trabajando.)

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

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

AT:  Of course!

They are ancestral distillates that represent us.  They are spirits with the flavor of Mexico from distinct regions of the country.

We must preserve the tradition.

(Claro, son destilados ancestrales, que nos representan. Son bebidas espirituosas con sabor a Mexico, de las distintas regiones del país.

Necesitamos conservar la tradicion.)

TA:  Is there anything you’d like to say to women who may be contemplating entering and working in the Tequila/Mezcal/Bacanora Industries 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, Mezcal o Bacanora en una forma u otra?)

AT:  We need to work in a united way.  We should care for the tradition, history, and culture of Sonora.

We should guarantee quality products, and motivate our producers to make their products like we care for our families.

Bacanora is a noble spirit.  It is a product that would allow us to recuperate many lost aspects in our state, from social, cultural, economic and environmental.

I invite them to conscientiously participate in the development of the industry.  That Bacanora achieves for Sonora what Tequila is for Jalisco, and Mezcal is for Oaxaca.

Women In The Bacanora Industry: Adriana Torres https://wp.me/p3u1xi-5OU

(Necesitamos trabajar de manera unida, debemos cuidar la tradición, la historia y la cultura de Sonora. Debemos garantizar productos de calidad, debemos motivar a nuestros productores a que realicen su producto como nosotras cuidamos a nuestras familias. El bacanora es un producto noble, un producto que nos puede permitir recuperar muchos aspectos perdidos en nuestro estado, desde aspectos sociales, culturales, económicos como los de medio ambiente.

Las invito a participar de una manera consiente en el desarrollo de la industria, lograr que el Bacanora se convierta para Sonora, en lo que el Tequila es para Jalisco y el Mezcal para Oaxaca.)

Women In The Tequila Industry: Melly Barajas

SinoMellyWhen Judy Rivera sought to make her own brand of tequila, she was determined to find a master distiller whose views and outlook were similar to hers.  It wasn’t long before she found Carmen Lucia Barajas Cárdenas–“Melly” to her friends–and Sino Tequila was born.

Melly Barajas always intended to be a Tequila Boss Lady.  After years of apprenticeship in the male dominated Tequila Industry, she purchased land in the highlands of Jalisco called Valle de Guadalupe and constructed her own distillery, Vinos y Licores Azteca (NOM 1533).

She resolved to hire only women from the rural area and to teach them all she knew, from operating fermentation tanks to bottling and more.  She also established a learning center and living quarters at the distillery for her all female staff.

SinoDistillery outer

Melly has become a force to be reckoned with, tackling the Tequila Industry on her own terms.  Here’s what she had to say in response to our customary questions.

[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 describiría sus experiencias como una mujer de alto rango en su posición en una industria dominada principalmente masculina?)

MB:  Fascinating!

It’s a world filled with constant challenges, where you have to work a lot and assert yourself.  Where you have to demonstrate that your sex doesn’t matter, Sino_pinas 2and instead, do things right and always move forward to improve yourself every day.

It’s a place where you find many helpful circumstances and others that are difficult obstacles that force you to struggle each day and to not give up.

It’s work that changes your life.  There’s always new things, new people, new experiences, new challenges.  The key is to wake up each day ready to relish whatever comes up.

(Facinante!

Es un mundo lleno de retos constantes, donde tienes que trabajar mucho y hacerte valer, donde debes demostrar que el sexo no importa sino hacer las cosas bien y siempre estar en movimiento y superarte tratando de ser cada dia mejor.

Es un espacio donde encuentras muchas manos amigas y otras manos duras que te retan y así te obligan a estar luchando cada dia  y no darte por vencida.

Es un trabajo que conviertes en tu vida. Siempre hay cosas nuevas, gente nueva, experiencias nuevas, retos nuevos, la clave es levantarte todos los días lista para disfrutar lo que venga)

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?)

SinoSMB:   Hmmm.  Realistically, I’m not sure I’ve changed anything in the industry.

What I can say is that we’ve changed the lives of many women in the town where the distillery is located in Valle de Guadalupe, Jalisco.

Well, in the factory, besides teaching them how to make very good tequila, we’ve taught them that because we’re women, we are limited by NOTHING.

On the contrary!

In the factory, we do all types of jobs that perhaps have been labeled men’s work because it requires more physical strength than what we ladies have, but, by our astuteness that defines us, we develop skills and invent things to do our jobs equally as well as gentlemen.

Besides, when they demonstrate [to themselves] that they can do things that they’ve never even dreamed of, and that they can do so wondrously, they take that lesson into their daily lives and it changes their manner of thinking and they begin to forget their physical restrictions because women’s limitations exist only in their minds.

I’m not saying it’s easy, but the difficulty makes all the difference and the fun.

(Mmmm, realmente no se si he cambiado algo de la industria.

Lo que si te puedo decir que hemos cambiado la vida de muchas mujeres en el pueblo donde esta la tequilera en Valle de Guadalupe Jalisco.

SinoCrusher 2

Pues en la fabrica ademas de enseñarles hacer muy buen tequila, se les ha enseñado de no por “ser mujeres” estamos limitadas a NADA,

Al contrario !!!

En la fabrica se hacen todo tipo de trabajo, que tal vez se etiquetan como trabajo de hombres por que requieren de mas fuerza que las que tenemos las damas, pero con la astucia que nos distingue hacemos mañas e inventamos cosas para hacerlas igual de bien que los caballeros.

Ademas cuando les demuestras que pueden hacer cosas que ni en sueños pensaron que pudieran hacer, y lo pueden hacer de maravilla, este aprendizaje lo llevan a su vida diaria y cambia su modo de pensar y empiezan a olvidar sus ” disque limitaciones ” por que las limitaciones de las mujeres solo están en su cabeza.

No digo que sea fácil, pero lo difícil hace la diferencia y lo divertido.)

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?)

MB:  The future of women in Tequila has arrived!

Our tequilas say it all:  The feminine touch on tequila is its magic, its heart, and its soul.

In tequilas made by women, or with women’s help, a little piece of their hearts travels to all parts of the world.

SinoDistilleryCrew2

Since every day more women are working, it is this medium that has begun to be an important source of employment in the tequila [making/growing] regions.

(El futuro de las mujeres en el Tequila ha llegado!!!

Nuestros tequilas lo dicen todo, el toque femenino en el tequila es la magia, es el corazon, es su alma.

En los tequilas que hacen las mujeres, o con ayuda de mujeres se va un pedacito de su corazon a todas partes del mundo.

Ya que cada dia mas mujeres trabajan es este medio que ha empezado hacer una fuente de trabajo importante en las zonas tequileras.)

TA:  What facets of the Tequila Industry would you like to see change?elcondeazul-blanco_6237_r2

(Qué cosas gustaría cambiado?)

MB:  Everything has its time and takes its course.

I believe that doing things right and demonstrating to the world the value of women in our beverage [tequila] industry is on a sure path.

(Todo lleva su tiempo y su curso.

Creo que el hacer las cosas bien y demostrarle al mundo el valor de las mujeres en nuestra bebida va por buen camino.)

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?)

MB:  That’s an interesting question.

I’d like all tequila to be [made of] 100% Agave Azul Tequilana Weber so that it could only be from the juice of this miraculous plant with all its properties.

