Casa Noble on 5th Anniversary of ET

Experience Tequila launched in December, 2008. To commemorate our fifth anniversary, we asked friends and colleagues for their comments or reflections on our first five years. We will post the comments over the course of several months.
Casa Noble is s huge favorite among tequila fans, and truly committed to tequila education. Their organic and sustainable agave program and meticulous blending from new French oak barrels make them truly unique in the industry. Founder Jose “Pepe” Hermosillo and Vice President David Yan were some of our earliest supporters. Thank you, Casa Noble!

“It is fantastic to see a company/person with such passion for tequila. Experience Tequila has taken the time to learn and do things correctly, extending the knowledge of tequila.

Our great respect for Clayton, congratulations on a fantastic job in teaching about tequila and its culture.”

-Jose Hermosillo, Casa Noble

Clayton and Dave Yan
With David Yan at one of our countless visits to Casa Noble.

“Experience Tequila provides an unparalleled learning opportunity that connects people with the culture, people and brands that make Tequila such a unique and fascinating industry. Immersing visitors into a total experience that includes the history, production and people that help make Tequila such a unique product, helps provide an unforgettable journey that would otherwise be impossible for an individual to acquire.

Our deepest gratitude to Experience Tequila supporting Casa Noble in such a professional, authentic way. The privilege of hosting hundreds of his guests throughout this 5 years has given us the chance to generate and develop many invaluable relationships, thanks to the possibility of sharing the full Casa Noble Experience, where we immerse every person into a journey of the senses: the chance to see, hear, taste, smell and feel every single aspect of how we make our handcrafted luxury tequilas. Your collaboration also extends beyond borders, helping spread the Casa Noble experience in dozens of tastings, pairing dinners and seminars across the USA. Thank you SO much for your invaluable and continuous help.”

-David Yan, Casa Noble

 

This testimonial is part of a series marking Experience Tequila’s fifth anniversary. If you would like to submit your own, we would love to hear from you! Simply email us

Emilio Ferreira (Tequilas El Buho) on 5th Anniversary of ET

Experience Tequila launched in December, 2008. To commemorate our fifth anniversary, we asked friends and colleagues for their comments or reflections on our first five years. We will post the comments over the course of several months.
Emilio Ferreira Ruiz is the proprietor of one of the best tequila store in the world – El Buho, in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco. El Buho isn’t a must-visit site for tequila aficionados solely for the vast selection. People from all over the world come to El Buho, again and again, because of Emilio. He is a chemist by training, with a deep understanding of production processes. He is honest, ethical and fair with his customers. But most of all, he loves tequila! His passion for tequila knowledge is equal to that of our most hardcore guests. We are honored to call Emilio a friend and teacher.

“Experience Tequila has been one of the key factors in making Tequila known as an excellent beverage. Their tours to distilleries and other sites are very professional. Experience Tequila’s visits to El Buho have helped me expand my knowledge of tequila, as we have very interesting conversations with Clayton’s visitors – sharing our perspectives on quality, process, history, master distillers and other topics.

For me it’s an honor to know Clayton. He’s an excellent person and so his project couldn’t be any less. Congratulations, Clayton, on the fifth anniversary of ET. I am sure there will be many more years and successes in any project you develop. Cheers!”

-Emilio Ferreira Ruiz, Tequilas El Buho

El Buho

 

 

 

This testimonial is part of a series marking Experience Tequila’s fifth anniversary. If you would like to submit your own, we would love to hear from you! Simply email us

December 2014 Update on Mezcal Norm Revisions

What Next for the Mezcal Norm?

by Clayton J. Szczech, December 8, 2014
This is an addendum to a three article series on proposed changes to the Mezcal Norm. Please read the third, second and first parts for background. 

The first Encuentro Nacional de Mezcal took place in Morelia, Michoacán on the last weekend of November. Dr. Hipócrates Nolasco, President of the newly renamed Consejo Regulador del Mezcal (CRM – formerly COMERCAM) offered a presentation on the history of the mezcal’s Denomination of Origin (DO) and regulatory Norm, critiques of the current Norm, and the substance of the current “consensus” Proposal to revise the same. (CRM has also published the official English translation of the Proposal.)

