Mexico Bans Additives in Blanco Tequilas

May 27, 2014, by , Posted in Blog,Education,News, 10 Comments

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. 

10 Responses to “Mexico Bans Additives in Blanco Tequilas”

  1. FANTASTIC NEWS- Since I became obsessed with 100% Agave and mostly blancos,I have been concerned and questioning all this. I like things pure and close to original as possible. It was hard to get actual answers and only my friend Khrys had similar info on those additives.I hope it stops for good, and that’s a great idea to compare the older products to the newer(hopefully additive free) spirits- I will do that. Thanks- Long Island lou

    • I wanted to add that although this is a great ruling,I believe it’s a GAME CHANGER.Tequilas from the same area will now taste very similar,especially those who produce with the same methods.A lot of people feel that so many brands taste similar already,imagine after the change takes place? This will cause mergers I believe, especially those from the same distillery’s who used added flavors. This is a problem the brands will have, as they have altered their taste and now must change.I wonder what people will say when their brand tastes different,in some cases… very different.The ones who altered the most will have the most trouble. Maybe it’s a good thing as the market is flooded with brands.The good ones will rises and survive. Things are going to change.- Long Island Lou Tequila

      • Experience Tequila says:

        Lou, it’s not as simple as that. Tequila from the same area can use agave from different sources, can vary cooking time, can switch up their yeast, and can make their cuts differently. All of these will lead to a different aroma and flavor profile.

        I don’t necessarily disagree that the most “enhanced” blancos will be the ones to suffer once they are no longer allowed to do so.

  2. Jake Lustig says:

    Great article, thank you for sharing! As the NORMA also allows for distilleries to purchase another’s first-distillate (ordinario) for re-distilling into their own second distillation, I wonder if such flavorings could craftily be added at the first site, prior to the CRT verification process? But indeed, even as it stands, there will be more color-less, 100% tequilas such as the $300 gorgeously packaged mark sold now, legally only able to carry the “joven” denotation.

    • Experience Tequila says:

      Excellent point, Jake. I wonder whether additives would make it through the second distillation process.

  3. Rhymin' Lyman says:

    Does this help explain at all why it seems that so many lesser known brands have moved to other distilleries recently, or is that just coincidence? Or am I just reading too much into it?

    • Experience Tequila says:

      Thanks for your comment, Lyman. I haven’t noticed more such activity than normal, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. I’m not sure what the advantage would be though, as the Norm applies regardless of what distillery a brand is at. Which brands have recently moved?

  4. David Robinson says:

    Very interesting – I have noticed that Don Julio Blanco has had a significant change in flavour profile. It gone more earthy.
    I wonder if this is why, I though I may have a batch that has suffered from oxidation.


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