mezcal nom-199

Mezcal: Nom-199 and the ongoing regulations standoff

25 March, 2021

A U-turn on regulations for mezcal has left producers confused about quality control. Shay Waterworth reports.

On the surface, mezcal is one of the most fashionable spirits in developed markets around the world. The launch of mezcalerias in London and other parts of Europe show it’s one of the most trendy categories within the industry. However, beneath its hipster appeal and the romantic imagery of small farms and remote distilleries, administrative challenges facing the mezcal category are piling up fast.

In late February, the Mexican government did a U-turn on the implementation of a new regulatory policy called Norma Oficial Mexicana, or Nom-199. The bill was being brought in to regulate the production of all alcoholic beverages made in Mexico including acceptable chemical levels and the classification of spirits which fall outside existing Denominación De Origens. The policy had been years in the making and having only been officially introduced in late 2020, the sudden cancellation has left many producers scratching their heads. 

As a result, all Mexican beverage producers have defaulted back to the older Nom-142 policy, which is a basic regulation to ensure standard hygiene practices are met. Currently the Consejo Regulator Mezcal, known as the CRM, regulates the production of mezcal throughout its nine listed territories in Mexico, according to its own Nom-70 regulation. In order to have a mezcal registered, a producer must meet the various criteria laid out by the CRM, including sending in lab samples to check its methanol levels, having its distilling process meet certain standards, plus a host of other costly procedures. Those producers which sit outside the DO laid out by the CRM, or who do not wish to register, are classified as ‘destilados de agave’ and their products cannot therefore be labelled as mezcal, and it’s this category which appears to have suffered the most following the recent regulation changes. 

Susan Cross (pictured), co-founder of consultancy and education provider Mezcalistas, says: “It looks like Nom- 199 is gone, but producers are in limbo right now because we think it’s over with, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it suddenly comes back into play. 

“From the very beginning Nom-199 was very controversial and there was a lot of push back. Initially, any uncertified producer or one that fell outside the DOs could not use ‘Maguey’ or ‘agave’ on its labels, but instead they came up with this word ‘Komil’.” 

Komil, which has no direct translation to English, was a blanket term introduced to replace destilados de agave and would have left these producers in no- man’s land with the new labelling, especially with export markets. 

Cross adds: “Nom-199 had always looked destined to pass as law, which led the CRM to start aligning its own lab analysis standards with the requirements of Nom-199, specifically with the new levels of methanol which were being introduced.” 

The methanol debate has rumbled on for a few years now and it’s a controversial point among the wide range of mezcal and destilados de agave producers. The new regulations set to be introduced by Nom-199 had a far more restrictive limit on the amount of methanol permitted in production compared to the US and other markets. 

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