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Posts from the ‘Tequila’ Category

A Taste of LA with mezcal

It was a whirlwind Labor Day weekend in Los Angeles at the Taste of LA held in Paramount Studios’ sprawling old New York back lot. It felt very much like a street festival with potholes and cracked sidewalks which ensured that the high heeled crowd had to tread carefully.

I missed the first session, a Field to Fork extravaganza, but hit the Cocktail Confidential program full force. The plan was to talk tequila and mezcal along with Bricia Lopez at the Taste of Mexico’s Hoy Café spot but on occasion the best laid plans are pushed aside when the drinks are flowing and conversation is bubbling along non-stop.

LA is a mezcal town, people get it, there is no question in their eyes when you say the word. The experimentation in restaurant kitchens and bars is a normal expectation.  Father’s Office showcased a to-die-for Bloody Maria made with mezcal and kimchee while Crème Caramel LA debuted its Kalamansi (a Philippine lemon) Mezcal bread pudding Creme Caramel.  But most of all there is excitement about agave distillates. When Bricia cracked open a bottle of the Pierde Almas Tequilina Weber we had to hold back the crowd. It is bold, delightfully smooth, and incredibly delicious.  It’s fascinating to see a mezcal like this made from the agave that’s used in tequila.  Del Maguey also has one on the market, the San Luis Del Rio Azul, as part of its Vino de Mezcal Series so this may be part of a larger trend.   In any case, we are planning our second Pop-up Mezcaleria to delve into the tequila vs. mezcal conversation so we’ll be tasting tequilas and mezcals made from the same agave.   Stay tuned for more information.

There was not nearly enough food on cocktail night to offset the generous pours, so it was amusing that there weren’t nearly enough alcoholic parings for the next day’s Flavors of LA session.  As always,  Jonathan Gold‘s carefully curated restaurant list was fresh and exciting and I can’t wait to return and dig even deeper into LA’s constantly evolving culinary variety show. Fantastic treats like Wurstkuche‘s rabbit sausage, Bulgarini‘s olive oil and salt ice cream, Mo-Chica‘s unagi wrapped by mashed potato goodness, Border Grill‘s taco extraordinaire, and Street‘s sweet potato bhel puri kept the taste buds well stimulated.

Later I listened to the panel discussion of local food trends with Evan Kleiman, Jonathan Gold, Gustavo Arellano, and Sang Yoon.  Who knew chefs and critics of their caliber could make Doritos and Del Taco such interesting conversation topics? I also caught the Mexican food talk that featured the Taste of Mexico chefs covering issues like “authenticity”, the perception that Mexican food needs to be cheap, bringing ingredients across the border (no fresh chiles for one), and regional variations in food influences.

A true highlight of the weekend was meeting Javier Cabral, perhaps the only other person who has equal love for mezcal and punk rock. Oh yeah, and pulque.

And of course there was being able to swim, in an unheated pool, at night, without thought of hypothermia.

In defense of tequila

Patricia Colunga has a provocative opinion piece in today’s La Jornada on tequila, NOM-186, and the battle over denominación de origen for agave distillates in Mexico.

Update: Here’s a quick translation of Patricia’s piece by Elliot Heilman:



Patricia Colunga GM1

Translation by: Elliot Heilman

Tequila – our national drink, pride of Mexico worldwide. If a foreigner asks us about it, the majority of Mexicans could tell him or her that it is a traditional, high-quality liquor from the region of Tequila in the state of Jalisco, where the famous blue agave is cultivated….but…is it really so simple?

Perhaps you do not know, but the prestigious name “Tequila,” according to its Appellation of Origin (DO) [a title which should protect it from imitators], can be legally used for drinks that imitate the original and traditional Tequila, which has been produced exclusively from blue agave since 1964. These imitated or adulterated drinks represent 55% of the legal production of the Tequila industry and 66.3% of all exports (statistics taken from the Regulatory Council for Tequila from 2012). These liquors are distilled with just 51% blue agave sugar, using up to 49% “other sugars.”

But you are not the only one who may not realize this. The majority of people do not know, nor can they know, because the producers and bottlers of “Tequila” are not legally obligated to put such information on their labels (nor, of course, do they do so voluntarily) – neither the percentage of sugars used apart from blue agave, nor even where they got these other sugars from (even though we believe it is from cane sugar, the cheapest).

