[From September 11 to October 2, 2016, Tequila Aficionado Media, sponsored by 34 expressions representing 21 brands, embarked on a monumental RV road show dubbed, The Heartland Tour. In these next passages, we recount the historic–and epic–highlights. *FTC Disclosure: Brands appearing on the Tequila Aficionado Dia de Los Muertos & Heartland Tour had to be vetted as Brand of Promise Nominees and paid a nominal fee to be on the tour.]
Jim of All Trades
Jim Driscoll bubbles with excitement at the anticipation of talking about his newly retooled Demetrio tequila (NOM 1459) expressions.
A self-proclaimed type-A kind of guy, this dynamo has accomplished more than most of us will in our lifetimes–
Who was Margarita? A Celebrity, Showgirl or Socialite?
NEW YORK, Apr 10, 2003 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ — The origins of the world’s great cocktails are often shrouded in mystery and as hotly disputed as certain national borders. This is certainly true of the Margarita — the magical concoction from south of the border that makes you feel like you’re on holiday, even if you’re not. Cinco de Mayo — the 5th of May — a day of Mexican unity and patriotism, is the perfect occasion to try the Ultimate Margarita (recipe below) with GranGala. The Beverage Tasting Institute recently rated this vibrant triple orange liqueur as “superior” to “all the other orange liqueur brands in fantastically flavorful margaritas …” during a taste test that bestowed GranGala with a whopping 94 out of a possible 100 points. No matter how you prefer to drink this fiesta in a glass — frozen, on the rocks, or up; salt or no salt — the bright orange flavor of the Ultimate Margarita is a crowd-pleaser every time.
The Ultimate Margarita
* 1 oz. GranGala (Triple Orange Liqueur)
* 1 oz. gold tequila
* 1 oz. lime juice or sweet & sour mix
Rub the rim of your cocktail glass with lime and spin the glass in salt. Shake GranGala Triple Orange Liqueur, tequila and lime juice (or sweet & sour mix) together with ice in a shaker. Strain into glass and garnish with a slice of lime. Enjoy with friends.
Who was Margarita? A Celebrity, Showgirl or Socialite?
There are at least 10 stories purporting to be the true origin of this sweet, sour, salty party in a glass. Not surprisingly, many center around a mysterious, seductive woman as the inspiration. The 1992 obituary of Carlos Herrara (San Diego) named him “the man who topped the tequila concoction with salt and called it a Margarita.” Herrara’s relatives say he invented the cocktail in 1938 or ’39 when he decided to combine tequila with lemon juice, shaved ice and triple sec — topping the blend off with a layer of salt on the rim of the glass. His idea for the name came from a showgirl who called herself Marjorie King who apparently was allergic to all hard alcohol except for tequila. It was in her honor that he called his drink a “Margarita.”
Another legend places the birth of this cocktail in 1940s Hollywood by Enrique Bastante Gutierez, a former cocktail champion who mixed drinks for some of the world’s most famous film stars. Apparently actress Rita Hayworth was one of his loyal customers and he invented the drink especially for her, whose real name was Margarita . . .
Yet one more story surrounds American socialite Margarita Sames who was notorious for her house parties in Acapulco during the late ’40s. Always wanting to impress her glamorous society guests she came up with the idea to mix up a new drink to chase away the hot Mexican sun. According to legend the “Margarita” was a hit and “kept the party going for two weeks.”
Contemporary bartenders have continued to refine the Margarita and the discovery of the triple orange liqueur from Italy, GranGala, has added to finesse this forties fave. So whichever story you choose to believe (or disbelieve) you’re sure to have a ‘Gran-der’ conversation over the Ultimate Margarita this Cinco de Mayo!
GranGala Triple Orange Liqueur is imported exclusively by Distillerie Stock USA Ltd. and is available nationally for a suggested retail price: $18.99/750ml
Among the stellar labels recognized as Brands Of Promise™ award recipients, Trianon Tequila won the judges’ Best of Show Award, and Briscas Mezcal was recognized with a Gold medal for each of their expressions. Gold was bestowed onto JLP Golden Lime Margarita in the Ready-To-Drink (RTD) category, as well.
“What a great year 2014 was!” agreed Alex Perez, Founder and Chairman of Tequila Aficionado. “So much good juice. So much good quality. It is the best time for agave spirit aficionados.”
