Is Your Tequila Authentic? Behind the scenes of the CRT
In 2009 136.4 million liters of tequila, made from 924.7 thousands tons of agave, were exported from Mexico, and those numbers are increasing every year. The U.S. is the largest importer of tequila, followed by Germany and Spain. How do you know what you're drinking is the real thing?
Just like Champagne or Cognac, Tequila is protected by state of appellation. Jalisco is one of only five Mexican states that are allowed by law to produce tequila, and takes the majority of the industry, as it serves as home to 95% of the world's agave plantations. The entire industry is regulated by the Consejo Regulador del Tequila, which tests samples from the more than 1200 labels from 150 distilleries produced in Mexico to ensure that quality standards are met across the country. And, because agave can grow virtually anywhere, international offices track down falsely labeled tequila bottles in places as far as India or New Zealand. CRT teams pressure local governments to take the offending spirits off of the market. International groups also work to make sure that authentic tequilas that are exported remain of consistent quality.
Overall, there are two types of tequila, both made from the White Tequiliana Weber Blue agave plant. For premium tequila, spirits are made from 100% agave. The rest, which is still considered tequila, just a lesser quality, is made 51% from the sugar of agave. Among these two, there's young tequila (gold/silver), reposado (rested) which is aged two months or more, and añejo which is aged in oak for more than a year. The rare extra añejo tequilas are aged for more than three years. Mexico's Minister of Health regulates any sweeteners, flavors, or colors that may be added to a blend.
So before you think sampling tequila 24/7 might be one of the world's greatest jobs, let's take a peak behind the scenes of the 15-year-old Consejo Regulador del Tequila, a watchdog group housed in a gorgeous modern building in Guadalajara, with walls filled with fine examples of agave art. The Mexican government's Ministry of Economy sets the standards for tequila across the industry, and the CRT ensures that these standards are met for its 150 members.
Gallery: Behind the Scenes of the CRT
The CRT is staffed with some of Mexico's best chemists to analyze samples for alcohol and agave content. Biologists analyze soil content, looking for optimal conditions for agave growth and test to ensure that pesticide use is within regulation. Others analyze waste waters from distillation to ensure that surrounding environments are not harmed.
A whole department of the CRT is devoted to the health of agave plants. While there is currently no shortage of agave in the world, and the health of the plants does not affect the overall tequila product, sick plants are expensive for factories. The sugar content of sick plants is lower, and thus it takes many more plants to produce must. While there are currently no regulations for organic agave or pesticides (only one organic tequila, Quarto Copas currently exists) the trends are pointing toward more natural fertilizers and pesticides.
And finally, a molecular biology lab, the newest addition to the CRT, is creating a bank of DNA for the different species of agave in Mexico. With this bank, the CRT can genetically map agave clones, study the health of agave plants across the country, and predict which plants are susceptible to disease.
To find out if your tequila is authentic, you can check any brand to see if it's registered with the CRT here. Here's a hint, if it's made in Australia, labeled as "tequila-inspired," and has a picture of a desert cactus on the label, you need to seek out a new bottle.
My visit to Jalisco was sponsored by Tequila Cazadores, but the opinions expressed in the article are 100% my own.