Only when it is produced exclusively from blue agave may a liquor be called “Tequila 100% Agave,” but here we also have another problem concerning information and prestige. Since there are around 200 species of plants from the genus Agave, of which at least 38 are used in Mexico to make various other drinks (mezcal), using the label “Tequila 100% Agave” on such products may lead the consumer to think (incorrectly) that Tequila is made from the sugars of any such species of Agave. This is not in accordance with the Appellation of Origin, whose distinctive sign means that only sugars from the blue agave are used in the distillation.

But the consumer may also be lead to incorrectly assume that in the commercial denomination “Tequila 100% Agave,” the word “Agave” is synonymous with Agave tequilana Weber var. azul – an assumption that is completely false and is detrimental to the liquors distilled from the other 38 species of Agave, which are produced over 26 states in the Mexican Republic.

And how many of us know that the same Appellation of Origin leaves room for this drink, the pride of Mexico, to be even more adulterated when exported? How? By allowing the must to be exported in bulk outside of Mexico where the Tequila Regulatory Council, who make sure that such must is not adulterated, do not have any legal ability to prevent any adulteration.

The Law of Industrial Property makes the Mexican State the holder of the Appellation of Origins. This is to say that the Appellation of Origin belongs to the Mexican State and, therefore, to all of us. It is time to defend ourselves, time to raise our voices so that things will be as they should be, an appellation of origin that guarantees consumers that the liquors they buy with this name are crafted as they have traditionally been, e.g. made only from blue agave – an appellation of origin that stops protected counterfeit liquors, deceivingly labeled and often adulterated even more when shipped abroad – all of which has discredited the good name of Tequila, a name cultivated by artisans for over 200 years and which has been, since 1964, associated solely with a high-quality liquor, made 100% from the blue agave sugars.

Today we have an excellent chance to begin such a defense. One can find in the public record (consulta pública) (until August 14th) the official Mexican regulations project PROY-NOM-006- SCFI-2012, which as specified in the “General Declaration for the Protection of the Tequila Appellation of Origin” is the regulation that defines the characteristics and material allowed in the production of the production protected by the Appellation of Origin.

The proposed changes we have for NOM-006, which will defend the original and traditional Tequila, are:

1) That “Tequila” be defined as a liquor produced from the distillation of musts extracted from Agave tequilana Weber var. azul, to which no other sugars are added, and that “Tequila” no longer allow for musts that are enriched up to 49% with other sugars.

Can you imagine the prestigious name “Cognac” being used for a liquor that use 49% “other sugars” and only 51% sugars from grapes? Of course not! The Cognac Appellation of Origin does not allow this and Cognac is only made 100% from grape sugars.

2) That the obligatory commercial denomination for the liquor distilled solely from blue agave be “Tequila 100% Blue Agave” and not “Tequila 100% Agave” as it is now.

Can you imagine a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wine labeled only as “100% grape”? No way!

3) That the Appellation of Origin cease to protect those supposed “tequilas” that are distilled from 49% “other sugars,” that the bulk exportation of these “tequilas” be prohibited, and that their labeling regulations include an obligatory declaration of the percentage of “other sugars” used in production, as well as the source of these “other sugars.”

Can you imagine the prestigious name “Champagne” being used for a drink that could be exported in bulk and bottled in the United States or in China, outside the regions protected by the Appellation of Origin? Of course not! Because its Appellation of Origin prohibits it.

It is time to defend the Appellation of Origin. Tequila is a drink that belongs to all Mexicans. We cannot allow this name to continue being used to cheat and con the consumer, thereby discrediting our country.

1 Professor and Researcher at the Yucatan Center for Scientific Study (CICY)

Tequila Tracker

Our friends Scarlet and Grover have a great iphone app over at Taste Tequila called TequilaMatchmaker that’s perfect for tracking all your tequila tastes. I’m trying to convince them to create a mezcal version so that we can pick it up for the world of mezcal so take a look and, if you like what you see, drop them a line so that we can get it set up for all agave spirits.

What makes tequila different than mezcal?

The standard line is that tequila is a type of mezcal meaning that the word mezcal is an umbrella term for all agave based distillates.  This is all correct and a good starting point for the discussion even if it doesn’t do justice to the different techniques that really distinguish the two expressions of agave and it always fails to mention other family members like Sotol.

Fortunately we have the dedicated minds behind Mezcales Tradicionales to help. Their recently published explanation of exactly what makes tequila different from mezcal delves into all the legal details and offers the full story in succinct form.  It’s in Spanish so you’ll need to focus your language skills but it’s well worth the work.