“Man this was tough,” added Morales, referring to selecting medal winners.
All brands were judged by Perez and Morales, as well as by other Tequila Aficionado staff, on how they performed during Tequila Aficionado’s wildly popular Sipping Off The Cuff™ video series seen regularly on TequilaAficionado.com and viewable on its YouTube channel.
Unlike other spirits contests, The Brands Of Promise™ Awards does not require participating agave spirit brands to pay an entry fee. It also does not charge winners additional hefty licensing tariffs for the rights to use the medal award graphics on their labels, neck tags, shelf talkers, brochures, point-of-sales materials and websites.
“Competition for shelf space and ‘share-of-mind’ is fierce in this business, especially when going up against more established brands with deep pockets,” admits Perez. “Most new tequilas, and dozens of mezcals and other agave spirits, are virtually unknown to consumers,” he explains. “That doesn’t mean that promising startups shouldn’t be recognized.”
“We’re not out to gouge anyone,” declares Morales. “We understand that advertising budgets for emerging brands are always costly in the beginning.”
Morales adds, “Simply being nominated for the Brands Of Promise™ awards means that we deem each of these participating brands worthy of the public’s attention.”
About Tequila Aficionado Media
TequilaAficionado.com, (Tequila Aficionado Media) is the most comprehensive and informative source for tequila, mezcal, and sotol on the internet or in print today.
It has been the only online tequila magazine for the past 15 years and is visited by tequila aficionados in over 120 countries around the world. It produces fresh audio, video, feature articles and other content, and successfully shares them throughout all of its powerful social networks for maximum exposure.
Primarily a show that serves the spirits industry (or trade) in Texas, for us at Tequila Aficionado Media, it was a chance to visit with new brands, products and services trying to break into the challenging Texas spirits market.
In this clip, Michael E. Klein, a spirits entrepreneur and long-time Austin businessman who spearheaded the formation of the alliance, explains its purpose.
What follows are some of the highlighted products that you should watch out for on Tequila Aficionado Media, in Texas, and beyond.
In the current booming mezcal market, more and more brands are appearing under the traditional higher alcoholic proofs that more established mezcals are known for. Briscas is a refreshing libation that refuses to be confused with other gateway mezcal brands.
Ricardo Gonzales, Sales & Marketing Director for importer Moreno Spirits, gives us a quick rundown of the small batch espadín Briscas Mezcal.
Juan Moreno, President & CEO of Moreno Spirits, explains how bringing Briscas to market was a journey of discovery for himself and his family.
The Texas Bar & Nightclub Alliance Convention was not without surprises for us at Tequila Aficionado Media.
Austin resident Jason Kosmas, co-founder of the celebrated The 86 Company responsible for a brilliant line of spirits with exacting quality like our Brands Of Promise(TM) Overproof Silver Medal winning Tequila Cabeza, made an appearance in support of the event.
Also exhibiting in grand style was John L. Rivers IV (a.k.a.: Juan Rios), Managing Director of Julio Cesar Chavez Tequila, a new offering from the illustrious former boxing champion.
Not only did he share with us some of this fine sipping tequila and listed its current markets, but also an exclusive photo of a super piña in the champ’s agave fields.
[Spoiler Alert! At press time, we had not notified John about our verdict of Julio Cesar Chavez Tequila’s review on a future Sipping Off The Cuff(TM), but we let the cat out of the bag, here….]
Mixing and Matching
One of the more exciting and refreshing combos we discovered at the Texas Nightclub & Bar Alliance Convention was between Pablo Madrigali, Brand Manager with Mexcor International and Lucy Corona, co-founder of Slim Ritas, the 100 calorie fresh juice margarita mix.
Mexcor, a family owned business based in Houston, TX, has been the importer of crowd pleasing tequilas at reasonable prices from Destiladora del Valle de Tequila (NOM 1438) for several years, including El Reformador, Cava de los Morales and Agavales.
Lucy Corona is a dynamic and spirited mother and business owner whose dream after giving birth to her children was to enjoy a satisfying and natural margarita. So she made them herself!
Here, Rob Corona explains the birth of SlimRitas.
Here, Pablo gives a bit of Mexcor’s and Agavales’ history, and how he and Lucy joined forces.
One To Watch
Michael E. Klein has handed the reigns of planning future conventions to the team at San Antonio based SMC Events, and it looks to expand the tradeshow’s reach even further with more products and services participating.
