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How Do You Tell if Your Tequila Has Additives?

 

We realize most people never think about additives while enjoying tequila. Whether you are aware of the existence of additives or are for or against them, we believe it is important to understand the rules governing additives and how to determine if your favorite brand of tequila contains them. Tequila production is permitted according to specific rules. We want you to be aware a few cautions are still advisable.

According to the current rules, additives can be used by the producer. If the additives do not exceed more than one percent of the total volume, the producer is not required to disclose them on the label. If the additives are more than one percent, the product must be labeled as either a crema or licor. If the producer decides to use additives, they are not required to provide notification for the end consumer if the added amount is less than one percent of the total volume.

We want you to understand this is the reason brands using additives often claim they are not using any additives. Despite the fact this process is completely legal, we believe it is slightly dishonest. Additives were banned by the NORMA Official Mexicana brand in February of 2013. Tequila Matchmaker also began a new program for the identification of additive-free tequila products.

The idea is to identify bottles containing unnatural additives. Brands not using additives to artificially doctor or change the sweetness, flavor or aroma are being flagged. When you use the platform, you have the ability to scroll through a wide variety of brands to determine if the brand is dosing with additives. This is the first additive-free, independent verification service in the world of spirits.

additive free tequilas

G4 and Don Fulano are two tequilas free of additives.

This service answers the question of how do you tell if your tequila has additives once and for all. The program was created to verify claims regarding production for every brand claiming not to use additives. All producer claims are verified independently. The Tequila Matchmaker app includes this verification program. The consumer database has approximately 80,000 members and includes everything related to tequila.

The verification process originated due to the questions asked during tastings. Many consumers wanted an explanation for the sample smelling like gin or vanilla. The consumers were told additives are legal provided they are less than one percent of the volume, but they have a lot of power. As long as the percentage is kept below one percent, additives are allowed.

Additives come in four different categories, sugar-based syrup, caramel coloring, oak extract and glycerin or CRT for mouthfeel. In the beginning, there was a legitimate purpose for these additives. A good example is we have seen bottles of Anejo darker or lighter than one another. Due to new innovations within the industry, additives have progressed to a point where the flavor of the tequila is heavily altered and extreme;y potent.

Additives have now progressed to a point where they have become extremely powerful. This means the rules may have become outdated. Two decades ago, one percent was considered the ideal number. A good example is one of the additives used is a kind of aspartame sweetener. This additive is 8,000 percent sweeter than sugar. This means extremely little is necessary to completely change the taste of the tequila.

The production process used by many producers is incredibly efficient. The process is so fast, the agave does not have enough time to develop all of the expected flavors and aromas. In this instance, using additives when the process is complete effectively shortcuts the process. From our understanding, this was one of the reasons certified tequila tasters decided to create an independent program.

The idea is the verification of claims made by the tequila distilleries and pushing transparency throughout the industry. Personal visits are made to the distillery with the intention of taking a close look at everything happening behind the scenes. Even though some consider it invasive, the production records are examined in addition to the CRT profiles.

The team logs into the computer system to examine records including a log of everything that has happened. The chemical analysis reports are examined along with side-by-side comparisons for all of the batches from the testigo, barrel and still. Samples are taken from bottles purchased through retail locations to make certain the profile is the same.

If there are any indications the flavor has radically changed, it is taken as a sign additives have been used. The team checks in during the year to make certain the batches remain consistent. Every year, a full analysis is conducted. Brands must provide Tequila Matchmaker with complete access to all production records by agreeing to the verification process.

To ensure safety, the signing of NDAs or non-disclosure agreements is required. This ensures no trade secrets will be given away. Once the program was announced, a wide range of distilleries made contact because they were interested in opting in. Since the program was initiated, eight distilleries producing 130 products have been given additive-free verification. The list of additive free tequilas includes:

• El Tequileño
• Tequila Fortaleza
• Tequila G4
• ArteNOM Seleccíon
• Cascahuín
• Suave Tequila
• Tequila Patrón
• Gran Dovejo
• Don Fulano

We were surprised to learn Patron was on the list because this is a massive brand commanding a tremendous market share. As surprised as we were this major of a brand wanted to opt-in, they did. Two days were necessary to sort through everything due to a large number of batches and the size of the company. We were informed Patron was extremely transparent regarding its operations, more so than several of the small brands.

