Shortly after publishing the article Tequila Additives – The Complete Guide 2020, a friend of mine called me and said:
– Hey Adam, every person I talked to thinks you are crazy. They all say that the limit in practice is different. I think you are correct with your roadmap and it makes 100% sense, but everyone I talked to agreed that the limit in practice is 1%. – said Him
– Well I am not surprised, I doubt they have even read my article anyways.. So, who did you ask? – Me
– Well, I asked a contact at the CRT and a couple of producer friends. – Him
– So who are those producers, are they producers actively using additives? – Me
– Well, you do have a point, no they actually don’t use additives. – Him
– I would be happy to update the article with new information, however I cannot quote producers not using additives for their opinion as I feel like it would not be relevant. I could use producers abusing the system, but I doubt they would admit to anything. How about your CRT contact, do you think he would be able to have a chat with me? – Me
– Sure, let me ask him, he is a good guy and I think he will be cool with it. – Him
So this is how it all started. I was very excited to have a chat with “Bob” from the CRT. Obviously this little chat was anonymous and I really am hoping that they don’t have an employee with the name of “Bob” as if they do it is only a coincidence then (and no his name is not Robert nor Roberto). After the earlier conversation I thought my earlier guide would not be complete without a second opinion, so you can hear someone actually relevant forming an opinion about this extremely controversial topic. I am giving you Bob’s replies without any alteration, but translated into English as the interview was in Spanish. I will use the name Bob as I do not wish to use the word “CRT” as this by no way represents the CRT official views, nor is an official statement. More like two consumers chatting. Myself being the “annoyingly curious” student role this time instead of the educator. I decided to remove some parts of the conversation, but only those that may give clues to his identity – I don’t want him to get into trouble for helping me. A huge thanks to him and to my friend to make this all happen.
Here is the interview:
I don’t know if you are aware, but in 1994, when they introduced the limitations to abocantes (mellowing additives) it was clear that the mix of the 4 cannot be more than 1%. But in 1997, they changed the wording to “the use of any ingredients cannot be more than 1%”. Do you know why they changed the phrase? – Adam
* The currently applicable Norma is of 2012 and it cancels the previous normas. – Bob
* It (the current norma) also says that use of any of the abocantes cannot be more than 1%. – Adam
* Yes – Bob
* So theoretically there are 4 abocantes and any of these can be up to 1%, right? – Adam
* Yes, correct there are four of them. You can use one or all of them but the total cannot be more than 1%. – Bob
* I understand, but how come the norma does not say this then? Apologies for saying this, but in 1994 it was clearly as you say, but now it seems that it is 1% for each without the phrase or reference to “all of them”. – Adam
* The Norma says (and he sends me a screenshot of the relevant section) – Bob
* Sure, but like this it refers to “each” with the phrase “any. So if I put in 0.8 percent sugar and 0.9 percent oak extract. None of them are over 1%. – Adam
* Yes correct, this is why the norma does a clarification for “one or all”. The sum cannot be more than 1% – Bob
* Forgive me for saying this, but I don’t see the word “sum” or similar. Only “any”. Yes it did exist in 1994, but they changed it. – Adam
* Maybe they generalized the term and it generated certain confusion. This is in relation with the laboratory analysis, because the addition of a high quantity of extract (dry extract). We can check the norma for the parameter of dry extract. These are solids present in tequila. – Bob
* Sure I get it. For the dry extract it is 0.5% – Adam
* This is why it explains the relation of not more than 1% of additives to avoid this(the aforementioned confusion). – Bob
* So what you say is that we really should take the dry extract value as the limit, 5g/L? – Adam
* In case of joven, reposado, añejo and/or extra añejo it is 5 grams /liter. In function this is the limit of the use of the abocantes(mellowing additives). Let’s suppose an extra añejo where the barrel adds solid particles to tequila, the producer cannot add more additives, because there is a risk of “staying out” of the norma, probably he could add a little color, but only to adjust its standard. – Bob
* Thank you! I would only have one additional question to you. How do you explain that there are blanco products with sweteners added but without presenting this fact on the label? According to the norma. producers need to mention this. – Adam
* This is correct, but are they blancos or are they the famous cristalinos that have sweet notes? – Bob
* Primarily, I refer to the blancos, but now that you mentioned cristalinos are interesting too. (cristalino that really is tequila reposado, añejo or extra añejo) – Adam
* Yes you are right – Bob