There is a reason that the ancient Aztecs made offerings of this elixir to the gods and it was only imbibed by priests.

(Es interesante tu pregunta.

Yo quisiera que todo el tequila fuera solo 100% de Agave Azul Tequilana Weber, para que fuera solo jugo de esta planta maravillosa con todas sus propiedades.

No por nada los Aztecas ofrecían este elixir a los Dioses y solo era bebido en la antigüedad por los sacerdotes.)

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?)

ToroAzulMellyMB:  Of course.

I’d like to tell them that to sell tequila isn’t just selling a beverage, it’s giving the client an opportunity to get acquainted with this delicious and ancient beverage that was offered to the gods.  It’s giving them the chance to savor a beautiful history, a lovely dream, a small piece of Mexico.

To remember that inside every bottle go the thrills, the efforts and the hopes of a town that is proudly Mexican.

The sky’s the limit.

Salúd!

(Claro.

Yo quisiera decirles que el vender tequila no solo es vender una bebida, es darle al cliente la oportunidad de conocer la deliciosa bebida milenaria que era ofrecida a los Dioses, darles la experiencia de paladear una bella historia, un bello sueño, un pedacito de Mexico.

Que recuerden que en cada botella va la ilusión, el esfuerzo y la esperanza de todo un pueblo orgullosos de ser Mexicanos.

Que su limite sea el cielo.

Salúd!)

Germán González–Tequila From The Heart

german gonzalez

[In early November of 2014, San Antonio resident and neighbor, Germán González, joined us at our home office.  That evening, he brought his full array of Tequila Uno (T1)–Ultra Fino, Selecto, Excepcional, Tequila Estelar, along with the much acclaimed ultra-aged Tears of Llorona. 

In a more relaxed atmosphere and without his signature Panama hat and guayabera, Germán guided us through a tasting of each of his offerings while sharing his wit, wisdom, and knowledge.]

The Present

 “To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts–such is the duty of the artist.”–Robert Schumann

What strikes you first about Germán González is his intense modesty when he discusses his vast accomplishments.  Secondly, it’s realizing the level of genius he possesses as a Master Distiller.  Thirdly, you are awed by the depth of his artistry.

Distilling what was arguable some of the finest tequila available in the

Chinaco logo.
Chinaco logo.

spirits market in the past with his historic family brand, Chinaco, today Germán humbly pours us proper amounts from his own equally lauded labels, T1 (Tequila Uno) and Tears of Llorona, and teaches us his trademark “toast from the heart.”

Taking his branded Riedel Ouverture tequila glass held at the stem, Germán places it over his heart and says, “salúd, from the heart.”  He then reaches out to each of us and, instead of touching at the rim of the fragile vessels, he turns his glass almost sideways and boldly tags the bowls sounding a lyrical crystal clang.

Afterwards, he lovingly looks at the platinum liquid inside his stemmed glass and says, “This tequila is amazing,” as if surprised that it turned out so well.

Coming from a family that played an integral part in both Mexico’s and Tequila’s sweeping history [you can read more about his family history here], Germán González is at once inspired by his past and firmly focused on his future.

The Past

A gentleman farmer by trade and a romantic at heart, Germán literally learned his profession from the ground up under the watchful eye of his father, Guillermo, a lawyer and politician.

At eighteen, Germán permanently moved to the family ranchos in Tamaulipas by himself instead of attending university.  For several years, he spent intensive weekends learning about the land from Don Guillermo, growing agaves, chiles, corn, soybeans and raising cattle.  He felt privileged and grateful to have his father as his instructor and mentor.

Don Guillermo also purposely kept him away from the La Gonzaleña distillery until he felt Germán was ready for the responsibility.

Tough Times

After several years of piloting Chinaco to unprecedented heights, creative differences with his older brothers caused Germán to seek a new distillery from where he could challenge himself to distill even greater tequila.

Luckily, his lifelong friend and owner of La Tequileña (NOM 1146) Enrique Fonseca, himself a celebrated tequilero, most recently with his Fuenteseca brand, literally gave him the keys to his distillery and allowed Germán to pursue his dream of producing the ultimate expressions of tequila that have ever been realized.

At the same time, Germán uprooted his family and moved to San Antonio, Texas in 2007 to learn about the liquor distribution system and also to study the fickle American palate.  He officially launched Tequila Uno in 2009.

Lessons Learned

Germán memorized two very important principles from his father where tequila was concerned–

That the quality of the agave will always assure favorable results and consistency.  That’s why he insists on using estate grown agave from a single plot of land or grove (huerta), and…

Used scotch whisky barrels are the secret to capturing just the right balance when resting tequila.

He deliberately employs the used barrels to take only the rough edges off of the Selecto when resting for his Excepcional.  Germán believes that this practice results in a more traditional reposado.

“It’s how reposados should taste–not like añejos,” Germán declares.

Then, he boldly adds, “I don’t care about the color, I care about the flavor.”

The Meaning of Mature

Germán believes the maturity of blue agave has nothing to do with the plant’s brix (sugar content) or age.  He judges the maturity of agave by its look and feel.

He prefers using  agave from Atotonilco, in the highlands of Jalisco, since he determined that they produce a close flavor profile to agave from Tamaulipas, and thus, compliment each other.

He had blended highlands agave with those from Tamaulipas when in charge of Chinaco during its second resurgence.  At that time, La Gonzaleña didn’t have enough agave in reserve as it had in its heyday.

Inside the Mind of An Artist

Tequila Uno
Tequila Uno

“The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work.  It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” –Michelangelo

Behaving more like a painter or chef–hands on, using all of his senses–Germán González has in mind exactly what he wants Tequila Uno and Tears of Llorona to taste like and what effect he wants to attain with each expression.

He knows that flavor profile exists within the plant and the resulting juice, just like Michaelangelo knew that inside each slab of marble was a statue waiting to be released.

Germán distills Tequila Uno to set the flavors free!

  Chemistry vs. Alchemy

“Tones sound, and roar and storm about me until I have set them down in notes.”–Ludwig van Beethoven

Unless prompted, Germán never talks about the numbers, the chemistry or science of distillation like famed Master Distillers Carlos Camarena (Tapatío), Marko Karakasevic (Charbay), or Melkon Khosrovian (Ixa Tequila by Greenbar) have been known to do.  In fact, those were Germán’s worst subjects in high school.

Much like a mezcalero (mezcal distiller) does when producing mezcal, he uses his senses to tell him what alcohol by volume (ABV) his tequila should have to achieve the desired flavor and aroma.  The numbers then become minor details in the entire scope of things.  He allows the formation and density of the lingering bubbles (perlas) in his glass to be his signposts that he has succeeded.

 Balance Is Everything

Germán asserts that alcohol in tequila is not just about getting drunk.  He describes it as a necessary element in any tequila’s flavor profile.  In fact, he contends that mezcals, by and large, should be distilled at 45% ABV or higher to achieve its balance and to acquire its unique flavor profiles.

The key is finding the balance between the ABV and other elements of the highlands agave to bring about the nuances Germán demands for T1. That’s why Selecto is at one measure of ABV and Ultra Fino is at another. It has allowed him to produce two types of tequila for different

The full line of T1.
The full line of T1.

consumers–

The novice just beginning to explore tequila (Ultra Fino), and the collector or connoisseur (Selecto, Excepcional, Estelar) with more discerning tastes.  We encountered this technique at our tasting of Roca Patrón.  González has perfected this method into his own signature art form.

