Maracame tequila which swept Platinum accolades in the Blanco, Reposado, and Anejo branches achieving Best-in-Show recognition.
Giggling Marlin snagged the Extra Anejo bracket with a Gold award, while the stalwart 3 Amigos brand scored the same in the Value tequila classification.
The burgeoning Crystalino tequila category was easily dominated by Louie Vuitton Moet Hennessy’s newest creation, Volcan de mi Tierra, a collaboration with renowned Master Distiller, Ana Maria Romero Mena.
Ms. Barajas bagged the lioness’ share of hardware with Vikera and TC Craft tequilas, ensuring herself Distiller of the Year honors.
Pioneering distiller, Martin Grassl, along with India’s famed native spirits impresario Desmond Nazareth, captured a Gold medal in Agave Spirits with their Porfidio Single 100% Agave Americana Edition.
Obscure brand Onilikan procured three Golds in Aguardiente, Aguardiente infused with fruit, and Mexican gin, all produced from Blue Weber Agave outside of the Denomination of Origin of tequila.
A battle royale resulted in a tie for Organic Blanco tequila. Texas-based Ryno, and a resubmission from 2017, Juan More Time, now with an Organic Certification, each scored a Gold. Both are produced at the Las Americas distillery (NOM 1480).
Lastly, the Mezcal sector was completely disrupted by upstart Cuentacuentos when it unanimously received 4 Gold citations in Ancestral and Artesanal mezcals distilled from different agave.
So, how does a well-educated, forty-something mother of three get deeply involved in the remote bacanora-distilling communities of rural Sonora?
For this “Bacanora Boss Lady,” it began as a university school project.
We’ll let Adriana tell you her amazing and life-changing journey–in her own words–but first…
Mezcal is all the craze these days.
But, as the legendary Martin Grassl so aptly pointed out, knowledgeable consumers continue to move away from the bland, cookie-cutter flavor profiles of most mass market tequilas.
In their quest to challenge their taste buds even further, more and more are turning to other luscious Mexican agave spirits like sotol, raicilla and bacanora.
A Troubled Past
Made using Sonora’s native Angustifolia Haw plant (Agave Pacifica), the production of Bacanora was banned in 1915 by the powerful, post-revolutionary Governor of Sonora, Plutarco Elias Calles.
According to leading bacanora expert and historian, Dr. Luis Núñez Noriega:
“Bacanora consumption had become so widespread throughout the state, the intolerant government banned the spirit, and severely punished anyone caught drinking or making it – sometimes by imprisonment, sometimes by death!”
This Prohibition-style ban forced vinateros (bacanora distillers) into the hills to continue making the spirit in secret, much like American moonshiners and bootleggers.
Bacanora production was illegal until 1992, and in 2005 was issued a Denomination of Origin, but claims an existence of 300 years, mas o menos.
A Bacanora Boss Lady Tells All
[Editor’s note: For the convenience of our interviewee and our Spanish speaking audience, this article is in both English and Spanish.]
Maria Adriana Torres de la Huerta, 46 years old, mother of 3 children, divorced. Professional career as an Industrial Engineer and Systems Manager, with a Master’s Degree in Agribusiness and a truncated doctorate in Strategic Planning for the Improvement of Human Performance and Development.
Since the age of 24, my professional development is in the agro-industrial segment despite not being raised in the countryside.
The love I have for it and its activities were instilled in me by my father who is a medical veterinary zootechnician and a docent at the Technological Institute of Sonora, Mexico.
My experience began at the Rural Bank in the area of strategic projects like aquaculture, protected agriculture and agro-industries, working in the countryside [in the field], and for the countryside.
In 2006, as destiny would have it, I began my studies at the university school of business at the Technological Institute of Sonora.
One of the principal requirements [by the rector] was to find projects that enabled regional, sustainable development.
The businesses that were created or supported had to provide [aggregated] value to Sonora, as well as to allow for the development of its most vulnerable [overlooked] communities.
It was in that search, at the end of 2007, that I met my founding partner of the brand, Pascola Bacanora.
Alma Lourdes Peña Gomez introduced me to Bacanora, and that was when I knew this was a project worth pursuing.
We began working on formalizing the spirit. It allowed me to become an associate of the business to obtain the commercialization authorizations, production license, and exportation permits.
That’s when I began to understand the real significance of Bacanora production to the state of Sonora.
I began visiting these communities, listening to the stories told by the producers [distillers], the majority of whom were men already advanced in age.
They related how, in the post-revolutionary time, La Acordada (that’s what the authorities were called in those days) destroyed the bacanora vinatas [distilleries] and lynched many of the producers of this alcoholic beverage.
As time passed, and the more we became involved, I understood and observed why so many of the vinatas we located in ravines and in the most remote places of the mountain range.
I concluded that thanks to the fortunate stubbornness of those producers, this activity [of distilling bacanora] that has so much cultural significance and connotation to the citizens of Sonora, didn’t disappear.
Since 2007 until now, the business has undergone many changes, but definitely persistence and commitment have allowed me to keep working with this brand and my own private labels, adding to my team people with the same focus.
