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As the mezcal world turns


And the award for clarity in labeling goes to… Mezcaloteca really refined how mezcal is labeled by standardizing their labels with all the background information with critical information like mezcalero, agave variant, production location, and much more.

Sorry that we’re way behind in pointing to and discussing fellow mezcal blogger Mezcal PhD, aka John McEvoy, post on the NORMA presentation in New York. For reference here’s the original NORMA from ancient history, 1994. John’s post is from way back in mid-December which should tell you something about how busy we’ve been over the past month. New year, new dedication to work so we’re finally catching up and pushing on with a new resolve to be more productive.

John has a great recap of Danny Mena‘s presentation of the proposed update to the mezcal NORMA which would define three categories; plain old Mezcal, Artisanal Mezcal, and Ancestral Mezcal. He also has a nice table that differentiates each of them. It’s heady stuff and quite at odds with the way the rest of the world is heading. Rather than meaningless terms on food packages like “all natural” or “traditional” the mezcal world may actually get a set of labels with backbone. John wonders whether this will actually help:

Will the average consumer actually know the difference? I doubt it. That’s why I struggle with the whole thing. The mezcal geeks (present company included) understand all this, but does it help the mezcal category? The understanding of what mezcal is? I’m not so sure.

I can see his point clearly. Like him I bet most people won’t care but for the people that do there’s a clear terminology. More important, for the general marketing of mezcal there’s a shared baseline. That means mezcalier programs, bartenders, labels, blogs like this one, and anyone else talking about mezcal won’t reinvent the wheel every time we’re talking about this world or, worse, talk about the same thing with different words.

That linguistic standardization has worked wonders for the culinary world in Europe because it’s forced food sellers to be honest when describing what they’re selling. And, on the bleeding edge of things, it has also motivated some food producers to push back against definitions and create their own categories like Super Tuscan. We can only hope that the mezcal word gets to that point.

And, as John points out, that Ancestral label would seal a true Mexican tradition into law so that anyone who wants to hew closely to the classic way of doing things has protection from loosey goosey marketers and perhaps will push some makers to invest the time and energy to make mezcals in that manner. Kudos to Erick Rodriguez for getting this proposal this far.

Obviously I would have loved to have attend the presentation so I’m hoping that the CRM (read John’s piece if that’s not a familiar term, it soon will be!) releases their presentation in full soon so that everyone in the extended mezcal world gets a chance to experience and consider it fully. One of the craziest things is that the presentation proffered the idea that the NORMA could go into effect in early 2015. Given the way things in this industry go I bet that’s incredibly optimistic but I’ll put all my weight behind the effort because it’s incredible progress.

Max co-founded Mezcalistas with Susan way back in 2012. Before that he was a journalist at Salon.com and The San Francisco Chronicle.


  • John
    January 20, 2015

    Max, thanks for the mention. I like your points a lot on whether this will actually have an impact with consumers. I think you are more correct in assessing the potential than I was. The “shared baseline” is so true and something I had not considered.

    As always great work! (P.S. I was in OAX this weekend – awesome as always!).

    John (aka Mezcal PhD)


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