 The Long, Winding Path through Bureacracy

Proposed revisions to any Official Mexican Norm (NOM) must pass through the Secretariat of the Economy’s Directorate General of Norms (DGN). Typically, these proposals are made to the DGN with standardized paperwork, in which the new text is proposed. However, in this case, the proposed changes are of such a radical nature (“a surgical makeover,” as Dr. Nolasco put it) that the generic forms aren’t adequate, and CRM has submitted  a 140-page document explaining and justifying the Proposal.

Once the DGN has thoroughly reviewed the document, they’ll create a consultative council, to include various federal agencies that would be affected, including PROFECO (the federal consumer protection agency) and Hacienda (the equivalent of the IRS). That council will review and may revise the Proposal, and the resulting document will be subject to a public comment period. Following any further revisions, the next version will be published in the Official Gazette (Diario Oficial – similar to the US’s Congressional Record), and subject to another public comment period.

Clearly, it will be crucial to be aware of these public comment periods. Ultimately, the new Norm will have to be approved by the Legislature. CRM is committed to bringing the Proposal to the Legislature without the backing of any particular political party, though Dr. Nolasco did say that if things get bogged down, they may have to re-think that. It’s also worth noting that CRM has provided their document to both the Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT) and the National Chamber of the Tequila Industry (CNIT).

Holograms and Lingering Concerns

Dr. Nolasco explained that in the new system, every bottle of certified mezcal will have a hologram affixed to it, which the consumer can use to access in-depth production details online. In fact, the CRM site already has a search engine that can be used to get a general idea of how much any particular brand is producing, based on the number of official seals issued by CRM.

Several comments from the audience illustrated that concerns remain over the scope of the Denomination of Origin, as well as the composition of the three classes of mezcal being proposed by CRM. Regarding expanding the DO beyond the current eight states, Dr. Nolasco made it clear that CRM is in favor of both expansion and, eventually, an AVA-style system of regional labeling at the municipality level. Either or both would require federal legislation distinct from the current proposal.

Erick “Almamezcalera” Rodriguez repeated his concerns that the “ancestral” class of mezcal in the Proposal would in fact exclude some undeniably traditional mezcal producers. Specifically, he explained that mezcaleros in San Luís Potosí and Zacatecas do not use bagazo (agave fiber) in either fermentation or distillation, which would exclude them from “ancestral” classification, despite meeting every other criterion. This is similar to the issue raised in June by traditional mezcal producers from Michoacán, who wouldn’t be considered “ancestral” due to their use of copper alembic stills (see my June update for details).

Please continue to check here, or on Experience Mezcal’s Facebook page for updates on this important process.

 

 

 

Onward Together! with Sanzekan Mezcal

Solidarity with the Future of Mezcal

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Experience Mezcal is working with Sanzekan Mezcal to support their program of mezcal “Solidarity Bonds.” Sanzekan Tinemi (“Onward Together,” in the Nahuatl language) is a 24-year old cooperative of indigenous people from Guerrero state’s central foothills region around Chilapa de Álvarez. They are dedicated to their people’s economic and social development through the sustainable use of natural resources.

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Mezcal is a fundamental part of their traditional culture, and over twenty maestros mezcaleros are among their members. They produce excellent mezcals from the wild “papalote” (Agave cupreata), which they reforest thousands of each year. Unfortunately, the current mezcal boom is not primarily benefitting traditional producers using sustainable practices. Times are extremely tough in Guerrero, and there is great pressure from outsiders to speed up the traditional process at the expense of quality. For these reasons, Sanzekan is launching a “Solidarity Bond” program.

Statement from Sanzekan Mezcal

Neither maguey nor mezcal have any point without our people and our culture. That’s why we ensure that the proceeds from our products make it back to the communities that are preserving their heritage.

Mezcal Sanzekan, the collective brand of mezcal from Guerrero’s central mountain region, personifies the traditions of mezcal country. We take good care of our natural resources to ensure a sustainable product. Today, Mezcal Sanzekan takes on the task of showing our own people and others how commitment and love of the land can bear fruit. Mezcal has the ability to create human connection, sparked by the passion and dedication of everyone who participates in it. The proceeds of these Solidarity Bonds with serve to strengthen the mezcal producers in our organization. Stand in solidarity with mezcal culture and become a part of the Mezcal Sanzekan project!