I continue working towards positioning bacanora as one of the best distillates in the world. And Bacanora Pascola as one of the pioneer brands that opened the breach between an artisanal bacanora and a 100% quality artisanal bacanora.
I am a bacanora producer.
MAA Adriana Torres de la Huerta, 46 años, madre de 3 hijos, divorciada, profesionista con la carrera de Ingeniero Industrial y de Sistemas, Maestria en Administración de Agronegocios y doctorado trunco en Planeacion Estrategica para la mejora del Desempeño humano.
Mi desarrollo profesional se da en el área agroindustrial desde los 24 años de edad, a pesar de no haber crecido en el campo, el amor por él y sus actividades fueron inculcadas por mi padre que es Medico Veterinario Zootecnista y ademas docente en el Instituto Tecnologico de Sonora.
Mi desarrollo inicio en el Banco Rural en el área de proyectos estratégicos como lo era la acuacultura, agricultura protegida y agroindustrias, trabajando por el campo y para el campo.
Pero es en el año 2006 cuando por azares del destino inicio mi labor en la universidad dentro de la Incubadora de Empresas del ITSON y donde una de las principales encomiendas del Rector fue la de buscar proyectos que permitieran el desarrollo regional sustentable, que las empresas que se crearan o se apoyaran en su desarrollo fueran empresa que dieran valor agregado al Estado y que permitieran el desarrollo de las comunidades mas vulnerables del estado.
En esa búsqueda, a finales de 2007 se acerca a mi la socia fundadora de la marca Bacanora Pascola Alma Lourdes Peña Gomez, la cual me dio a conocer lo que era el Bacanora, y en ese momento supe que este era el proyecto por el cual debería luchar.
Empezamos a trabajar en la formalidad de la bebida, lo que permitío hacerme socia de la empresa al lograr los permisos para la comercialización, la licencia de producción y los permisos de exportación.
Asi comencé a conocer lo que realmente significaba la producción de bacanora para el Estado, empece a realizar visitas a las comunidades, escuchar las historias de los productores, los cuales en su mayoría eran hombres ya entrados en años, nos relataban cómo en los tiempos postrevolucionarios, La Acordada (como le llamaban a la justicia en esa época) destruía las vinatas de bacanora y ahorcaban a muchos de los que producian esta bebida alcohólica.
Con el tiempo y entre mas nos adentrábamos, empece a entender y a observar porque muchas de las vinatas se encuentran en las cañadas y en los lugares mas recónditos de la sierra.
Pude concluir que gracias a la afortunada terquedad de esos productores que permitieron que no desapareciera esta actividad de tanta connotación y pertenencia cultural para los sonorenses.
Desde 2007 a la fecha la empresa ha sufrido muchos cambios pero definitivamente la terquedad y el compromiso han permitido que yo siga trabajando con esta marca y mis marcas propias, sumando a mi equipo personas con el mismo fin.
Y continuo trabajando en pro de que el bacanora se posicione como uno de los mejores destilados del mundo y Bacanora Pascola como una de las marcas pioneras que abrió la brecha entre un bacanora artesanal y un bacanora artesanal 100% de calidad.
Soy Productora de Bacanora.
More on Bacanora
In this short interview, Adriana Torres explains more of the bacanora distilling process to the Spanish speaking audience.
Learn all about tequila from field to glass and then get paid to share your love of agave spirits with others! Buy Them Both Now!
Throughout his checkered career in the Tequila world and beyond, Porfidio’s Martin Grassl has been largely viewed by the general public as an “international man of mystery.”
Disrupting a Mexican Tequila Industry that doesn’t take kindly to outsiders telling it how to make its own emblematic spirit, Grassl’s vintages of tequila in the iconic cactus bottle has been sought after, stashed and horded by collectors for its unique flavors and aromas.
In hindsight, one could argue that since 1991, Grassl had single-handedly established what is now the fastest growing segment of the Tequila market–
Single Agave(R) 100% Agave Americana Edition (S3xA) is one of a series of three planned releases by Grassl using different agave plants cultivated in different countries. This one, a joint venture with Nazareth, is harvested and distilled entirely in India.
Bane or blessing, innovator or interloper, prophet or pariah, Profidio’s Martin Grassl has been perceived as all of these, and more.
In the next few paragraphs, Martin Grassl–in his own words–discusses his global views about the future of agave spirits.
History moves forward. Agave spirits are going international.
It happened to the Europeans in the wine industry: no one could stop grapes travelling!
When California and Australia, not to mention Chile and Argentina, joined the premium wine world half a century ago, initially it drove the French in Bordeaux crazy. But over decades, it made important contributions to California’s and Australia’s economy and provided a much respected delightful alternative enjoyment for consumers.
Today, both Australia and California, not to mention Chile and Argentina, are wine superpowers, equivalent, if not superior to, their European ancestors.
How dreary the world would be with only French wines!
Single-Agave® 100% Agave Americana
Single-Agave® 100% Agave Americana, an agave spirit proudly made in India from 100% Indian-grown mezcal [agave] pinas, is history on the march.