The Future

Germán González shares his global desires for T1.

Composer, artist, distiller–Germán González has elevated tequila into what it has always aspired to be–

A spirit worthy of the attention and appreciation of the masses throughout the world.

Whatever Germán’s next composition, be assured that it, too, will be a work of art, from his heart to yours.

 

Jessica’s Journey – Herradura’s Perro Borachito

Herradura Distillery Tour

Herradura Herradura! You know the name. It’s everywhere. Every liquor store, bar, and restaurant that serves tequila likely serves Herradura, a brand that seems lesser known than Sauza or Jose Cuervo, but is the oldest distillery still intact and operating in Tequila, Mexico.

We pulled up to a traditional hacienda on a dirt road. The front gates opened only slightly to an interior courtyard and we saw three men in traditional charro garments, astride three chestnut mares. A boy, roughly ten years old or so, emerged from the massive wood doors with his donkey in tow.

The building was nondescript. The retaining walls surrounding the courtyard from the street are a muddied yellow from recent storms kicking up dirt into the paint. To the left of the massive oak doors was a simple sign: “Casa Herradura”.

Entering the gates into the courtyard is like walking onto a film set. Unlike to the dusty dry dirt road we arrived on, a hand laid cobblestone road lie before us, leading to another set of massive wood gates set in another retaining wall and surrounded by lush foliage and bright colors.

haciendaH1On either side of the cobblestone road were small bungalows painted blue and yellow and pink with carefully tended front gardens lining the walls to the outside world. Magnolia trees stretched up as high as I could see, full of bountiful white flowers emitting the sweetest fragrance.  Women emerged from dark shadowed doorways looking busy sweeping but more likely looking for an excuse to get a look at this group of tourists taking in the scene.

dog1From a doorway on the right came what appeared to be a small toy. Fluffy and white with a low center of gravity, with great big floppy ears and big dark eyes, this dog stole the hearts of everyone with a wag of his tail! I don’t know that I have ever seen a pet look so much like a child’s toy but what was unnerving was the energy of this puppy. He seemed so silly. He cocked his little head from side to side as we each bent down to adore his overwhelming cuteness.  All I could think was that there was something “off” with this dog of epic cuteness.

A woman’s voice broke in, pulling our focus from the dog and instructing us to gather as our tour was about to begin. “This is Herradura and this is the oldest tequila distillery in Mexico still in operation” she began.

The gates opened for us and we passed through them. I turned around to watch the gates close, taking note of the dog sitting obediently on the other side of the closing gates. Following the docent, the story of Herradura began to unfold.

The Herradura Love Story

herradura, hacienda In Mexico every story begins with a love story. There are very few exceptions. As it is with all thing’s Mexico, there is a romantic story of intrigue and perseverance, overcoming all odds in this seemingly perfect place.

This love story begins with Félix and Carmen. A lucky man at the age of 45, Félix López meets and marries the beautiful and determined eighteen year-old, Carmen Rosales. Of this great love and union came two children, Aurelio, and Maria de Jesús (Jesusita.). The union of this couple and their family legacy brought the modern production of tequila to the Hacienda and together they built a factory that remained in the family and was used until 1963.

Félix López died in 1878. He left the future of the Hacienda in the hands of his young wife. Carmen’s brother Ambrosio Rosales and his wife, Elisa Gomez Cuervo de Rosales, step in and help Carmen with Ambrosio running the estate with great success for many years. As is Mexican custom, the property was to be handed down to Félix López’s son but Ambrosio taught the business to Carmen’s son, Aurelio, as well.
Pretty normal thus far, right?

Here is where the story gets good! Aurelio, a traditionalist and fervent Catholic, eventually takes control of Hacienda San José del Refugio, and throws himself into the production of this Mexican Moonshine, the family tequila, and he gives it the name of “Herradura”.

Cristero Rebellion

herradura, hacienda The distillery was threatened by the Cristero Rebellion (La Cristiada), a bloody battle between the Catholic Church and the State of Jalisco (1926-1929). In an effort to limit the incredible political stronghold of the Catholic Church, the federal government began harassing priests, outlawed the practice of Catholicism, and banned the display of all crosses. To make an example of the offenders of these newly enacted laws, trees and posts were strung with the bodies of offenders as a clear and callous reminder of the ramifications of disobeying the new laws. Before long, priests were being hunted down and killed. Those people who stood up against the government were called “Cristeros”.

Aurelio worked tirelessly on behalf of the Cristeros. He put out a call to the workers of the Hacienda to join the fight, provided financing, and gave shelter to priests and supporters at the hacienda. Built within the walls and confines of the Hacienda were endless tunnels that wove a tapestry beneath the Hacienda and all of Amatitán. Aurelio was later recognized for his brave and courageous hospitality and blessed with the official title “El Cristero”.

herradura, hacienda, distillery, museum In 1927, the government began raids on the homes of Cristero sympathizers, and Aurelio was well aware that his life was at risk. Devising a plan to escape, he tricks the advancing federal soldiers. The Hacienda had a large store of wooden balls which were designed to crush agave. They were of little use for that, but by placing them around the perimeter walls of the hacienda, and outfitting them with hats and sticks, the advancing soldiers believed that the Hacienda was a well-fortified fortress and turned back. Aurelio and his sister made their escape through the tunnel system and into the countryside. It was later speculated that Aurelio spent three years in exile and safety at the Vatican before he came back to México. Sadly he never returned to the hacienda.

When Aurelio fled the country, he left the Hacienda in the care of his cousin, David Rosales, the son of Ambrosio. At a time when mixto tequila (tequila made with the addition of sugar) was becoming a method of cutting expenses, Don David insisted that Herradura remain 100% agave tequila, maintaining the integrity of the family tradition. In November of 1928, the brand of “Tequila Herradura” was officially registered with the government in Mexico City —with the horseshoe as the logo.

Herradura’s Renaissance

herradura, hacienda, distillery, museum The property took you through the time of the story maintaining its original architecture and layout with the exception of the newer distillery implemented by Doña Gabriela de la Peña Rosales.

Hacienda San José del Refugio attributes much to the oversight of Doña Gabriela de la Peña Rosales. Married to an heir of the hacienda and finding herself a widow not long thereafter, she was a stunning beauty, of notorious legend, and worked harder than anyone else on the Hacienda. She was up with the sun every morning to greet the workers at breakfast, looked at accounts over lunch, then headed into Guadalajara to make sales in the afternoon. It was under Doña Gabriela’s supervision that a modern distillery was built, keeping the Old Factory as a museum. She introduced Herradura añejo tequila in 1962, and introduced the world to reposado in 1974.

herradura, hacienda, distillery, museum We went on a museum tour of the original distillery within the walls of deep old adobe, passing windows on tunnels that led deep under the distillery and down, down, down into darkness. We saw the wells in which the pinas were thrown and the system used to pull the great wheels that crushed the pinas. The docent explainined that at first it was a man that pushed the massive wheel in circles hour after hour and later lead a mule or burro to pull the weight over the pinas. We saw the ovens in which the agaves were cooked to a perfect temperature and texture for fermentation and the walls of white and French oak casks for the storage of the extracted juices. We were transported back to a time when manual labor meant putting two hands in and then if necessary all of you in.