* Okay, so we can start with blanco if I don’t bother you with this. It is evident that some brands add at least sweetener and probably some other additives. This even generated a civil project “additive free program”. I am not asking this on their behalf, just saying. – Adam
* In my experience I have never had blanco products with very heavy sweet notes, (only) light but completely from the agave. About cristalinos, yes it is easy to note the abocantes (mellowing additives), but I imagine these are additions within the norma. I have heard about this program but have not read about it. – Bob
* Ah okay. So truly, if they are within the limits of the dry extracts, it is okay to add in additives right? – Adam
* They have to comply with the norma. This is why I told you that any aged product that doesn’t have a standard color they can add caramel color and this is addition of abocante. Because brands safeguard their visual image it is a visual part. – Bob
* Yes I understand. I was referring more to sweeteners and other aromas. – Adam
* If they add other aromas or flavors, they need to declare its addition. Then it will pass as a flavored item. – Bob
* Exactly. But what happens if they don’t declare it? – Adam
* It has to be reported and they need to clarify why there is no declaration of such additives. – Bob
* Okay, so following your thoughts, nor you, nor the CRT officially recognize the existence of sweeteners in blanco, I understand this. It is the responsability of the producer to declare it. – Adam
* The bad use of the normative is their responsibility. – Bob
Just a couple of thoughts to close this up.
I wanted to start this part by quoting an amazing thought shared by Jay Tyler Wang, Brand Ambassador of El Tesoro tequila when arguing pro the validity of the 4% interpretation. “What is commonly accepted is hardly the same as legally enforceable”. I could not have said this better. In my personal view just by removing one word and as a result changing the meaning of one sentence to be interpreted in two ways, this makes it legally enforceable. This means that any producer making this a legal issue sending their lawyers to CRT would be able to make it a winning case regardless of what may normally be accepted.
The CRT have many responsibilities, but they don’t do more than what they need to be doing as is dictated by the Norma. The Norma is not written by them – they are the sheriffs of it abiding its laws. DGN / SE is responsible primarily for its submission and is heavily influenced especially by the biggest producers with massive lobbying power. It actually gives us the absurdity that CRT have to interpret the norma after each modification and so they probably have no insight as to why sections change as evidenced by our little chat. This is why I think phrase / meaning changes should always be taken seriously. (as much as the removal of the term “matured” from the specification of the agave) Just by re-adding the word “mezcla” which has been removed would make this paragraph to be a solid statement without any doubt or loopholes.
And just to make sure you all understand, I am only stating that the use of the new wording allow for a maximum 4% abocantes. Nothing more, but nothing less. This is the only thing I could gather sound enough evidence for. In case I receive better, more accurate information I will be happy to update the article. I am not afraid to be wrong, if this way we can get closer to the truth.
So you may ask then how does it all convert to practice? Is it 4%, 1% or 5g/L (0.5%ish) dry extract? I have even heard, that some people actually think the limit is 2%. Well, unfortunately I believe we cannot know for sure, until a clear declaration is made or they readjust the Norma to its 1994 state and they add a clear explanation if the % is for dry extract or the actual aroma in its liquid form as producers buy it. It is certainly an issue that we have 3-4 different ways to interpret one simple line. We will carry on using the backed up legal limitation but will be sensible to add a note that ours is based on the Norma, and it differs from an unofficial CRT one as well as the commonly accepted 1%. We don’t have official information of its application in practice.
But are the unofficial CRT statements 100% accurate? Let’s face it, most likely we will never get an official statement regarding any of the above as it is not their responsibility. They have no legal liability to actually check a bottle of tequila for additives, they are bound to accept the self-declaration of producers. I believe this to be an even bigger issue than the exact % of natural additives. This short chat actually strengthened our additive guide’s statement that by non-declaring additives, producers can get away with additives risk free, until they meet certain dry extract parameters. This non-declaration issue seems to apply to all classifications including blanco. So a blanco tequila can have undisclosed additives not because the Norma says so or not clear about it, but because there is no audit whatsoever if it does.
Do you agree with Bob that those sweet, vanilla taste cristalinos are probably created by only adding natural(!) oak extract, sugar, and glycerin within the unofficial allowance of 5 g/L dry extract?