Matthew's Foray into Blogging

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Thoughts on Mixto or “51/49” Tequila

International trade law allows countries to prevent the use of marks that mislead the public as to the geographical origin of certain goods, such as Champagne, Scotch, Cognac, Roquefort cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or prosciutto di Parma.

Mexico is rather protective of the name Tequila. By Mexican law, the agave spirit Tequila can be made only from the blue agave (Agave Tequilana Weber Azul), and can be produced only in specifically designated geographic areas. “Traditionally, spirits advertised as tequila could only originate in the state of Jalisco. But because of this liquor’s popularity, the Mexican government expanded the tequila region to include the states of Michoacán, Tamaulipas, Nayarít, and Guanajuato,” states Paul Harrington, of The Alchemist. Mezcal is made from the fermented juice of other species of agave and is produced throughout most of Mexico. Liquors distilled from any agave plant are “mezcal,” but only those made from the blue agave in certain states are Tequila; hence, the marketing slogan that all Tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is Tequila.

Following are two examples of the jealousy with which Mexico protects the Tequila name. Most tequila is transported out of Mexico for bottling in the United States. However, Mexico is seeking to ban the bulk exports and to require all tequila bottling to occur in Mexico, on the ground that Tequila’s authenticity is at stake.

Another example of Mexico’s protection of Tequila involves J.B. Wagoner and his Skyrocket Distillers. J.B. Wagoner began distilling liquor from 100% blue agave grown on land he owns in southern California. “Temequila” is a play on the name of Wagoner’s hometown, Temecula. The Mexican Tequila Regulatory Council has asserted that J.B. Wagoner’s “Temequila” brand sounds similar to Tequila, and is threatening legal action. Wagoner has yet to receive permission from the ATF to use the word “Temequila,” but his libation is being distributed as “JB Wagoner’s Ultra Premium 100% Blue Agave Spirits.”

The official Mexican standard or NOM, which defines Tequila as the product of fermentation and distillation of the blue agave juices obtained at the distillery from agave cores or piñas grown in the Tequila Region, allows for the addition of up to 49% sugars from sources other than the agave plant, such as sugar cane pulp, from which rum is distilled. Such tequila is derisively referred to as mixto or “51/49” Tequila. If the Mexican Government and Mexican trade groups are so concerned about what bears the Tequila name, why are they willing to allow adulterated spirits – 51/49 – to gallivant about under the name Tequila? It seems that mixtos would do more to besmirch the Tequila name than would a superior spirit distilled from 100% blue agave but nonetheless produced outside of Mexico.

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