Seriously!!

casksherraDid you know that some tequila fermented faster with sweat? It is a fact.
The jimador would come in from the field and strip down to nothing. He would then climb into the vat or well with the cooked agave and as the pinas were dropped one by one into the vats, he would wrap his entire body around the core of the agave, and squeeze with all of his might until the juice extracted from the plant. Then the plant was pushed back out to be used for other purposes similar to the way we use hemp today. This was done because the yeast was activated by the acids of the body and the PH from the sweat interacted with the juice, creating a faster sugar decomposition and ultimately alcohol. Mexican Moonshine old school!

We concluded with a tasting. The docent didn’t realize she was educating the educated. With a charming smile and an enigmatic personality, she enthusiastically told us the proper way to take the sip, inhale and exhale, and taste the notes of the varietals of the Herradura flight of products.

Canine Connoisseur

dog3Coming out of the distillery into the light of day, I remember turning my face up to the sun and breathing in yet one more breathtaking moment of my beloved Mexico and her rich history. And then I was pulled back by a commotion happening in the distillery. There beneath the shiny modern vats was that dog, taunting the security guard who yelled at him for being “borracho”. The dog dodged the security guard, dipping behind and under the heavy steel machines until he fell over. Just fell over.

The security guard reached down gently and picked up the dog like a toy. As the man brought the lifeless animal up to his chest, it looked like a rag doll. The irritated security guard marched off toward the bungalows shaking his head as he cradled the dog to his chest and muttered to himself.

My face must have registered the horror I thought I had witnessed. I stood there bewildered as the man was so calm with the dog’s lifeless body in his arms. I couldn’t quite grasp the casual demeanor and irritation he exhibited when he reached down to scoop up the collapsed animal either. It seemed so surreal. That’s when the docent marched up to me with a great big smile and said “Don’t worry Senora, the puppy is just borracho”.

Seems the “silly” puppy lives in a state of tequila euphoria. His preferred station is beneath the drip leak of the distillation vats. He is a canine tequila junkie and they cannot keep him from his “habit” no matter how hard they try. The dog has grown to be adept in his search for tequila. He has mastered dodging security, sneaking under the gates, sitting under the dripping vat, and once he has had his fill, passing out cold. Obviously he has no care for moderation or sipping responsibly.

 

jessica Arent, Sauza History, tequila, jessica arent, tequila aficionado, la cofradia, jaime sauza, cuervo, distillery, wine, dobecq, brandyJessica Arent has spent her career steeped in the Hispanic culture. Passionate about the Latin culture and experiencing roles that have taken her from television to digital marketing throughout the United States and Mexico, Jessica’s passion for Mexico runs in her blood. An accomplished writer, Mexico is where her heart lives and is the focus of her work and writing.  Specializing in marketing Hispanic based products and services, Jessica will tell you there are few people in the world or places she has traveled, from Asia to Europe and in between, who compare to the Mexican culture.  Building websites such as ALL ABOUT MEXICO and fostering the marketing endeavors of a number of tequila products, to name a few, Jessica sets out to inspire the world around her, one person, one relationship at a time, to know and understand the culture she calls home.  Jessica is a partner at Intermountain Media, LLC, the Communications and Media Director of Terra Energy Resources Corp, and shares other travel and tequila adventures on her blog, Jessica’s Mexico.
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Dazed & Diffused: More on the Diffuser in Tequila Production

We briefly tackled the diffuser controversy earlier in 2014 with The Diffusor in Tequila Production: Are They Cheating? and in Craft Tequila–WTF Does THAT Mean? Part 2  where we featured our Craft Tequila Gauntlet to help you make better buying decisions when seeking quality craft tequilas.

 Here, Tequila Aficionado Media delves deeper…

What’s Not on The Menu

The Pastry War's stance on diffuser produced tequila and mezcal., We briefly tackled the diffuser controversy earlier in 2014 with The Diffusor in Tequila Production: Are They Cheating?, diffuser, diffusor, difuser, difusor
The Pastry War’s stance on diffuser produced tequila and mezcal.

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.

WTH Is It?

Mirriam-Webster’s online dictionary diffuser definition–

“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.

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.”

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.”

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.

Tomsa Destil diffuser., Diffusor in Tequila
Tomsa Destil diffuser.

The Stigma

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.

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.

#AskRuben

Ruben Aceves, Casa Herradura, Diffusor in Tequila
Ruben Aceves, Casa Herradura.

 

In the Twitter thread attached to The Diffusor in Tequila Production: Are They Cheating? it was revealed that Casa Herradura had used a diffuser from 2001-2010.

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.

Vintage Casa Herradura, logo, Diffusor in Tequila

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.

 

Twitter chat #AskRuben.

More Twitter chat. #AskRuben

 

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).

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 telenovela Destilando 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.

Controversy

“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.”

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).”

Flavor

[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.”

 

Environment

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

Don Fermin barrel room at Destilería Leyros.
Don Fermin barrel room at Destilería Leyros.

(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?”

At the risk of being redundant, it bears repeating what noted agave ethno-botanist, Ana Valenzuela said about the diffuser here

Shredder.
Shredder.

 

“…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?

Mezcaleros de Oaxaca protestan.
Mezcaleros de Oaxaca protestan.

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.

Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You

Without maguey there is no mezcal or tequila.
Without maguey there is no mezcal or tequila.

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.

Jessica’s Journey – Epic Marketing or Sauza History Lesson?

Epic Marketing or Sauza History Lesson?

You Be the Judge

Part 3 in Jessica’s Epic Journey

By Jessica Arent, Tequila Aficionado Contributor

Sauza History, tequila, jessica arent, tequila aficionado, la cofradia, jaime sauza, cuervo, distillery, wine, dobecq, brandyMy second day in Mexico was focused on the product and team brainstorming for a market launch. Believe me when I say Mel Gibson’s character in “What Women Want” wasn’t so far off in the process of branding and advertising. Total immersion into the product to help identify the audience, and the creativity necessary to capture the attention of the targeted audience can be taxing, especially when the tasting begins before the first cappuccino.

I walked into the meeting feeling the weight of travel, the mess of humidity, and trying to pull myself together. Guadalajara has a humid climate and the morning had already proven challenging with the struggle to tame my ever-frizzing hair. If you have ever attempted to straighten and smooth naturally curly hair in humid climates you know this can be an exercise in futility and frustrating endeavor, and yet we still attempt the battle. It tends to leave you irritable and makes for a difficult start to the day…until there was tequila? For breakfast? No way!!!

Several unmarked bottles sat on the table along with dozens of glasses.

And so the work day began, with a flute of 5-year Anejo in one hand and a double cappuccino in the other. . .

While I will not bore you with the details of the work day and the brainstorming that went into it, I will say that I felt like I consumed more tequila on this day than I have in all my years of drinking! 5-year, Plata, Reposado, 7-year…

Glass after glass, note after note…

It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

What?! It’s work!!

