Tequila is made from the distilled sugars of the blue agave plant, the raw plant material central to the production of tequila. Making tequila involves harvesting the heart of the blue agave plant, then cooking, mashing or milling to get a juice rich in sugars. In order to be a tequila, the blue agave plant must be the source of 51% of the fermentable sugars in the spirit.
On a bottle of 100% agave tequila – which often carries a higher price – one might think 100% is as truly finite as it sounds. However, additives are often used during rectification (the second part of distillation where alcohol percentage increases) to maintain consistency between batches. But additives can also be used to cover mistakes, water down, or mask deficiencies in the final product.
According to the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT), there are 4 types of additives allowed by law for use in 100% agave, non-blanco tequilas:
1. Sugar-based Syrup
3. Oak Extract
4. Caramel Color
Many tequila manufacturers include at least one type of additive in their product. As long as the additives account for less than 1% of the total liquid amount, tequila producers are allowed to market their tequila as 100% agave tequila. For tequila enthusiasts, this is a real problem in the industry. While the additives allowed are under 1%, in some tequilas these additives are stronger and much more potent than in the past – lending to doctored aromas and including artificial sweeteners. Why are they allowed. The answer isn’t to produce a better tequila.
When the process of making tequila is rushed, the old adage “haste makes waste” has much truth. Agave spirits are a natural product and no additives are actually required. But some producers use additives to accelerate the production process, masking a rushed and inferior product.
While some manufacturers initially included additives to imitate the flavor gained in a slower production process, neophyte tequila consumers have become accustomed to the doctored taste and have begun to expect a syrupy consistency or overly rich flavor – thus losing the true beauty of tequila.
In contrast, each batch of natural agave tequila will vary slightly as agave harvests vary from year to year – as factors such as rainfall, soil and sun affect each year’s growth and ultimately, the exact flavor profile of the tequila.
Grover Sanschagrin, co-founder of Tequila Matchmaker (a new additive-free verification program), remarked in a Forbes magazine interview, “Agave is trying to give us a gift in its complexity, subtlety, and variation. We’re not always respecting that with additives.”
Of one thing you may be certain, authenticity is at the core of Vintegrity Fine Wines and Spirits. Great care is taken in the tequila brands we represent – and tequilas with flavor-affecting additives are not part of our portfolio. We believe one should enjoy tequila the way the agave plant and its natural growing environment have presented.