Mexico Bans Additives in Blanco Tequilas
The current, revised “Norm” on Tequila (NORMA Oficial Mexicana NOM-006-SCFI-2012, Bebidas alcohólicas – Tequila – Especificaciones), was published in December 2012 and went into effect in February of 2013. In early 2013, I had extensive and detailed conversations with the Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT) and several Tequila producers, which led to this piece. While I have been speaking about this in presentations and trainings since May 2013, it is being posted here for the first time, in order to reach a broader audience.
Most people reading this will know that many “mixto” Tequilas are chock-full of caramel coloring and glycerin. But many don’t realize that, when it comes to additives, both the 100% agave category and the “mixto” category are allowed the same “natural” additives.
The Norm explicitly allows caramel color, oak extract, glycerin and “sugar-based syrup” to be added to either category of Tequila. So then, if these are the permitted additives, where have all the obviously foreign flavors in blancos in recent years come from? The vanilla, coconut, cotton candy, marshmallow and tutti-fruity candy notes? (Note that vanilla and coconut aromas result naturally from oak aging. For the moment we’re talking only about blancos.)
It seems that over the years, some producers got rather cheeky with the “sugar-based syrup” allowance, and that is where they were adding other additives – to the syrup itself. After all, sophisticated, expensive additives created in laboratories are effective in such small amounts that the syrup to which they are added is still inarguably “sugar-based.” What’s more, since the Norm doesn’t specify the source or type of sugar, that opens the door for the addition of agave-sugar based syrup. Imagine that – adding agave syrup to a finished Tequila blanco!
If this doesn’t strike you as authentic or fair, you’re not alone. And there’s good news. As of February 2013, no blancos may contain additives, period. Yes, you read that right. No Tequila in the blanco / plata class may contain abocantes – the aforementioned additives. The “new” Norm states explicitly that only water may be added to blancos after distillation. (Blancos may still be rested in/on oak for up to 60 days.)
Like any regulatory document, the Norm is subject to interpretation, but it’s ultimately the CRT that determines exactly how it will be enforced. In 2013, I was party to a very interesting discussion with the CRT and a well-regarded producer who uses certain additives. He was reading the new text in a way that would have allowed for the continued use of additives in blancos. After a few weeks of back and forth and checking up and down the chain of command, we had a definitive answer. After February 2013, additives are not permitted in blancos. (There will inevitably be questions and cynicism about how well this is being enforced, but these are beyond the scope of this article.)
Here’s what I suggest: blind tastings of blanco Tequilas that you’ve previously believed to be using additives – using 2012 bottles and 2014 bottles. Feel free to share your results!
No changes were made regarding additives to the other four classes of Tequila. Also, “flavored Tequilas” are a completely separate category and must be labelled as such.