The truth is, while an extraordinary team, the incredible opportunity to work side by side with Jaime Sauza, and garner some of his knowledge and the rich family history that is his in the world of tequila, was without a doubt an incredible experience, and it was exactly this way that I spent the work day, collaborating with this extraordinary man…

Sauza History

Sauza History, tequila, jessica arent, tequila aficionado, la cofradia, jaime sauza, cuervo, distillery, wine, dobecq, brandyOriginally considered “Mexican Moonshine”, the poor man’s drink, Don Cenobio Sauza recognized opportunity early on(“Don” makes you think of the Godfather, doesn’t it?) In 1873 Don Cenobio Sauza founded Sauza Tequila at “La Perseverancia” distillery. He was the first distiller to call the spirit produced from the blue agave plant “tequila”, and the first to export the drink to the United States.

The Story goes like this….

Don Cenobio Sauza was born on a farm in Jalisco, Mexico. He was the third child of Hilario Sauza and Doña Margarita Madrigal Navarro. He worked on his father’s farm along with his siblings Adelaida, Juana, Fernanda, Luis and Herminia until he was sixteen. In 1858 Cenobio traveled to Tequila to visit his cousin Ramon Corona Madrigal. Enamored with the countryside and the rich soil, Cenobio settled in Tequila and got a job working at the distillery of José Antonio Gómez Cuervo. There he learned how to farm agave and distill mezcal-tequila.

Cenobio began to export mezcal-tequila from Tequila to other parts of the country. In 1870, no longer content to just sell, Sauza leased the “La Gallardeña” distillery from Lazaro Gallardo. Sauza saw great success, and three years later, on September 1, 1873 , purchased the “La Antigua Cruz” (The Old Cross) distillery (the oldest registered tequila distillery, founded in 1805 by José Maria Castañeda) from Don Felix Lopez. The transaction equated to 5,000 pesos and he promptly renamed it “La Perseverancia” (Perseverance).The former employee of Cuervo had successfully founded Sauza Tequila and become one of Cuervo’s great rivals.

In 1873 Sauza was the first to export tequila to the United States; crossing through the border at El Paso del Norte (present day Ciudad Juarez) carrying three casks and six jugs of his mezcal-tequila. This was the beginning of the export market for tequila.

The arrival of the railroad in Tequila, Jalisco, increased Sauza’s business and in 1889 he purchased the “La Gallardeña” distillery from Lazaro Gallardo. That same year he purchased the “Hacienda de San Martin de las Cañas”. This became Sauza’s headquarters and was simply known as “La Hacienda Cenobio”. Here he planted more than 2 million agave and started producing an estimated 800 casks of tequila per year. He purchased and sold thirteen more distilleries and numerous fields of agave, always working at least three at a time in order to remain the leader in tequila production and sales. Don Cenobio is credited with determining that the blue agave was the best agave for tequila in the 1890. Obviously the rest followed suit.

Sauza History, tequila, jessica arent, tequila aficionado, la cofradia, jaime sauza, cuervo, distillery, wine, dobecq, brandyDon Cenobio’s son, Don Eladio Sauza, was born in Tequila in 1883. At age 20 Eladio moved to Tecolotlan to take charge of his father’s distillery, “La Hacienda La Labor”. It was there that he learned the business of producing and selling tequila. Later, he moved to Mazatlán, a major port in the Northeastern part of Mexico, to establish a Sauza Tequila distribution center in order to increase exportation.

Upon Don Cenobio’s death in 1909, Eladio returned to Guadalajara to mourn his father and to take control of the Sauza Tequila Empire. Shortly thereafter, the Mexican Revolution threatened to expropriate Eladio’s business and farmland. During the Revolution, Eladio rallied patriotic sentiment and helped to establish tequila as the official spirit of Mexico.

Eladio modernized and expanded the family business by opening branches in Monterrey and Mexico City, as well as a concession in Spain. When Don Eladio Sauza died at the age of 63 on July 22, 1946, he left the Sauza Tequila business to his firstborn son, Francisco Javier Sauza

The Third Generation is Born

Sauza History, tequila, jessica arent, tequila aficionado, la cofradia, jaime sauza, cuervo, distillery, wine, dobecq, brandyFrancisco Javier Sauza was born in Tecolotlan, Mexico on December 8, 1903 to Don Eladio Sauza and Doña Silveria Mora Enriquez. Francisco Javier Sauza, like his father, was raised on tequila, and in the family tradition of his father and his grandfather he too grew to become part of the family legacy.

When Javier Sauza took over Tequila Sauza, shortly before his father’s death in 1946, he began at once to change the image of tequila from a “drink of the campesinos” to a refined spirit of the upper classes. His competitors scoffed when he redesigned the bottles and labels for a more tasteful look and began to age some of the tequila in wooden barrels for a smoother taste and color.  He took his product to fairs and expositions throughout Mexico, the United States, and Europe, and promoted it as “the drink of romance.” He also modernized production and transportation systems and built a bottling plant in Guadalajara.

In 1950, Francisco Javier added the Sauza Hornitos brand to the Sauza family of tequila. In 1963, he created Sauza Conmemorativo, a tequila that commemorated the 90th anniversary of the La Perseverancia distillery.

In 1973, to celebrate 100 years since the founding of the La Perseverancia distillery, Sauza created a specially aged tequila that he presented in a limited edition, green ceramic bottle. He called his creation Tres Generaciones in honor of the three generations that had produced Sauza Tequila: Don Cenobio, Don Eladio and Don Francisco Javier.

Traveling throughout Europe and Asia, Sauza grew concerned about the number of “pseudo-tequilas” being produced. Working with other tequila producers from Jalisco, Francisco lobbied President Jose Lopez Portillo saying, “Tequila is the only one made in the State of Jalisco, Mexico.” On December 9, 1974 the Label of Integrity decree stated that true tequila only came from the State of Jalisco.

Sauza History, tequila, jessica arent, tequila aficionado, la cofradia, jaime sauza, cuervo, distillery, wine, dobecq, brandyFrancisco Javier continued his father and grandfather’s legacy, but in 1988, for personal reasons, he decided to sell the Sauza Tequila business to Mexican brandy producer Pedro Domecq. The tequilas Sauza innovated – Sauza, Hornitos, Tres Generaciones – are still in production. Today Sauza owns about 300 agave plantations and is the second largest tequila manufacturer in the world.

The Fifth Generation

And here I was, spending my day working side by side with Jaime Sauza, the great, great grandson of Cenobio Sauza, getting the education of a lifetime in tequila. It just doesn’t get much better than this.

Or does it?

Well, that’s another segment anyway.

The end of the day had me returning to the hotel to change into cocktail attire for the evening ahead. Still wrestling with the humidity and the unruly mass that was once my hair, I managed to pull myself together (after an ice cold shower and having room service deliver a double espresso) and hustle back to the office for a “roof top CATA”.  Stepping into the elevator I smoothed down my dress, and checked my makeup in the reflection of the doors one last time. As the elevator approached the roof, I could hear a Spanish guitar and the tinkling of glasses.

Then the Doors Opened

Sauza History, tequila, jessica arent, tequila aficionado, la cofradia, jaime sauza, cuervo, distillery, wine, dobecq, brandyI walked into the most elegant setting I could imagine. A pergola covered the rooftop with climbing bougainvillea in vibrant colors. Elegant wicker seating with crisp white linen cushions was strategically placed for lounging and open conversation. Small teak tables, dressed with glowing candle lanterns and aromatic orchids in purples and whites were the centerpieces of the seating arrangements.