We believe a lot of people make a presumption the larger brands are far more industrialized. Patron is considered unique since their process essential replicates what was used for small traditional companies. An important part of the verification process is teaching consumers that additives are not necessary for the production of tequila.

The expectation regarding consistency is unrealistic. This is because additives are simply an extra function. For example, agave spirits are completely natural. The basis of every batch should be the terroir including agave growth and rainfall since this can affect the final flavor of the product. We do not believe exact consistency should be an expectation.

Due to the creation of high-dollar brands, the additive industry is growing extremely quickly. Currently, the most popular additive has an intense sugary-sweet, cake-batter profile. We see this a lot in celebrity tequilas. There are still a lot of people inexperienced as to the proper taste of tequila. Unfortunately, most of them now believe this is how tequila is supposed to taste.

The majority of consumers tasting a tequila brand for the first time are unaware the most important part is the actual production. What they see is the marketing, name, logo and type of bottle. This kind of tequila is nothing more than a bottled commodity. The most diverse category regarding flavors and aroma is tequila. When additives are used, the flavor is less diverse than the natural brands.

The reason we enjoy agave is the variation, subtlety and complexity. When additives are used, these important attributes are generally not respected.

Commonly Used Additives in Tequila

There are four different commonly used additives in tequila. All four are legal and used in 100 percent non-blanco and agave tequilas. These are:

Glycerin:

This is a natural byproduct of distillation and fermentation. Some brands add extra glycerin for the creation of a well-rounded mouth-feel. Of the four additives used for tequila, glycerin is the most common. This is what gives a watery or thin tequila a thicker and fuller feel in your mouth.

Sugar-Based Syrup:

Jarabe or syrup is a combination of different ingredients used mostly for the creation of a sweeter product. Corn syrup, aspartame, stevia, agave nectar, cane sugar and sucralose or Splenda can all be used for the purpose of sweetening the taste of tequila. Sometimes, Jarabe also contains herbs and natural fruits to add flavors and aromas.

Caramel Color:

The main use of caramel color is the ensure the finished product has more color. The taste of caramel coloring is slightly bitter and generally for aesthetic purposes.

Oak Extract:

Oak extract adds the flavors and aromas from oak barrels to the completed product. When this additive is used, it becomes possible to make the taste or smell of tequila appear to have received more aging.

Additives are not used until the end of the production process. They are intended to maintain consistency from batch to batch and for rectification. Unfortunately, we have seen additives used to mask deficiencies or hide mistakes in the final product. Additive producers including Bell Flavors & Fragrances have a sophisticated method for replicating both the flavors and aroma.

The Norma only allows one percent by volume. For this reason, additives are now extremely concentrated in comparison to what was used in the past when the one percent rule was initially established. To test the capabilities of the additives, a sample kit was used to turn a Blanco into an Anejo with nothing more than a toothpick. The toothpick was first dipped into a sample bottle with the additive.

Only one drop was added each time to a two-ounce pour. Within approximately one minute, the tequila became sweeter and darker with the taste and aroma of a charred oak barrel. A passably aged tequila resulted. Our issue is even experienced tequila drinkers could be fooled easily. Changing a Blanco into an aged tequila without the correct amount of time or barrels breaks the rules.

We want to ensure you understand we are in no way suggesting this practice is being followed by any brand. When additives are used in a subtle manner, they can be extremely difficult to detect. We also realize there are producers going overboard by building a flavor profile heavily reliant on using additives. The reason we find this obvious is due to the prominence of the flavors and aromas which dominate the tequila experience.

