What is authentic Tequila made with? 

What is authentic Tequila made with? 
100% Blue Agave Of-course.

Hearts_of_tequila_agavesThese blue agave plants grow in the Tequila region of Jalisco, Mexico. A little known fact is, these green prickly plants are part of the lily family. So, despite sharing the same dry and harsh climate with the cacti, they are not related.

One possible analogy for the confusion would be to say that the remora (a.k.a suckerfish) and the shark are brothers because they swim in the same waters next to each other.  Silly, right?

Either way, let’s not deviate from the important topic at hand – tequila. These agave plants require eight to twelve years to mature. They’re harvested by hand, to this day. The laborers shave the plant until its palm heart core is visible. This core is then baked, it is fermented and its juice is bottled. These hearts can weigh up to 200 pounds! No easy task for anyone, especially when dealing with a whole field of them under the scorching sun.

As with most alcoholic beverages the more aged the drink the smoother. Tequila is broken down into 5 distilled age groups: Blanco (2 months); Joven (mixute of blanco and aged); Reposado (2-12months); Anejo (1-3 years); and Extra Anejo (3-5years).

Traditionally the spirit isn’t mixed with anything and consumed as a shot. Those who want a chaser can opt for “blood”. Don’t worry, it’s not real blood and in Spanish it’s known as “sangrita”. It’s made with tomato and orange juice, sprinkled with some chili powder.

The industry skeletons

Unfortunately, many big industries are only concerned with profit making. They focus on keeping volume production high and prices as cheap as possible. This contradicts the very slow maturity process of the plant and leads to vast environmental, economic and labor issues.

Aging of El Tesoro or TapatioAverage laborers, working under harsh conditions and scorching heat of sunshine,  fighting off sharp ends of agave plants and heavy heart palms, gets paid a miserable 50 cents per $450 case they produce. Their work schedule is hectic and doesn’t follow the maturity period of the agave plants. To keep up with demand, large corporations end up cutting and using other plant species. Farmers, driven by short-term gains, agree to have their agave fields (of other varieties, including those going extinct), to get mowed down.

These mixed cases are known as “mixto”, but on the bottle they are still labeled as “tequila”. This leaves the consumer unaware of the ingredients that make up their drink. These ingredients can range from other agave varieties to corn syrup, but the consumer will never know exactly what’s in their shot or margarita.

If this sounds unfair, then you are certainly not alone with such thinking. Yet, these big corporations are not breaking any laws. As long as a bottle contains 51% of blue gave nectar, it can be filled anything else and still be sold as Tequila. Pretty insane!


Maguey_landscapeLooking at Tequila’s youthful export history, such loopholes could be forgivable. Remembering that the first regulation for tequila wasn’t written until October 13, 1977 with the passage of the Official Mexican Standard for Tequila, clarifies a lot of questions.

Yet, it doesn’t provide solutions to environmental problems in Mexico caused by the tequila industry. And to anyone familiar with advocate work, changing a powerful industry is difficult. The only option that most have is to move forward with new information and to make more intelligent choices in other industries.

Mexico has a chance to do that in its emerging mescals spirits industry. Which, just like the tequila industry, relies on agave plants to produce and bottle alcohol consumed widely by foreign countries.

Will history be repeated? That depends much on the government and the consumers buying the products. But if Mexico wants to keeps Aztec traditions alive and satisfy the god of alcoholic merriment, Tepoztécal, then it ought to regulate the emerging industry.

As for our readers, I hope this brief historic blog will inspire you to be a more conscious consumer. For next Friday, I will make a list of Tequila’s that are sustainable and properly crafted. This should ease your transition process. Until then, don’t forget to buy only “100% agave tequila” and get ready for TIP‘s event on October 2nd here in Washington, D.C.!

Wishing you all conscious drinking!

Spirits – do the drinks have a deeper connection to us?

Tequila.greenfields.sustainability.saynotofoodwaste.knowledge.education.sharing.caring.loveSome hard liquors are known as spirits. Sounds a lot like a spirit–  “a vital principle or animating force within living beings.”

Is there a connection? Possibly. A quick Google search yields to this:

“The word alcohol comes from the Arabic word for spirit which is al-kuhl (الكحول ). In Middle Eastern folklore, the al-kuhl is a body eating spirit or ghoul which is an interesting correlation to the way the effect of alcohol has been described. The term spirit, which refers to distilled alcohol, comes from this connection. It is then no surprise that alcohol and spirituality have a close connection.”

tequila.agave.mexico.saynotofoodwaste.sustainability.share.care.give.green.spirits.There are many examples of ancient cultures, such as the Egyptians and the Aztecs, who used this powerful substance in cultural and spiritual ceremonies. The hard liquor enhanced individual’s ability to connect with the surrounding by opening the mind to powerful forces invisible to eyes.

In today’s world, where bottom lines have forced every industry to produce things quickly and cheaply, the quality of our spirits is diminishing. This is also true for the Tequila industry, which is one of the fastest growing alcoholic drinks on the market. Lack of proper oversight, improper sustainability guidelines and loopholes in legislation have wrecked havoc both on the product and the environment.

But before we go any further, there are some important facts to learn. First off, the term Tequila describes a region in Mexico and the drink is made from blue agave plants. There are a number of varieties of this plants that might end up in a tequila, but that’s a sign of impurity and lack of adequate management.

To help restore stability, tradition and sustainability in the industry, the Tequila Interchange Project (TIP) non-profit has been providing opportunities for consumers and industry stakeholders by answering questions mostly overlooked in the youthful history of the spirit in USA. This is done through public events, workshops, study trips and research opportunities. For a full list of the non-profit activities, be sure to visit their main website and Facebook page.

The non-profit has achieved a lot and expanded its influence to various bars around the nation and the globe since being founded in 2010. One reason for their success is their ability to tie current practices to the bigger picture by sharing the ancestral traditions and practices, pinpointing what needs to be changed to reconnect with lost origins. After all, the quality of the plant is what determines the quality of the drink.

tequila.shots.drink.spirits.lifeConsidering the volumes and details of this story, it will take me a whole different post to explain this simple, yet complicated process. So if you’re interested be sure to come back next Friday and get a crash course on the Tequila and Mexican spirits evolution.

It will be in time for TIP’s upcoming event here in Washington, D.C.. If you’re a passionate tequila drinker, spirits connoisseur, bartender, environmentalist or simply want to learn about a new topic, you’ll have a chance to attend a public event on Thursday, October 2nd at Oyamel restaurant and bar. For bartenders and those more closely involved in this industry, you can RSVP for a workshop event on Monday, September 29th, and get a detailed explanation of the organization’s work, meet and network with industry experts, and catch up on upcoming projects.

Either way, see you soon!