In one corner stood a bar with dozens of amber colored unmarked bottles.  Mike Vernardo, the master mixologist brought in from Austin, Texas, masterfully created artistic libations, served by four beautiful young Mexican women wearing little black dresses and engaging smiles.

The League of Extraordinary “Tequilans”

Sauza History, Mike Vernardo, tequila, jessica arent, tequila aficionado, la cofradia, jaime sauza, cuervo, distillery, wine, dobecq, brandyOut across the terrace the sun was setting over Guadalajara, in hues of pinks and oranges and purples and the lights of the city slowly came on.  As I looked around I saw the most beautiful people begin to come in to the party. Elegant, sophisticated women of Guadalajara on the arms of distinguished gentlemen, and as I began to mingle, I came to realize every attendee was a part of the process of the production of Tequila. From the General Director of La Cofradia Distillery, and his wife, to the master bottle cap maker, who works in precious metals of gold, silver and copper to make the cap and label of this emerging product, to the glass bottle designer himself, and their respective wives. Every person that walked into this party had some part in the creation of an extraordinary elixir from Tequila. I felt as though I was in a League of Extraordinary “Tequilans”.

Not long into the evening, Jaime arrived with his beautiful wife, and the party really got started. Charismatic and congenial, Jaime began to expound on the notes and virtues of each of the samplings of the evening. Elaborating on the legs, crown and brilliance of each, he offered his insights on comparisons and values. Although this might sound dry to some, Jaime’s communicated his thoughts congenially with a touch of humor and was entertaining and engaging. Who wouldn’t be mesmerized by a man who can conclude a tequila lesson with a course in popping a champagne cork with his glass stem?

Sauza History, tequila, jessica arent, tequila aficionado, la cofradia, jaime sauza, cuervo, distillery, wine, dobecq, brandyIt’s true. . . Jaime is very versatile!

Waiters in white jackets and great big smiles weaved in and out with delicious food pairings that included fresh ceviche in guacamole sauce served in shot glasses, miniature ranchero tacos, and Ahi tartar tostadas.  The menu was created exclusively by Josue Banuelos for the tequilas we tasted that evening. Mike mixed incredibly creative concoctions of epic proportions out of recipes specifically designed around this tequila, and a joyful mood of what could only be described as “success” filled the air.

I think we all knew we were on to something extraordinary, something epic…

This Cinderella turned in her dancing shoes and cocktail dress for pajamas and a nightcap not long before midnight. My nightcap was a special “gift” given to me by my new friend Jaime.  I fell in love with this dream libation after one sip. An unlikely recipe, this “moonshine” (let’s face it, isn’t it really “moonshine” until it has a NOM, label, and is legal the eyes of the CRT?) takes you to Italy and Mexico at the same time in a seamless blend of liquid perfection.

I cannot tell you more yet, but I can tell you it was the perfect finish to my day.

I closed my eyes in anticipation of the next day and the adventure that lay in before me and drifted off to dreamland.

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Read the continuation of Jessica’s Journey coming soon!

 

jessica Arent, Sauza History, tequila, jessica arent, tequila aficionado, la cofradia, jaime sauza, cuervo, distillery, wine, dobecq, brandyJessica Arent has spent her career steeped in the Hispanic culture. Passionate about the Latin culture and experiencing roles that have taken her from television to digital marketing throughout the United States and Mexico, Jessica’s passion for Mexico runs in her blood. An accomplished writer, Mexico is where her heart lives and is the focus of her work and writing.  Specializing in marketing Hispanic based products and services, Jessica will tell you there are few people in the world or places she has traveled, from Asia to Europe and in between, who compare to the Mexican culture.  Building websites such as ALL ABOUT MEXICO and fostering the marketing endeavors of a number of tequila products, to name a few, Jessica sets out to inspire the world around her, one person, one relationship at a time, to know and understand the culture she calls home.  Jessica is a partner at Intermountain Media, LLC, the Communications and Media Director of Terra Energy Resources Corp, and shares other travel and tequila adventures on her blog, Jessica’s Mexico.

 
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Tequila Pairing Challenge with Tequila Don Fulano

…At The Patio in San Diego

By Ryan Kelley

 patioTequila pairing dinners are always an adventure. Like fine wine, tequila has a way of inspiring and challenging chefs to marry just the right food to match the myriad and often complex flavors inherent in well-made, artisanal tequila. So when my friend Tequilier Mario Marquez invited me to join him and renowned chef Andrew Spurgin to judge a tequila pairing competition between both locations of The Patio in San Diego, I was all in.don_fulano_bottles2

Chefs at each of the restaurant’s two locations were given the challenge to prepare a five-course dinner with the five different expressions of Don Fulano tequila.

Day 1: The Patio on Lamont

Day1_Restaurant

 

In a large yet cozy room at The Patio’s Pacific Beach location on Lamont Street, General Manager Chris Simmons welcomed tasters and the judging panel and then introduced Chef de Cuisine Andre Fuentes.

As the first course was delivered, Don Fulano Brand Ambassador Sergio Mendoza told guests about Don Fulano—distilled at La Tequileña in the Tequila valley in small batches from 100% estate-grown agave from the highlands of Jalisco.

Day1_Course1Most notable about Chef Fuentes’ menu was that it strayed from the typical Mexican flavors normally paired with tequila.

The first course was a fried green tomato with herb-whipped goat cheese, watermelon and cucumber salad and watercress paired with Don Fulano Suave. The fried green tomato had a tendency to overwhelm the delicate and complex flavors of a blanco, but the watermelon and cucumber brought out the herbal and earthier flavors.

 

Day1_Course2It was a solid start, but then the evening took an unexpected twist.

At most tequila pairing dinners, courses will be paired with a vertical flight of tequila. That is, the first course is paired with blanco, the second with reposado, third with añejo, etc. Instead, Chef Fuentes served his second course, a chilled honeydew soup with pistachio gremolata, snow crab and lemon vinaigrette with Don Fulano añejo, which is a floral yet sweet and intense tequila aged for three years in French oak.

Pairing the sweet soup brought out the sweetness of the añejo—fine for a dessert course but a little odd this early in the evening. Interestingly, when I went back to sipping the blanco with this course, I found it to be a much better marriage.

Day1_Course3The highlight of the evening was the third course: fried soft shell crab cooked to perfection with a grilled corn puree, smoked pork belly and cantaloupe relish paired with Don Fulano resposado.

The hearty dish stood up to the well-balanced reposado, which offers a fruity, delicately herbal flavor up front and ends with richer flavors of caramel and maple. The freshness and fruitiness of the relish and corn puree brought out the sweet agave and herbal flavors, while the heartier fried crab opened the palate to the richness from the barrel.

Day1_Course4This was a true winner, and was the highest-scored plate by all three judges.

The fourth course, agave-glazed smoked duck breast paired with Don Fulano 5-year Imperial was unfortunately overpowered by the complex flavors of the extra añejo, but the evening ended on a high note with a watermelon-basil sorbet that brought out the fresh flavor of the sweet, intense Don Fulano Fuerte, a 100-proof blanco.

 

Day 2: The Patio on Goldfinch

Day2_Course1The second evening featured Executive Chef John Medall’s five course menu at The Patio on Goldfinch in the Mission Hills area of San Diego. Medall’s menu offered more traditional Mexican flavors, but was still creative and full of unexpected accents.