Judging from the contagious energy coming from the booths of other exhibitors at the first annual Texas Nightclub & Bar Alliance Convention, the promise of bigger yearly events looks to be a sure thing.
Hands down, the best ready-to-drink margarita on the market today!
When Javier Martinez sent us samples of his JLP Tequila ready-to-drink margarita in a can, we really weren’t sure what to expect. Before I learned about sipping tequilas, I was a margarita girl. I’ve tried every ready-mixed margarita I could find. I’ve had drinks with overwhelming amounts of sugar that led to a hungover feeling (completely messed-up blood sugar levels) after just one. I’ve had others where you could swear there wasn’t a hint of tequila in them. Others were so salty I needed Midol for the water retention. And still others, that claimed to be “Light” or “Sugar-Free”, were so disgusting I couldn’t even drink them after the first sip.
When I needed a margarita mix to add to my Diva Tequila Cupcakes in the Tequila Aficionado Test Kitchen, I had about 10 untried mixes in the refrigerator and could have just picked any one of them, but I knew I wanted these cupcakes to be perfect and the JLP Margarita wouldn’t let me down. It may have added a touch more tequila to the recipe but everybody loved them!
In closing, let me say that I have issues with sugar (Reactive Hypoglycemia), so taste-testing margaritas and margarita mixes can be particularly treacherous for me. Luckily, I felt no insulin response to the JLP Margarita so although I don’t have nutrition information for it, I believe that any sugar in it is below my usual threshold of about 10 grams. (No guarantees though.)
All in all, this is a great ready-to-drink margarita that I recommend highly. In fact, I recommend it so highly that I’m nominating it for the 2014 Brands of Promise Awards.
While tequila may be Mexico’s national spirit, we’re thrilled to see its popularity recently skyrocket in the United States. From Margaritas and Bloody Marias to Palomas and Sunrises, tequila cocktails are being served up with regularity at thousands of bars, restaurants and homes across the country.
In honor of National Tequila Day on July 24th, Don Julio recommends celebrating this Mexican elixir with a refreshing (and spicy!) twist on the classic Margarita.
1/2 cup chopped cucumber, peeled and seeded
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup key lime juice
1/4 cup chopped mint
1/3 cup Don Julio Tequila Blanco
2 tablespoons orange liqueur
1/8 teaspoon Tabasco brand Original Red Sauce
6 ice cubes
Salt to rim glasses
2 cucumber slices
Blend ingredients in a blender for one minute. Divide between two 6-ounce salt-rimmed glasses. Garnish each glass with a cucumber slice.
About Tequila Don Julio Blanco:
Tequila Don Julio Blanco is the base from which all of our other variants are derived. Commonly referred to as “silver” tequila, its crisp agave flavor and hints of citrus make it an essential component to a variety of innovative drinks including margaritas. It can also be enjoyed neat or on the rocks.
Throughout Part 1, we employed the use of more adjectives and descriptors to define, describe and distinguish one booze from another in the same category, as well as to give the illusion that it is actually closer to another booze in the leading categories.
Words like award-winning, artisanal, small-run, limited-production, hand-crafted, and boutique are reused over and over. So are micro-distilled, limited edition, small batch, small lot, organic (which we’ll cover in-depth in a future article), single village, homespun, authentic, small-lot, prestige, signature, high end and reserve.
They all have real core meanings, but because we see them repeatedly in ads, billboards, packaging, shelf talkers and point of sale (POS) materials, the lines between meaning and true definitions get blurred.
For instance, the definition of the word premium as defined by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) is actually a pricing term. To the average consumer, however, it has come to mean quality. And when consumers’ buying habits change and trade up, it has become known as premiumization.
Though some American micro-distilleries have attempted to distill small batches of agave spirits, it has proven difficult and labor intensive due to it being produced from a plant that takes years to mature as opposed to grains, hops, and grapes that yield more frequent harvests.
It would be silly to define and measure craft tequila in ways that relate to wine, beer and other spirits created in the United States and abroad. There may be no boundaries in spirits marketing, but to impose limits on the number of barrels, bottles and cases manufactured and sold by a tequila distillery in order to measure a craft product would have no jurisdiction whatsoever in Mexico. Secondly–
There Is No Backpedaling
The Beer Wench, Ashley Routson said it best when interviewed for this article:
“No one wants to fault the big guys for being successful–that is not what this argument is about. My main question is–how big is too big? And as long as a company stays independently-owned, does that mean it will always be craft?”
