Scarlet and Grover Sanschagrin have constructed a veritable temple to tequila at Casa Lotecito in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, the headquarters for Style Tequila and Tequila Matchmaker. Close to the doorway, a small lab and microdistillery (the place the couple make small batches of experimental tequila) give mad scientist vibes. Upstairs, a well-stocked bar guarantees tastes of many scrumptious agave spirits—some uncommon, others housemade.

On the eating room desk, a couple of fluted glasses and a tray of small dropper bottles are set out upfront of our arrival—every brown vial hand-labeled with the liquid contents inside: caramel coloring, vanilla extract, glycerin, tutti-frutti, aspartame, almond, chocolate, stevia, inexperienced apple. 

“It’s authorized and regarded very regular to make use of components within the tequila world, and thru our analysis we estimate that not less than 70 % of all tequilas offered comprise components like these,” Scarlet says. “And that’s conservatively low, as a result of there are numerous firms that don’t launch that info.”

To point out guests in actual time how components affect the character of a tequila, the Sanschagrins acquired an eclectic assortment of components from Guadalajara-based firms that additionally promote to massive tequila manufacturers. “We’re going to make use of them to recreate a couple of common superstar tequilas,” Scarlet says with an amused grin. She provides two modest pours of blanco tequila into the glasses. One will function the fixed, Grover explains. To the opposite, we’ll add incremental drops of components (the variables) to see how the aromas and flavors change.

“Glycerin is used for mouthfeel and to cowl defects,” Scarlet says. I dispense a couple of drops of the colorless, odorless, oily substrate generally present in soaps, moisturizers and a few prescribed drugs into my glass. “It dampens down aromas and coats your tongue so that you received’t get one hundred pc of the flavour of the tequila anymore.” 

It takes extra drive than I count on to swirl it into the tequila, and with just some drops, the load of the spirit has thickened considerably. Grover suggests tipping the glass to the facet to look at how the liquid runs down the inside floor. “Glycerin is heavier than unadulterated tequila, so the ‘tears’ will run down the sides quicker,” he says.

Subsequent up: vanilla extract. “It smells like frosting,” my pal groans. I take a whiff, and my sense reminiscence ferries me again to a latest bar go to the place I used to be gifted photographs of a celebrity-owned spirit that’s taken the mainstream by storm. All the vibrant agave flavors—spicy inexperienced peppercorn, lemon curd, mint—have pale into obscurity. It tastes like sticky birthday cake.

These [industrial] producers are primarily making a impartial product, stripping away all of the pure agave taste within the course of. That’s the reason they’ve so as to add taste again in after the actual fact.

The Sanschagrins met in San Francisco whereas working in tech—Scarlet as a reporter, Grover because the founding father of the photo-hosting platform PhotoShelter. They linked over a mutual love of tequila, which led to the creation of the interest web site Style Tequila in 2009. A transfer to Guadalajara shortly thereafter spurred deeper immersion within the agave spirits realm; the duo educated as catadores—a form of tequila sommelier—beneath the tutelage of Ana Maria Romero Mena, a maestra tequilera often called “essentially the most well-known nostril within the tequila trade.”

A Cheat Sheet to Components

Caramel shade: Creates uniform shade. As a result of reposados, añejos and additional añejos are aged for months (as an alternative of years, as with whiskey and different aged spirits), the pure shade is usually fairly mild. The addition of caramel makes the spirit seem like it has rested for much longer as a way of interesting to whiskey and brandy drinkers. 

Glycerin: A viscous substance used to cowl defects. The feel is considerably oily, to “clean out” the texture, numbing flavors and aromas within the course of. 

Jarabes: Sugar-based syrups that add additional sweetness to tequila. These embody synthetic sweeteners, comparable to stevia, aspartame and Splenda, in addition to pure ones, like agave nectar. “You’ll be able to add flavors into jarabes, and also you don’t have to inform the CRT what’s in it as a result of that’s your ‘commerce secret,’” Grover says. “Virtually something goes: wooden, vanilla, tutti-frutti taste, and many others.”

Oak extract: Provides woody notes. “Say you age a reposado for 3 to 4 months, however you need it to style prefer it was aged for six to seven months—the extract will give it extra barrel qualities,” says Scarlet.

In 2012, the Sanschagrins launched the Tequila Matchmaker app, which provides detailed manufacturing info on retail manufacturers, like distillery quantity and site, cook dinner and extraction sort, water supply and fermentation size, plus aroma and taste profiles and opinions—intel that was in any other case not extensively obtainable to most of the people on the time. This system to judge components began as considered one of many packing containers to examine on the app. “Years in the past we determined that, ‘Hey, components are a factor, so let’s put a line in there for manufacturers we all know don’t use them, like Fortaleza, Cascahuín, Siete Leguas,’” Grover explains. 

When the couple began to obtain requests for inclusion from manufacturers who claimed to be additive-free—however clearly weren’t—it shortly turned obvious that they would wish to develop a extra formal affirmation course of. Now, they use a multipronged method to fact-check distilleries’ claims, together with on-site visits to look at manufacturing, tasting evaluations—as soon as off the nonetheless or from the barrel, and once more from the completed retail product, to search for discrepancies—plus lab evaluations when needed.

The Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT), the Mexican group that oversees and enforces the foundations and laws surrounding tequila (NOM 006), additionally seems for components as a part of its regulatory practices, however in keeping with the Sanschagrins, the method is considerably missing as a result of the entire thing is predicated on an honor system. “There’s a binder in each distillery the place you write down in case you put components within the product or not. The CRT seems on the binder and indicators off and strikes on. They don’t check or scent or something,” Grover says. “Our intention is to only fact-check to ensure our database that individuals comply with, and depend upon, is correct.” 

The 4 kinds of components, known as abocantes, which are legally allowed in tequila are glycerin, oak extract, caramel shade and jarabes, that are pure sugar-based syrups like agave nectar, in addition to sugar substitutes like aspartame (usually seen because the Equal model), stevia and sucralose (aka Splenda). Per the federal government guidelines, if the proportion of abocantes used exceeds 1 % by weight, the components have to be printed on the label. (Blanco tequilas are a curious exception; the NOM says components should not allowed, but in addition features a loophole that renders this level moot, so many blanco tequilas additionally embody components.) More often than not, producers embody simply sufficient components to stay beneath the load restrict, so this info stays beneath wraps. Grover and Scarlet are primarily looking these circumstances—when components are used, however not communicated to the patron.

In Search of True Tequila

In an trade rife with artifice, Felipe Camarena is working towards the tide to protect true tequila.

Agave spirits aren’t distinctive in the usage of components. Many spirits permit them—whiskey, rum and Cognac usually embody sugar and caramel coloring, for instance—to make the liquid extra viscous, sweeter or extra uniformly coloured and flavored throughout totally different batches. And since it’s authorized and regular in tequila, the Sanschagrins say the impetus for his or her program isn’t to disgrace manufacturers that use them; they simply wish to deliver extra transparency to the follow. 

“There are additionally cultural variations at play. Individuals in Mexico don’t actually care as a lot,” Grover says. “However folks within the U.S. wish to know what’s within the bottle… It’s much less to do with well being, and extra to do with not desirous to be tricked by advertising.”

Components are additionally sometimes solely utilized in industrial manufacturing, which poses a menace to conventional customs and environmental sustainability. In 2022, Mexico produced about 600 million liters of tequila, a determine that required nearly 2.5 million tons of agave. This demand prompts giant producers to reap crops earlier than maturity and use machines that depend on catalysts like acid and diammonium phosphate (a typical fertilizer) to make tremendous excessive volumes of spirit actually shortly. 

Industrial manufacturing drastically adjustments the flavour of the spirit, too. “In conventional tequila, you get [notes of] cooked agave, herbs, spices—every thing you’d have in your kitchen—whenever you give time for cooking and fermentation and are utilizing mature agave,” Scarlet says. “These [industrial] producers are primarily making a impartial product, stripping away all of the pure agave taste within the course of. That’s the reason they’ve so as to add taste again in after the actual fact, and that’s additionally why additive tequilas are normally just one or two notes. They aren’t as advanced as a pure tequila.”

Maybe most regarding is the way in which these one-dimensional tequilas are altering the face of the spirit. “Though components are regular and have been used for a very long time … now they’re getting used not solely to clean out defects and create consistency, they’re getting used to create your entire aroma and taste profile,” Grover says. “Customers are demanding these smoother, sweeter tequilas, and we predict it’s gotten to the purpose that the conventional client will assume tequila is meant to style like cake batter or vanilla, and after they have a standard tequila it’s unrecognizable.”

What began as a easy field to examine on the app is blooming right into a grassroots motion akin to the shift towards one hundred pc agave tequilas that occurred a couple of decade in the past.

Because the Sanschagrins launched this system in 2020, the variety of confirmed additive-free manufacturers within the Tequila Matchmaker database has grown from a handful to 73 merchandise, a determine that Grover estimates will attain 100 by the top of 2023. Trade darlings Tequila Ocho, Siete Leguas, Cascahuín and Don Fulano have joined the ranks, and even a couple of celebrity-owned manufacturers—like El Bandido Yankee, Mala Vida and Santo Fino—have opted into this system. What began as a easy field to examine on the app is blooming right into a grassroots motion akin to the shift towards one hundred pc agave tequilas that occurred a couple of decade in the past

Bars like Las Almas Rotas in Dallas, Clavel in Baltimore, Drastic Measures close to Kansas Metropolis, Missouri, De Nada Cantina in Austin, Texas, and extra are main the way in which with spirits and cocktail lists that includes additive-free tequila. At Puesto, a restaurant with places in San Diego, Orange County and the Bay Space, vice chairman of bar and spirits Beau du Bois has eliminated Clase Azul and Casamigos from the menu. Don Julio will get the ax subsequent. “What Grover and Scarlet are doing is pushing ahead the query I ask daily, which is: Have you learnt in case your favourite tequila is artificially flavored or not? I’ll be the primary to say that one of the best tequila on the planet is the one you prefer to drink, however I’m additionally right here to supply transparency.” 

This system has additionally caught the eye of the CRT, which introduced a brand new certification known as “Naturaleza Libre de Aditivos Producto Certificado” in March. No additional particulars have been supplied concerning how the regulatory physique will affirm or implement the designation of merchandise which are freed from components. However for the Sanschagrins, the information is promising. “We’d like it if they’d take this over and do a very good job with it,” Scarlet says with a slight giggle. “We’d have a lot time to do different issues.”

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