The first surprise came with the first course, a simple yet elegant watermelon and jicama salad dressed with agave honey, cilantro, cotija and pine nuts. Fellow judge, Chef Andrew Spurgin, hit it right on the mark when he described the dish as “honest.”

The fresh, flavorful salad complimented notes of grapefruit in the blanco and opened up the herbal aspect of the tequila without an overpowering sweetness.

Day2_Course2This was the first highlight of the evening. It even gave me chills!

The second course, a cantaloupe and mango gazpacho, was tasty but its richness and sweetness overpowered Don Fulano reposado.

The second highlight of the evening, and my favorite dish and pairing across both nights was tequila-braised pork carnitas wrapped in a house made tortilla and topped with salsa verde, served with Mexican rice and spicy pinto beans and paired with Don Fulano añejo.

Day2_Course3It was a robust dish worthy of the bold flavors in the añejo. The flavors of the dish heightened the agave-heavy entry of the añejo and accentuated the wonderful wood notes in the tequila’s finish.

Also notable was that the dish showcased Medall’s philosophy of using even “unusable portions” of his ingredients: watermelon rind leftover from the first course was smashed into the tortilla dough to give it a beautiful color and a mild, sweet flavor that added to the complexity of the dish and tequila pairing.

Day2_Course4The third course proved hard to follow, and the fourth course, a Puerto Nuevo-style lobster, came out a bit overcooked—likely due to difficulty choreographing and timing such an ambitious plate for so many guests. It’s pairing with Don Fulano Imperial was rather “ho-hum,” but I found that pairing the Imperial with the course’s side of roasted corn was a surprisingly good marriage of food and tequila, and this helped salvage the course and bump up the score a bit.

The pairing challenge came to a close with a tasty melon granita made from watermelon, cantaloupe and casaba complemented by the 100-proof aromatic and intense Don Fulano Fuerte. It was a solid way to end the night and the 2-day challenge.

And The Winner Is…

When the scores were tallied, the judging panel selected Chef Medall’s menu from The Patio on Goldfinch as the winner.

***

montalvo

 

The Patio on Goldfinch plans to hold another five-course tequila pairing dinner on Tuesday, August 26, 2014 at 5:30p.m. with Tequila Montalvo. For reservations and details, click here or contact the restaurant, located on 4020 Goldfinch St, San Diego, CA 92103, at (619) 501-5090.

 

Day1_GroupShot
Writer Ryan Kelley and friends enjoying all five of Don Fulano Tequila’s offerings.

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Announcing the Triumphant Arrival of Tequila Embajador

Embajador Premium Reposado tequila takes Platinum prize from among 403 entries at the prestigious SIP Awards…

sip award, embajador, tequila

st. regis, sip award, embajador(Press release)

Austin, TX–On April 27, 2014, at the luxurious St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point, CA, a 100 member panel of judges voted Embajador Premium Reposado tequila a Platinum prize at the 6th annual SIP AwardsEmbajador Tequila Platinum blanco also received a Silver medal while Embajador Tequila Supreme añejo scored the Bronze.

embajador, tequila, sip award“Winning the Platinum SIP award for our Embajador Premium Reposado expression is truly an honor,” beams Andres Garcia, Regional Sales Manager for the family owned brand.  “We are super excited to be recognized and to be mentioned in this category alongside some of the most respected brands in the industry.”

The family estate and distillery of Tequila Embajador is nestled in Atotonilco, in the highlands of Jalisco, the same region made famous by such legendary producers as Don Julio and Siete Leguas.  Those same values that created these mythic tequilas are the exact ones that drive Embajador to perfection.

embajador, tequila, sip award“We are a family who is motivated and inspired by the idea of crafting superior quality and distinguished Tequila.  Embajador is produced in small batches to focus on the brand’s consistency and quality principles,” states the Embajador website.

“Our family motto has been ‘quality over quantity,'” continues Garcia.  “This is about giving this noble spirit the time honored respect it demands and that we do every step of the way–with honor.”

embajador, tequila, sip awards, agaveTrue to their word, Embajador uses only their own estate grown 100% blue weber agave that is carefully tended for 8-10 years.  Baked in an adobe oven, the piñas are shredded using water from the distillery’s own aquifer, and then fermented from 3-5 days.  After double distillation, the luminous Platinum expression is rested 40 days in stainless steel vats to ensure a complete balance of character.

The SIP Platinum award winning Embajador Premium Reposado is rested for a period of eight months in American and French Oak barrels, while Embajador’s Supreme Añejo is aged with devotion for one year and six months in American and French Oak barrels.

 

 

Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlan, embajador, sip award, tequilaThe Embajador family is so serious about presenting the soul of Tequila to the rest of the world, and being true ambassadors, that they have partnered with Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlan, one of the hottest mariachi groups in Mexico.  As they travel globally, these talented mariachis bestow special bottles of Embajador (ambassador, in Spanish) to foreign dignitaries at each Mexican embassy they visit.

“We are building more than just a brand,” explains Garcia.  “We are creating a legacy that is focused on producing quality Tequila.”

Not only is the Platinum SIP award winning Embajador reposado fast becoming a favorite with mixologists, but all of the expressions are cocktail ready.  Embajador tequila signature cocktails are featured prominently on the brand’s website and correspond to the level of the consumers’ experience in crafting cocktails at home.

Have fun concocting poppers, lucious margaritas, and even Fluffy’s Chock-lit-D’lite, a whimsical drink inspired and dedicated to popular Latino stand-up comic, Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias, himself a fan of Embajador tequila.

fluffy, tequila, chocolate, embajador“The Embajador Tequila family, along with everyone involved, felt a high degree of honor, accomplishment and excitement because each person’s hard work and vision in producing a quality juice came to be recognized at the SIP awards,” admits Garcia.

“After all,” he concludes, “Tequila is Mexico and we are proud to be one of its Ambassadors.”

***

Distributors/Vendors:  Contact Andres Garcia, Regional Sales Manager, to discuss the benefits of adding SIP award winning Embajador Tequila to your portfolio at andres@embajadortequila.com.  More details on Embajador Tequila on their website here.  To learn more about the SIP awards, click here.  Spirits Writers:  For an in-depth interview with Andres Garcia, dial 469-216-0567.  Hurry–slots are filling up fast!

 

 
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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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Craft Tequila: WTF Does THAT Mean? Part 1

What does that mean for tequilas?
What does that mean for tequilas?

An interesting question crossed my desk concerning the term craft as it relates to tequila.

This person asked…

“The one thing I am finding is the definition of ‘craft’ is all over the place. What does craft mean to you?  Do you think it is based on the method, quantity, who makes it or maybe all of these factors?”

This reader went on to ask if I considered a particular big name brand as a craft tequila, and if not, would I consider a certain higher priced line from this same transnational corporation that owns the brand as a craft tequila.

Further, he confessed that two other well-known brands could be considered “craft” tequilas even though one of them had reported sales of over 50,000 cases in 2013.

 Craft by Definition

According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, my favorite definition is–

“…an activity that involves making something in a skillful way by using your hands.”

The word handcraft is defined as…

“…to make (something) by using your hands.”

There are even deeper meanings to craft as it relates to the beer, wine and spirits industries, but before I get to them, let me remind you of some tequila facts and a huge marketing myth.