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.
Let’s face it–
No one gets into the tequila business to be a failure. Everyone wants to be on top. And once you get there, the challenge is to stay on top. We know how arduous the tequila hero’s journey is.
No one with a business plan ever said, “I’m going to mass produce my lousy tequila and once I’ve flooded the shelves with my swill and lost market share, I’m going to distill a tequila the old fashioned way.”
Don’t pretend to continue to still make your tequila like you have over the past 250 years, either. You are not that home based family operation still harvesting agaves by mule and macerating piñas with a tahona, any more. That family’s history was forgotten when the brand was sold.
And just because you build a separate, smaller facility on your distillery property to produce a more labor intensive line (and even petition to do so under another NOM number!) when you have never attempted to do so in the first place, does not make your more expensive line a craft tequila.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”]
This is also in keeping with Zarus’ definition of preserving the process as the art form or craft outlined in Part 1.
Using a diffuser is a closely guarded secret by most mid-sized to large distilleries and hard to spot. You can read more about them here.
If there are any products that deserve to be described with the aforementioned adjectives that spirits marketers are freely throwing around these days to denote a handcrafted tequila, mezcal, or other agave distillate, they are in the organic segment.
Stringent regulations are required in both farm to distillery, and then from factory to bottle, to be given the designation organic and the permission to use the USDA seal that appears prominently on the labels.
By virtue of being organic, the process is considered much more natural and is inherently small batched.
But, not every brand has the budget to become a certified organic tequila. In addition, some brands may simply not see the value of being certified as organic, especially since some organic certifying agencies have been looked upon distrustfully in recent years.
Still, it could arguably be the most reliable indicator of a craft agave distillate.
This might be the toughest test of all.
As we mentioned above, many brands prefer to play their cards close to the vest. By the same token, many family owned brands are fiercely proud of their origins and will gladly tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Is your craft tequila brand willing to tell you their story, or just tell you a story?
Many of the more popular craft tequila brands are helmed by creators who are delightfully flamboyant and outspoken, as well.
Craft by Any Other Name
As our reader in Part 1 stated, the meaning of craft is “all over the place” and then some.
With mixology being the leading trend driving the spirits industry and demand for better ingredients on the rise, this means quality tequila is essential for those creating crafted cocktails (there’s that word again!).
But, with the invention of the wildly popular michelada cocktail, a margarita (which is the favorite way Americans consume tequila) served with a beer bottle upside down in a margarita glass, and chilled tequila on tap, there will surely be more cross pollination between adult beverage categories.
We’ve already seen this with tequila brands selling their used aging barrels to small brewers to create signature craft beers, as well as tequila aged in barrels bought from other brand named spirits.
This will only lead to even more crossovers between categories caused by inspired spirits marketers, PR firms, uninformed spirits journalists, and multinational corporations. Borrowing benefits has been the norm for some time.
There will always be those who deliberately hide the truth or feed false information to the media and practice opacity. We can’t control what they will say and do.
The key is to become educated and informed about a tequila’s recipe and process. Using the Craft Tequila Gauntlet above can certainly help in making the right choices.
Alternative Margaritas Make the Lime Shortage a Non-Issue
With the ongoing lime shortage and resulting high prices in fresh limes, people will need to get a bit more creative about their standard Memorial Day Weekend fare. We’ve decided to dedicate this week to helping you make the most of your tequila this coming holiday weekend.
Some Great Alternatives
Today we’ll show you some tasty alternatives to the traditional margarita that few will turn down at your Memorial Day Barbeque! Click on any of the images for recipes:
The Creamsicle Margarita, courtesy of Shine Beautifully (where you can also find recipes for tequila based body scrubs and other decadent ways to pamper your skin).
There is no solid proof who invented the Margarita.
One of the earliest stories is of the Margarita being invented in 1938 at the Rancho La Gloria Hotel, halfway between Tijuana and Rosarito, Mexico, by Carlos “Danny” Herrera, for a former Ziegfeld dancer named Marjorie King. This story was related by Herrera and also by bartender Albert Hernandez, who is acknowledged for popularizing a Margarita in San Diego after 1947, at the La Plaza restaurant in La Jolla. Hernandez claimed the owner of La Plaza, Morris Locke, knew Herrera and visited Mexico often.