What are Solidarity Bonds?

Sanzekan will be issuing 200 Solidarity Bonds for certified mezcal and 200 solidarity bonds for non-certified mezcal. Each Bond is worth one liter of mezcal, to be redeemed after production and resting / aging in glass, as is traditional.

Certified Mezcal Solidarity Bond

Cost: $65 / liter

This mezcal is certified by COMERCAM, mezcal’s regulatory body. It may be sold in commercial establishments. 

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  • The bond holder’s mezcal will be rested in glass in Sanzekan’s aging cellar, in a dedicated space bearing the bond holder’s name.
  • The mezcal will be matured in the cellar for two years, and then delivered to Chilapa de Alvarez or Mexico City.
  • The mezcal will be bottled and labeled under the Sanzekan brand.
  • The bearer will have access to the cellar (one week’s notice required).
  • The bearer will receive a ficha técnica (“spec sheet”) for their mezcal.
  • The bearer will receive photos of their mezcal being produced.
  • The bearer will be able to visit the distillery of their maestro mezcalero (one week’s notice required).
  • The bearer may choose from one of the following maestros mezcaleros: Refugio, Ciro, or Lorenzo.[/bulletlist]

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Non-certified Mezcal Solidarity Bond

Cost: $ 40 / liter

This mezcal is NOT certified by COMERCAM, mezcal’s regulatory body. It may NOT be sold in commercial establishments. It is of the same quality as the certified mezcal. 

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  • The bond holder’s mezcal will be rested in glass in Sanzekan’s aging cellar, in a dedicated space bearing the bond holder’s name.
  • The mezcal will be matured in the cellar for two years, and then delivered to Chilapa de Alvarez or Mexico City.
  • The mezcal will be bottled and labeled under the Sanzekan brand.
  • The bearer will have access to the cellar (one week’s notice required).
  • The bearer will receive a ficha técnica (“spec sheet”) for their mezcal.
  • The bearer will receive photos of their mezcal being produced.
  • The bearer will be able to visit the distillery of their maestro mezcalero (one week’s notice required).
  • The bearer may choose from one of the following maestros mezcaleros: Refugio, Ciro, Lorenzo, Tomás, Benigno, Faustino, Antonio, Lucino, Silvestre, Amancio.

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Minimum Purchase

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  • The minimum purchase is 3.75 Bonds (per maestro mezcalero), as the smallest glass carboy used for aging is 3.75 liters (approximately one US gallon).
  • Minimum certified Solidarity Bond purchase $243.75
  • Minimum non-certified Solidarity Bond purchase $150

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Payment

 

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  • Experience Mezcal is taking payment for Sanzekan Solidarity Bonds in the US, in order to support Sanzekan. We are not making a profit, but have added a 5% processing fee to the original price to cover bank fees. This fee is included in the pricing above.
  • Experience Mezcal will email a scan of the physical Bond, and mail the originals as soon as is feasible.
  • Experience Mezcal can take receipt of matured mezcal in Mexico City, where it will be held for Bearer.
  • Experience Mezcal will work with bearers to get their mezcal to the US, but there will be a fee for this service.
  • We are pleased to announce that the Solidarity Bonds for the US have sold out! Thank you all for your support.

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We are excited to support Sanzekan and offer our friends in the US this opportunity. If you have any questions, please write us.

On the Tequila Trail (Sunset Magazine, November 2014)

“Clayton had been leading private tasting trips on his own since 2008, but recently he teamed up with an established tour operator out of Los Cabos to help handle the million and one logistical challenges of running vanloads of day-tasters through a foreign country. His Spanish was crisp and flawless, almost lyrical, and his tight connections in the tequila world would open many doors for us. Dirt roads too.”

Click here to read the original article in its entirety.

More Experience Tequila media coverage.