Fact #1:  Tequila has its own geographic indication (GI).  The blue weber agave from which it is made can only be grown, and tequila can only be produced, in specific states and regions in Mexico.

Fact #2:  According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), despite 13 million 9 liter cases of tequila sold in 2013, it is still–and always will remain–virtually last in sales volume behind whisk(e)y, gin, vodka and rum due to Fact #1.

This brings me to the…

Tequila Marketing Myth–Borrowing Benefits

So, how does a PR or marketing firm with no real knowledge of what good or bad tequila is, convey the message that its client, usually a high powered, non-Mexican owned tequila brand (and all that that implies), is just as cool as the other kids who may or may not be as well funded?

Tequila disguised as...?
Tequila disguised as…?

Simple–

You “borrow” benefits from the guy ahead of you.  You compare your tequila brand’s features and benefits to the leader in the field, thus making your client “worthy by association.”

From the moment that Herradura rested tequila in used Jack Daniels barrels to attract the American whiskey drinker decades ago, marketers have tried to disguise tequila (and mezcal, now, to some extent) as something else.

And because of Facts #1 and #2 above, tequila marketers have for years misled the public by borrowing benefits from wines, beers and all other spirits in a seeming effort to gain tequila’s acceptance into the mainstream drinking public, and to increase sales.

Craft by Design

Here’s what it means to produce a craft product in each of the following arenas.

The Brewers’ Association defines craft as small (“6 million barrels of beer or less per year”), independent (“less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by a beverage alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer”), and traditional (“a brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation”).

The American Craft Distillers Association’s (ACDA) definition of craft gets trickier–

“…those whose annual production of distilled spirits from all sources does not exceed 750,000 proof gallons removed from bond (the amount on which excise taxes are paid.)”

According to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), a proof gallon needs an entire conversion table to figure out.  We’ll let you do the math, here.

The American Distilling Institute’s (ADI) guidelines are similar but allows certified craft spirits a “maximum annual sales of 52,000 cases where the product is PHYSICALLY distilled and bottled on-site” and “maximum annual sales are less than 100,000 proof gallons.”

Where wine is concerned, the Department of Revenue defines a “small winery” as any winery that produces less than 25,000 gallons of wine in a calendar year.  A “farm winery,” however, can produce up to 50,000 gallons of wine annually.

Some have even arbitrarily issued their own definition of small winery as one producing as little as 10,000 gallons per year, and a nano winery as generating only 500 gallons per year.

A simple Google search shows that each state has its own slightly different definition of what a craft wine or spirit is, and several states with popular wine growing regions like California, are constantly updating their definition to accommodate growing wineries.

The same growing concerns in the craft beer industry have prompted the Brewer’s Association to update their ground rules to allow for larger craft producers.

The Revenge of Brewzilla

According to Impact Databank, a large chunk of the beer industry has surrendered significant market share (some 6.7 million barrels, or 93 million 2.25-gallon cases since 2009!) to the spirits industry.  The only bright spot for the entire category is the resurgence of locally brewed craft or specialty beers increasing in volume by 14% to 20.2 million barrels.

These stats have not been lost on spirits marketers who follow trends in similar markets to practice borrowing benefits.  The big brands like Miller-Coors, Anheuser Busch-Inbev (Budweiser) and others also have jumped onto the craft bandwagon by either investing in small breweries or by inferring in their marketing that they still make their beer by hand.

It's not a craft beer.  Just well-crafted.
It’s not a craft beer. Just well-crafted.

As Ashley Routson, a craft beer advocate famously known as The Beer Wench, and whose upcoming book “The Beer Wench’s Guide to Beer” will be an unpretentious, comprehensive approach to beer, puts it…

“In my opinion, the fight over the word craft should be one of semantics, but instead, its become a battle of the egos.”

Routson goes on to say, “The word ‘craft’ is not a synonym for the word ‘good,’ ‘great’ or ‘better.’  Many non-craft breweries and large tequila producers make world class beer and tequila–there is no argument there.  You don’t need to use the word craft to define your beverage as being good.”

Author, Ashley Routson, The Beer Wench.
Author, Ashley Routson, The Beer Wench.

Beer journalist, Mike Cortez, whose pending book will be a part of the Beer Lovers series of books (Beer Lover’s Texas), is also the co-founder of The Texas Margarita Festival, and feels that craft tequila should be held to the same strict standards as craft beer.

 “We need to separate the garbage from the good stuff.  [Like craft] beer that is only made with the basics, grain, water, hops and yeast, the brewers do not use additives or adjuncts to flavor the beer.”

Cortez concludes, “[Tequila] is a product that takes time, care and only the purest agave extraction.  The distillers depend on the time to harvest the agave, baking the pinas and perfectly extracting the juices.  Once it is distilled it is a product that is pure and only flavored by the barrel with no extra additives.”

Tequila Industry consultant, Chris Zarus, innovator of TequilaRack, the world’s first take home tequila tasting kit that deliberately includes samples of some of the finest small batch, micro-distilled reposado tequilas sourced from family run distilleries, takes the craft argument to a higher level.

“The word craft has unfortunately been abducted by the marketing department and now misleads the masses.  We go to classes that advise us on how to make our brands ‘craftier’ with specialty releases with funny names [and] all owned by multinational conglomerates that work relentlessly to reduce costs via cheaper ingredients and mechanization.”

Zarus believes that there are two industry definitions of craft which differ from what the consumer understands.  They involve a specific recipe and a specific process.

Specific Recipe

Chicken breast after having been used in clay still to make mezcal de pechuga.
Chicken breast after having been used in clay still to make mezcal de pechuga.

In this craft version, the product is consistent and costs are contained.

“The Jim Koch’s [founder of Samuel Adams beer] view that his recipe makes his beer craft regardless of the fact that MillerCoors brews it for the masses,” explains Zarus.  “In [Koch’s] opinion, its like a chef going to your house to cook his special recipe.”

“If you think about it in broad terms,” reasons Zarus, “all consumer products have a specific recipe.  The difference here may be that the recipe is full flavored and is preferred by fewer due to its heartier taste.”

Specific Process

In this definition, the process is the craft.

Tequila Fortaleza, produced by famed fifth generation distiller, Guillermo Sauza, Zarus illustrates, “[Is] very

Las perlas del mezcal.
Las perlas del mezcal.

specific, old world, but not very mechanized.  In this way the outcome varies by batch and the state of the local ingredients.  The craft is the process.”

The downside, insists Zarus is that, “…the product varies by batch, like some wines.  There is a lack of product consistency.  Some batches have more acclaim than others and the maker is not getting to charge the full price of the best batches.”

This last seeming liability has been turned into a profitable tequila marketing plan by some boutique brands like Ocho and Charbay who source their agave from single estates thus promoting the brand’s terroir and creating buzz for individual vintages.

The Meaning and the Art Form

Marketers rethink the word "craft."
Marketers rethink the word “craft.”

The two essential elements that Routson, Cortez and Zarus all agree upon are, first, that the craft process is the art form, whether in beer, wine or spirits.

The other factor that our panel of professionals agrees on is the battle of maintaining the true definition of the word craft.

We’ll explore these issues and how you can define, select and measure a craft tequila in Part 2 tomorrow.

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