It is the first in a Porfidio-initiated series of international single-varietal agave spirits; soon to be followed by the second release, a single variety agave spirit from Venezuela (100% Agave Cocuy).
The CRT’s recent national press campaign in Mexico honored the Indian agave spirit with full page articles in every major newspaper, but was typically inaccurate.
Contrary to its spurious claims, “agave” is a botanical term like the word “grape,” or “barley” and, like them, cannot be claimed under A.C. status (A.C = D.O.) [Denomination of Origin].
It is as if Peru tried to trademark “potato.”
The plant’s original name, Mezcal, is the name Mexicans used, and the term “Agave” was invented by a Swedish botanist based on the observations of a German researcher.
So the allegations of cultural (mis-)appropriation make hardly any sense, since if equally applied on both sides, the Old World could claim property in the origins of the donkey, distillation, stainless steel, invention of electricity, and indeed, to the very oak barrels, all of which were “(mis-)appropriated” by Mexico from abroad, and without which tequila would have hardly existed.
The Colombian Exchange
The key concept is “The Colombian Exchange” which brought horses, donkeys, wheat, stills and oak barrels to the Americas in return for the potato, corn, tobacco and agave that went to the rest of the world.
We should not forget the royal role of Queen Victoria, who so greatly continued Columbus’s work across her Empire when the British planted agave in all her various dominions where it would grow.
Some claim that this product was created as a response to the present Blue Agave shortage in Mexico. However, Single-Agave®100% Agave Americana is not made from the Blue Agave, but Mezcal Americana, a different variety of agave that is indeed used to make Mezcal, but not Tequila®, under the CRT’s own rigorous definition.
More importantly there are signs that consumers are actually bored with the limited palate of the Blue Agave, which is, after all, the dull chardonnay of agave spirits.
They are ready to move on to other agave varietals–
“Vino de Mezcal,” the new darling of agave spirits lovers.
Made in India, Single-Agave®100% Agave Americana, caters precisely to these bored consumers who expect more from life than just another boring chardonnay; and let alone just another 100% Agave Tequila® made from cloned plantation-grown Blue Agave.
There are few books on the subject of Tequila that are considered classics. The Book Of Tequila by the late, great Bob Emmons, stands out as the most essential for any student of agave spirits.
I consider Emmons the first, true Tequila Journalist. He was the first American author to demystify the much maligned Mexican tipple, and give it its rightful place among other elite sipping spirits.
Even posthumously, Emmons’ tome is so sought after that it is almost impossible to buy in paperback, let alone in hardcover. Obtaining a used copy, in any condition, is like discovering a treasure bottle of Porfidio Barrique, and just as pricey.
Ian Williams’ Tequila: A Global History, is not that kind of book–
But it could be.
To say that Emmons volume was ahead of its time goes without saying.
Chock-full of such useful information as addresses of the then existing distilleries, to the history of tequila, and even drinks recipes, Emmons covered it all.
So, what’s left to report?
The Rest of The Story
Since the first printing of Emmons’ book in April 1997, coinciding with the bilateral agreement between Mexico and the European Union that recognized tequila’s and mezcal’s denominations of origin a month later, the Tequila Industry has boomed and busted at least twice, maybe even three or four times.
And Agave Spirits, in general, has zoomed to the forefront of every mixology menu riding the wave of an unprecedented global cocktail craze.
That’s where Williams’ Tequila: A Global History steps in.
Have A Drink!
Sadly, Emmons is no longer on this earthly plane to have a drink with and to discuss the dawning of the growth of the Tequila Industry. Ian Williams, on the other hand, is alive and well and free for a drink!
We asked Ian to join us on Open Bar to discuss Tequila: A Global History. You can view that episode here or read on.
A wordsmith of the most delightful kind, the affable Williams literally embodies the voice and narrative of his book. With a sly smile and a gleam in his eye, this witty Brit kept us in stitches, sumptuously entertaining us with his tequila and mezcal travel tales.
Something For Everyone
His information isn’t just historically priceless (his interview with the controversial pariah Martin Grassl, innovator of Porfidio tequila, alone is
worth the purchase price), but also timely.
Williams deftly discusses the contentious implications of the recently tabled NOM 199 facing the Mezcal Industry and explains the true meanings of the newest designations (ancestral, traditional, artisanal, and industrial) that marketers have diluted into buzzwords to drive the craft spirits sensation.
He skillfully weaves the known Mayan, Olmec and Aztec chronology with current archaeological discoveries of Asian influenced distillation methods that stand to rewrite that history and the part played by the Spanish conquistadors.
And for Millennials seeking to educate themselves, Williams tackles sustainability issues, organic agave spirits, premiumization in the agave spirits market, and the sexiness of the agave plant itself. Even photos and cocktail recipes are included.
Mr. Williams does all this while craftily drawing parallels and similarities from his whisk(e)y, scotch and rum experiences (see Rum: A Social and Sociable History) as well as touching on other Mexican spirits like sotol and bacanora.
If Bob Emmons’ quintessential primer is considered The Greatest Tequila Story Ever Told, then Ian Williams’ Tequila: A Global History, could be its worthy sequel in a continuing agave saga.