 

The natural flavor of tequila has been described as transparent because although you feel it, you also go through it. When flavors are added to any product, it hits you right in the face and you are unable to go through them because they are so evident. Once you taste a variety of tequilas from numerous producers, you learn to detect the natural range of flavors and aromas.

When the taste of a specific tequila is outside of this range, it raises a red flag. The only way to be fairly certain whether or not additives have been used is by sampling a wide variety of tequilas. You begin to learn the taste of the plant's natural flavors, the soil of different regions, the process of fermentation and the yeast. Before long, it becomes obvious when flavors have been added to the product.

There are signs when a tequila contains additives. You will notice an extremely sweet taste or an aroma of cotton candy, tutti-fruity candy, cake batter or fake fruit. These flavors and aromas do not naturally occur during the process used for making tequila. Diffuser-made tequilas rely more heavily on additives for two specific reasons. First, younger agaves not reaching full maturity are generally used.

Second, the flavors and aroma tequila obtains from the traditional process do not develop. These are the two key reasons a more neutral spirit is produced by diffusers. Unfortunately, the naturally-occurring flavors and aromas are simply lost. We believe additives are used heavily to make up for everything lost during the process. This is how the nuances and flavors are brought back to simulate tequila produced using a natural process.

This does not mean a distillery is unable to produce a variety of flavors and aromas without the use of additives. The Tequileña distillery has stated additives are not necessary for the creation of a variety of flavor profiles. The process can be adjusted instead to ensure the flavor profiles desired by the producer. A good example is the blending of tequila batches made using a copper pot with agaves grown in different types of soil or elevations or from a batch obtained from a column still.

When tequila is produced using a copper pot, the feeling is generally more rustic and much bolder. This is due to the creation of an oily texture often containing flavors and aromas of brine, olive and mint. The finished product of a column still has a crispy and dry vibrancy showcasing the flavors and aromas of green agave. For producers interested in a more refined and drier tequila, this is extremely useful.

Due to the wide variety of equipment Tequileña has on-site, the producer has the ability to create new or different flavor profiles simply by using a variety of equipment, then blending the different batches together. This has resulted in the creation of an alphabet for the base tequilas. The company gets what they desire by blending a batch of tequila with specific qualities with a batch with different qualities.

This ensures the additives are simply derived from 100 percent agave tequila containing different characteristics. This is how specific profiles are composed for each brand. Both objective and subjective tests are used for the verification of the flavor profile. This is accomplished by tasting and smelling a batch of tequila while observing what the taster believes is present.

The next step is using a process called Gas Chromatography to check the findings. This offers an objective chemical readout of everything responsible for the creation of the profile. This is often referred to as either oregano or pear among others. True dedication is required for this process with the objective of creating a natural and diverse range of tequila flavors and aromas.

This approach is not taken by all of the producers. Some of them only use cooked agave, yeast and water. The results are then dictated by the terroir and process. Some producers manipulate their products through a more active approach by including additives. Although this is not necessarily bad and completely legal, tequila purists believe learning the difference is worthwhile.

List of Additive Free Tequilas

There is an incredibly long list of additive free tequilas. This list has been verified by Tequila Matchmaker including:

• Gran Dovejo
• Siembra Valles
• Terralta
• Tequila Fortaleza
• Don Fulano

The information is verified when a brand states no additives are used in the production of their brand. No brand is placed on the list until the production process has been personally verified. Tequila Matchmaker constantly updates its website as new information is gathered and new brands and distilleries are verified. Although cheating is technically possible, the company does its best to ensure the list of tequilas with no additives has been verified with much more than marketing claims.

Tim

Tequila Tim is an avid tequila and mezcal drinker. While not in his day job of Marketing, he's made it his goal to entertain, educate, and bring joy to fellow agave lovers across the world with product reviews, hot takes, and tequila travel stories. Make sure to subscribe to Tequila Tales on YouTube so you don't miss any updates!

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