German Gonzalez on 5th Anniversary of ET

Experience Tequila launched in December, 2008. To commemorate our fifth anniversary, we asked friends and colleagues for their comments or reflections on our first five years. We will post the comments over the course of several months.
Germán González needs no introduction to tequila aficionados. His family is the reason the state os Tamaulipas is included in tequila’s Denomination of Origin region. Germán was at the helm of Tequila Chinaco when that brand was among the vanguard of 100% agave tequila entering the US in the early days. He now has his own brand of Tequila – T1 – “made by friends, for friends.” Germán is most definitely a great friend, as well as a true maestro.

“Over the last few years the tequila category has come of age. Many new tequilas of various types and differences have emerged. Clayton and Experience Tequila have helped aficionados, and non-aficionados understand the explosion of brands and provided an outlet to gain information on tequilas – – specific brands and general trends.

Clayton, I know that launching a new and independent business is really difficult, even more so outside of your country and in a foreign language. But forget about that, you deserve even greater congratulations because you are doing it in the world of tequileros, and I know that is not easy. Many congratulations on your fifth anniversary.”

-Germán González Gorrochotegui, T1 Tequila

German Gonzalez and Clayton Szczech enjoying some vintage Chinaco green label.
German Gonzalez and Clayton Szczech enjoying some vintage Chinaco green label.

This testimonial is part of a series marking Experience Tequila’s fifth anniversary. If you would like to submit your own, we would love to hear from you! Simply email us

5 Things to Know About Tequila (KOMO Seattle, August 2014)

“So what does a rookie to the world of good tequila need to know before leaving behind the world of salt, lime, and slamming a shot, for the high-quality sip? After listening to tequila expert Clayton Szczech of Experience Tequila preview his Tequila 101 class…and drop some additional agave knowledge, here is a taste of important tequila information…”

Click here to read the original article in its entirety.

More Experience Tequila media coverage.

 

Jackie Moffett (NW Tequila Fest) on 5th Anniversary of ET

Experience Tequila launched in December, 2008. To commemorate our fifth anniversary, we asked friends and colleagues for their comments or reflections on our first five years. We will post the comments over the course of several months. 
In three short years, the Northwest Tequila Fest has established itself as a top-flight event that attracts tequila aficionados from throughout the United States. Fest co-founder Jackie Moffett is a true agave dyanmo, getting more done before lunch than most people get done in a week. We are proud to have been a part the the Northwest Tequila Fest for the third consecutive year.

“Experience Tequila has been a crucial part of the success of Northwest Tequila Fest, and we are grateful to, and forever learning from Clayton. No one I have met knows more about tequila, and his continued commitment to education means that those of us in the agave world have an amazing asset and resource for spreading the good word about tequila.

Congratulations on your first 5 years, Clayton! Here’s to many, many more.”

-Jackie Moffett, Northwest Tequila Fest

Jackie Moffett and Clayton Szczech at the El Llano tasting room in Tequila, Jalisco.
Jackie Moffett and Clayton Szczech at the El Llano tasting room in Tequila, Jalisco.

This testimonial is part of a series marking Experience Tequila’s fifth anniversary. If you would like to submit your own, we would love to hear from you! Simply email us

Ann Tuennerman (Tales of the Cocktail) on 5th Anniversary of ET

Experience Tequila launched in December, 2008. To commemorate our fifth anniversary, we asked friends and colleagues for their comments or reflections on our first five years. We will post the comments over the course of several months. 
Tales of the Cocktail kicks off in New Orleans this week. Tales is arguably the largest and most important bar industry and cocktail culture event in the world.  Ann Tuennerman founded Tales 12 years ago as a way to show off the vibrant, unique history and culture of her native Crescent City. Ann is a zealous advocate for spirits education, for both trade and consumers. It was a pleasure to finally host Ann in Tequila Country last year, and we look forward to future collaborations. 

“I think Experience Tequila has a wonderful way of spreading the culture of tequila knowledge due to the small, hands-on nature of the company and the tours. This builds intimate personal relationships with the people who care about this region, its history and its culture.

Congratulations Clayton on creating a business that you enjoy and are passionate about sharing with others.”

