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Proposed Mexican legislation NOM-186 alarms small producers

Photo: Chuck Kerr, License: N/A

Chuck Kerr


Tequilaphiles unite!! (Mezcal lovers too.)

It's rare that I use an exclamation point, let alone two, but circumstances apparently warrant it. I haven't heard the Mexican government's side on this, but it appears that new regulations, known as NOM-186 and intended to make changes in the way agave products are produced, labeled, and marketed, are making their way through government channels, and many distributors and (mostly small) producers are alarmed, agitated, outraged even.

The apparent intent of the proposal, and others associated with it, is to more closely regulate the use of the term "agave," and most of the vocal critics have no quarrel with the notion of regulation. El diablo, however, is in los detalles — which are a little confusing to those of us not scholars of tequila/mescal/bacanora production. Bacanora, you say?

My response exactly. Turns out that bacanora is a tequila-like spirit produced exclusively in the Mexican state of Sonora, and though it can boast of 300 years of tradition, it has only recently been granted appellation (or denomination) of origin status. One of the main complaints of NOM-186's detractors is that it would effectively ban the production (and thus effectively put out of business the mom-and-pop distillers) of hundreds of other traditional spirits that don't fall within the norms and designated areas of production that currently govern the three recognized categories.

The nay-sayers aren't only interested in the folkloric and socio-economic aspect of restricting the use of the agave name, but also in its (perhaps) unintended consequences: The regulations would force all other producers to use the far less appealing name agavacea aguardiente. Try selling that, never mind pronouncing it. They might also, it is claimed, further stress the already troubled production of the Weber blue agave by effectively obliging spirit-makers to focus on it exclusively. Whereas agave production is now naturally organic, growers, it is said, would be forced to use toxic chemicals to sustain the growth of what is now a clone of clones of clones. Think corn production in the U.S.

Naturally the conspiracy theorists have it that the industrial-scale tequila producers are behind the proposed new regulations on the assumption that they favor the highly profitable "mixtos," or tequilas that only need be made from 51 percent blue agave. Other proposed constraints to maximum ABV, or alcohol by volume (these are especially heinous to traditional mezcal producers whose proofs tend to be higher than tequila's), and aging of 100 percent agave spirits would tend to bear this out — though in a cutting-off-one's-nose sort of way.

Whatever the reasons and forces behind NOM-186, it is apparent at first reading that nothing good can come of it, and it may not be too late for you to have some input. A group called the Tequila Interchange Project, created to promote the industry and foster connections between producers and consumers, has created a petition that can be signed online. Go to tequilainterchangeproject.com to read more and to sign the petition should you be so moved. Remember, we're promoting diversity and honoring "the gift from the gods" that is mezcal and its offspring, tequila.•

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