Hussong’s Cantina in Ensenada, Mexico is also reputedly the place where the Margarita was created in October, 1941 by bartender Don Carlos Orozco. He concocted a mixture of equal parts tequila, Damiana (Cointreau is used now) and lime, served over ice in a salt-rimmed glass for Margarita Henkel, daughter of the German Ambassador to Mexico.
There are also claims that the popular drink to have been first mixed in the El Paso–Juárez area at Tommy’s Place Bar on July 4, 1942 by Francisco “Pancho” Morales. Morales originally left bartending in Mexico to become a US citizen. He is listed in the Texas Almanac’s Sesquicentennial Edition (1857–2007, under M) Obituaries of famous Texans. His story is best captured in an October 1973 Texas Monthly article “The Man Who Invented the Margarita” by Brad Cooper, and later in his obituary in the Washington Post on January 2, 1997.
Another story is that of Vern Under in 1945, a man who was the first importer of Jose Cuervo to the United States with the advertisement: “Margarita: It’s More Than a Girl’s Name”.
At a 1948 Christmas party in Acapulco, Mexico, “one of the most widely accepted accounts” is the story that the Dallas socialite Margarita Sames invented the drink. Tommy Hilton reportedly attended, bringing the drink back to the Hilton chain of hotels.
Another common origin tale begins the cocktail’s history at the legendary Balinese Room in Galveston, Texas where, in 1948, head bartender Santos Cruz created the Margarita for singer Peggy (Margaret) Lee. He supposedly named it after the Spanish version of her name, Margarita, and it’s been a hit ever since.
A later story is that the Margarita was invented in October 1961, at a party in Houston, TX, by party goer Robert James “Rusty” Thomson while acting as bartender. He concocted a mixture of equal parts tequila, orange liqueur, lime, and crushed ice in a salt-rimmed glass. However, Thomson’s recipe was made with Damiana Liqueur, not Cointreau orange liqueur. It is said that the idea was an experiment after running out of rum while making frozen daiquiris.
Another explanation, however, is that the Margarita is merely a popular American drink, the Daisy, remade with tequila instead of brandy, which became popular during Prohibition as people drifted over the border for alcohol. There is an account from 1936 of Iowa newspaper editor James Graham finding such a cocktail in Tijuana, years before any of the other Margarita “creation myths”. Margarita is Spanish for Daisy, which is a nickname for Margaret.
“The Skinni Margarita is a better choice than a traditional margarita because of its fresh ingredients,” says Cathy Shyne, executive chef at Tortilla Republic. “By mixing and squeezing a whole lime and fresh agave nectar with Corzo Blanco tequila and Cointreau, you get a fresh taste thats makes you feel like you are sipping a true margarita from Mexico, not a prepackaged artificial beverage.”
Consider these interesting twists on the classic Margarita when you plan your weekend celebrations for National Margarita Day!
Spicy Sage Margarita
2 oz. Avión Silver
3/4 oz. Jalapeño-Infused Elderflower Liqueur
1/2 oz. Orange Juice
1/4 oz. Lemon Juice
1/2 oz. Lime Juice
3/4 oz. Simple Syrup
3 Sage Leaves
1 Sage Leaf and Salt for garnish
Muddle sage in a shaker. Add all ingredients. Shake. Double strain. Pour over ice in salt-rimmed glass. Garnish with sage leaf. Created by Justin Dano, Pounds & Ounces, NYC
2 parts Avión Silver or Reposado
1 part Fresh Lime Juice
1/2 part Agave Nectar
Combine ingredients in shaker with ice, and shake vigorously. Fine strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a lime wheel.
1 1/2 oz. Tequila Avión Reposado
3/4 oz. Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice
3/4 oz. Simple Syrup (equal parts sugar and water)
Fresh Red Pepper
Muddle a fresh red pepper and a few leaves of cilantro in a cocktail shaker. Add Tequila Avión Reposado, fresh lime juice and simple syrup. Fill cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a salt rimmed cocktail glass.
Chamomile Daisy Margarita
2 parts Avión Reposado
1 part Fresh lemon Juice
1/2 part Chamomile Apple Agave
Add all ingredients to a shaker, shake & serve over ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.