-Ann Tuennerman,  Tales of the Cocktail

This testimonial is part of a series marking Experience Tequila’s fifth anniversary. If you would like to submit your own, we would love to hear from you! Simply email us

Mezcaleros Unify Around Improved Norm

Mezcaleros Unify Around Improved Norm

by Clayton J. Szczech, June 26, 2014
This is the third article in a series on COMERCAM’s proposed changes to the Mezcal Norm. Please read the first and second parts for background. 

An elderly indigenous man with sun-wizened skin and a big cowboy hat stands next to a dapper urban lawyer in an expensive tailored suit. The lawyer represents the largest industrial mezcal producer in the world, and is tapping away officiously on his Blackberry. The ranchero has sacrificed an entire day of work to be here, and is on his cell phone, gently but authoritatively instructing his son as to the urgent tasks in the family’s small cornfield. These two figures pretty well bookend the contemporary mezcal industry, and both are in Building Five of the “Administrative City” just outside of the Oaxacan capital to debate and decide the future of mezcal.

They were joined on June 23 by a historic, standing-room only gathering of over 200 mezcal producers, bottlers, brand owners and maguey growers from all eight states in the Mezcal Denomination of Origin (DO). The meeting was the final in a series, convened by COMERCAM (mezcal’s regulatory body) to solicit feedback on its proposal to radically alter the Official Mexican Norm currently governing mezcal. The proposal purported to recognize the hard manual labor, adherence to tradition and resultant lower yields and higher prices of small artisan producers by introducing a new category of mezcal. It was attacked by large industrial producers as too radical, and by the most rustic producers as too timid. COMERCAM had heard those, and other points of view for three weeks, and was about to present a modified proposal that they hoped would satisfy everyone.

COMERCAM Director Dr. Hipócrates Nolasco called the meeting order just as the arrival of a bus of producers and brand reps from the state of Guerrero brought the room to its maximum capacity. He asked for unity and mutual respect as the proposal was presented and debated. Unfortunately, he was immediately interrupted by two well-known proponents of the status quo, who attempted to derail the process entirely. They were effectively shut down by the multitude who had travelled quite far in some cases, and weren’t about to be bullied or have their time wasted. Four productive hours later, practically everyone in the room was pleasantly surprised by the document that had been produced and the relative lack of acrimony in the proceedings. A tasty lunch together while taking in Mexico’s surprising 3-1 drubbing of Croatia in the World Cup certainly didn’t hurt the shared feeling of accomplishment and progress.

The New Mezcal

Most significantly, the final proposal defines all mezcal as 100% agave, and breaks it down into three categories, defined by production methods. This goes quite a ways toward the type of recognition for the most traditional mezcals long demanded by traditionalists such as Mezcaloteca, La Logia de los Mezcólatras, Mezonte and Almamezcalera. There are of course remaining issues, which I’ll note below.

Three New Categories
  • “Mezcal” category: essentially unchanged, though now explicitly lists processes that may be used. Diffusors and column stills continue to be allowed. Stainless steel is allowed in both fermentation and distillation. There were a large number of attendees in favor of calling this category “industrial mezcal,” a proposal which is vehemently opposed by the largest producers and also by many others who believe such a label would tarnish mezcal’s reputation as a whole. (After all, industrial vodkas, gins, etc. are not labeled as such.)
  • “Artisanal Mezcal” category:  These mezcals may be produced with either earthen pits or stone ovens, but the maguey must be cooked by “direct fire” (this does not necessarily mean firewood). The maguey can be milled by hand, stone wheel or mechanical shredder (but not mill chains). Allowable fermentation vats can be stone, earth, clay, animal hides or wood (but not stainless steel). Distillation is in alembics with copper or clay pots, and monteras may be wood, copper, clay or stainless steel.
  • “Ancestral Mezcal” category: The most restrictive of the three, these mezcals must be produced with earthen pits and milled by hand or stone mill.  Fermentation vats must be stone, earth, clay or animal hides. Stills must be clay pots, with or without wood or clay monteras. Agave fiber must be present in both fermentation and distillation. Disallowing copper alembic stills in this category is perhaps the most controversial element of the entire revised proposal to many traditionalists.

