How the tequila industry manages the unrealistic expectations put on a natural product
Have you ever ordered your favorite tequila and thought, “this tastes a little different than the last time I tried it”? If so, that’s probably a good thing. Tequila, like wine, is a natural product that will vary from batch to batch depending on many factors, such as the agaves used, the time of year it’s produced, different barrels used for aging, and even slight changes in yeast or distillation cuts.
But – understandably – the people who sell tequilas, and many consumers who are spending their hard-earned money on them, want to know exactly what they are getting.
“Customers definitely care about color and flavor remaining the same for most brands,” says Zack Romaya of Old Town Tequila in San Diego. “Complaints do happen when the customer feels like the flavor is different,” he adds.
This has led to a bit of a conundrum, because while a naturally produced tequila will be roughly 95% similar to previous batches, to get to that 100% similarity additives often have to be used.
So, for instance, if your barrels are a little more fatigued and don’t give a batch of tequila as much intense color as the previous one, you can add a little caramel coloring. In fact, this is probably why some tequila producers consider additives (or “abocantes”) like caramel coloring, oak extract, glycerin, and sweetener as standard tequila-making tools.
This points back to our own expectations as consumers. Do we want 100% consistency, or do we want to give producers a little leeway to produce natural tequilas that will differ over time?
“For us, consistency is in the quality of the tequilas we produce, not that they are exactly the same each time,” says Tequila Ocho Master Distiller Carlos Camarena, noting that only artificial, man-made products are exactly the same.
“This is nature,” he adds. “We highlight what we are given.”
Some producers, like Camarena, have been able to showcase production differences such as using different agaves, and producing at different times of year, to set the expectation that there will be slight changes in their tequilas.
Camarena’s Tequila Ocho lists the ranch where they harvested the agaves right on the label, while Tequila Fortaleza adds handwritten lot numbers to the back of each bottle, giving the consumer an idea of when that tequila was made.
“Each batch turns out with a slight variation, which is natural,” says Billy Erickson, Marketing Manager at Tequila Fortaleza. “And these small changes lead to awesome discussions among our fans as to which lots they prefer, and why. Sometimes we even get feedback on which ones to emulate, like the now infamous añejo lot 42/43,” he adds.
Showcasing variances can be exciting, but it’s not common. Most tequila producers strive for consistency because that’s what they believe consumers expect.
“We always try to educate the customer about tequila production and why differences should be expected,” says Romaya.
Given that getting the word out to the mass market will take some time, some producers are trying to bridge the gap between having a natural product and meeting consumers’ consistency expectations.
“Our Codigo 1530 Rosa is rested in wine barrels and has a light pink color that differs from batch to batch because the barrels give us something different each time,” says Ricardo Lona Martínez, Director of Operations for Codigo 1530.
“Consumers had questions about whether it was our Rosa or Reposado due to the variation, so we put it in a bottle with a colored bottom to help identify Rosa on a shelf. Rosa for us is a process, not a color,” he adds.
Hopefully, over time, more tequila drinkers will appreciate the difference.
What do you think? Is consistency important to you? Share your opinion, below.