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The NOM 199 surprise

There’s nothing quite like an unexpected news dump on Thanksgiving that took more than a couple of days to bubble up into the public view.

David Suro first flagged the release of heretofore unheard of NOM 199 which seems to be some sort of bastard child of the failed NOM 186. Clayton Szczech, who has done great work covering the evolution of the NOM in Mexico, has a great synopsis and preliminary thoughts of the document and implications for mezcal:

“The omnibus proposal would define and regulate all alcoholic beverages – domestic and imported – sold commercially in Mexico. It was created with the participation of the Tequila Regulatory Council, the National Chamber of the Tequila Industry, the Mezcal Regulatory Council, Diageo, Pernod Ricard, and Mexico’s two beer giants (note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that any one of them endorse the final document in its entirety).

The document’s preamble cites consumer protection as the goal of NOM 199. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the same argument was claimed for 2012’s NOM 186 revision, which would have severely restricted and marginalized the production of many of Mexico’s traditional regional spirits.”

Long, convoluted, confusing, the NOM document also introduces a new word into the discussion of agave distillate beverages: komil, a nahuatl word for alcoholic beverage. Again, from Clayton:

““Komil” is defined as agave distillates (with as little as 51% agave!) from outside any DO region, having 32-55% ABV. Crucially, its producers would not be able to “make reference to plant varieties recognized in any Denomination of Origin” on their label or in any commercial material. In plain language, that means producers would be prohibited from using the words “agave” or “maguey.””

The key being, outside any DO region – which NOM 70 clearly covers. So if you are a producer of an agave distillate outside any of the defined states, you can no longer work around the inability to use the word mezcal by instead saying destilado del maguey or agave, or vino del agave/mezcal, you now have to say “komil”.

Interestingly, NOM 199 was released the same day as NOM 70, the highly anticipated new regulatory document for the mezcal industry. First the good news: NOM 70 is just what was expected after two years of debate. This is the final document now available for public comments. We are working on a grassroots campaign to get full support for it stateside.

That said, it boggles our minds how these proposals could inhabit the same world. Reading the two documents makes for a severe case of whiplash, it feels like NOM 199 would cancel out NOM 70, or at least erase much of the progress made within it because, just as NOM 70 starts to progressively define mezcal, NOM 199 brings out all the vindictive crap that has been flying around the industry over the past decade. Instead of leaving space for the mezcal industry to develop organically after NOM 70 is passed and the CRM gets enough manpower to certify everyone who is up to the standard, NOM 199 tries to destroy that space completely by tying the hands of anyone growing or producing agave distillates outside of the DO. If ever there was a case of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face, this is it.

Clayton had a chance to catch up with CRM President Hipócrates Nolasco:

“CRM President Dr. Hipócrates Nolasco calls the proposal “incomplete – something like an index.” He points out that producers weren’t able to make the trip to Mexico City, and insists that the CRM did its best to “defend mezcal, defend raicilla, defend Comiteco, defend pulque.” It is noteworthy that mezcal is the one beverage category defined simply by a reference to its own Norm – the result of Nolasco’s desire to keep this group from meddling in the current reform process. While acknowledging the many flaws and incoherencies of the document, he sees it as a necessary first step in regulating all alcoholic beverages in Mexico – reportedly 40% of which are counterfeit. “The project is well intentioned, but we have many criticisms,” he concluded.”

The conspiratorial could say this was a CRM/tequila industry ploy, ‘You don’t fight us on 70 and we won’t fight you on 199.’ Maybe some industry forces just saw this as an opportunity to make all the maguey production outside of the DO worthless so that they could sweep in, buy it up, and then turn around and petition to expand the DO for mezcal? Or, what if NOM 199 is a sort of McGuffin from big Tequila to keep us from paying attention to/fighting for the real prize of NOM 70? You can see where this whole situation quickly spins off into self defeating paranoia.

Whatever the case, there is a campaign underway to beat NOM 199. It clearly needs to be sent to the paper shredder. Stand by because we’ll need all your help to defeat it. But don’t get distracted, we need to defeat NOM 199, that’s plainly clear. But we think NOM 70 is worth your support so we’ll be organizing a campaign to support it as well. This is one of those classic referendum battles we see in California where one side makes a positive proposal and the other crafts a proposition with eerily similar language to cancel it out. Don’t fall prey to distraction!




Susan Coss is the Co-founder of Mezcalistas. She is a long time business, marketing and communications strategist in the sustainable food and beverage worlds. Over the past 15 years, Susan's work has focused on promoting the connection between land, farmers and food and beverage crafters.

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