Producers from Michoacán who were present at the meeting, in particular, were adamant that copper alembics have been used to produce mezcal in their state for centuries. They argued that if that isn’t “ancestral,” what is? This argument gets to the very historical roots of mezcal, as it remains a subject of intense debate whether the copper alembics brought by the Spanish Conquistadores were very quickly copied using local materials like clay and bamboo (as Ulíses Torrentera argues), or whether clay stills are in fact pre-Hispanic (a possibility suggested by the research of Drs. Daniel Zizumbo and Patricia Colunga). In one of the few truly disappointing moments of the meeting, a proposal to add copper alembics to this category was not allowed to be voted upon. This will likely remain a very sore point in the years to come.

The most closely contested vote of the day was to decide whether to call the third category of mezcal “traditional” or “ancestral.” Both terms are quite loaded, given that what is considered traditional changes over time, and what is truly ancestral is open to debate given that most pre-Conquest records were destroyed by the Spanish. After heated debate, the “ancestral” camp carried the day, by a vote of 95 to 93.

Four Classes

The categories break down into the following four classes:

  • Blanco: the mezcal formerly known as “joven.” That change was not without controversy. The argument that “young” in translation doesn’t do justice to the long maturation period of the agave and the laborious production process ultimately carried the day.
  • Madurado (“matured”): mezcal aged in glass for a minimum of twelve months. The label can state the amount of time it has been aged.
  • Reposado: mezcal aged in barrels between two and twelve months. The wood does not have to be oak, interestingly. The argument is that regional Mexican woods should be given a chance. After considerable debate, a limit on barrel size was voted down. The label can state the amount of time it has been aged.
  • Añejo: mezcal aged over twelve months, in any type of wood vessel of any size. The label can state the amount of time it has been aged.

Th use of additives (abocantes – flavors, aromas and stabilizers, including worms, damiana, caramel, etc.) and production of traditional pechugas are defined as “additional operations.” The ingredients used in either must be listed on the label. The term “destilado con” is required for pechugas, followed by the ingredients present in the still. Pechugas are only allowed for artisanal and ancestral mescals. So for example, an artisanal pechuga distilled with chicken breast could read (in English) something like “Artesanal Blanco Mezcal, Distilled with Chicken.”

Maguey Or Agave?

One of the day’s most extended and passionate debates concerned the terms “maguey” versus “agave,” particularly in terms of which should be required in labeling. Maguey, of course, is the older of the two terms, having arrived from the Caribean with the Spanish in 1519. It is the preferred term in Oaxaca and many other mezcal regions. However, there is a strong argument for using the scientific name of the genus, agave, in that there is broader understanding of its meaning throughout the world.

Convincing arguments were made on both sides, with those having more contact with commercialization and international sales tending to prefer “agave,” and most of the older, rural producers strongly preferring “maguey.” The latter see “agave” as an imposition of the Tequila industry, which is a bigger part of their reality than a concept like “scientific name.” Tradition is reality, and one gentleman from San Luís Potosí asserted that “the Tequila makers brought us the name ‘agave.’”

Ultimately, a compromise was approved in which labels must state that the mezcal is “100% Maguey” as well as name the scientific name(s) of the raw material. Common or local names are allowed but not required.

Important Odds and Ends

  • “Mature” maguey is defined as about to or having produced a quiote (flower stalk).
  • The parameters around acidity have been removed entirely.
  • All mezcal must now be filtered for solids (essentially with paper), and aggressive activated carbon filtration will continue to be allowed.
  • Labels will be required to list the scientific name(s) of the agave(s) used, and in the case of ensembles, the species must be listed in descending order by mass. (This is to avoid labeling a mezcal simply “tobalá,” for example, when it contains only a small fraction of that agave. This practice is believed to be widespread.)
  • Labels must name the state where the mezcal as produced. This is intended as a small first step towards eventually introducing more specific appellation zones, similar to wine.

What is Next?

The draft that resulted from this final meeting now goes to COMERCAM’s legal team, who will ensure the verbiage meets the standards of the General Directorate of Norms (DGN). It will then be reviewed by various other federal entities, including the DGN and Mexico’s trademark institute. These reviews will be followed by a 30 day public comment period. I’ll continue to monitor the process and post updates here.