mezcal nom-199

Mezcal: Nom-199 and the ongoing regulations standoff

25 March, 2021

Ivan Saldaña of Montelobos, now owned by Campari, said at the Conferencia Agave in Oaxaca in late 2018: “Eating 1kg of apple gives you more methanol in your blood than half a bottle of non-certified mezcal. While fruit brandy can go up to three times higher in this compound – legal in the US and Europe, in mezcal we have stigmatised methanol content with no coherent reason. This is destroying historic taste in the argument for ‘quality’ and pushing producers to change the way they produce and the traditional agaves they used to produce with.” 

Pernod Ricard’s Del Maguey openly changed the methanol levels of some of its varieties in late 2018 so that it would pass Nom-199. But now that the bill has been abandoned the smaller destilados de agave producers who have put time and money into aligning with these new methanol levels have lost out.

On the flip side it could be argued that the sudden cancellation of Nom- 199 is good news for destilados de agave producers. They no longer have to worry about calling themselves Komil and they can continue making their spirits just as they have done for hundreds of years. However, with a sudden lack of any significant regulations it could put them in a compromising position.

Jon Darby (pictured), founder of Sin Gusano, has been travelling around Mexico meeting local distillers and buying single, often unique, batches of destilados de agave which he then bottles under his own brand. 

“I don’t really know what the long- term effects are [for the cancellation of Nom-199],” says Darby. “But I could see a way to construe an argument that the mezcal regulatory bodies had been lobbying for that change, so that it leaves uncertified producers totally unregulated and therefore might force their hand to certify as mezcal.” 

All the products sold under the Sin Gusano brand are destilados de agave and through a new subscription service in the UK called the Mezcal Appreciation Society, Darby is providing a far more diverse offering to consumers. 

“I want to expose consumers to the diversity of different mezcals. I’m in a bit of a race to change the perceptions of mezcal because most consumers only see the major brands, which nearly all carry similar favour profiles. So I’m trying to spread the word that there are many different styles and nuances between flavours to explore.” 

Right now destilados de agave are a recognised category in the US and they are growing in popularity given the wider pool of production methods and agave varieties at their disposal. Therefore the CRM is now seeing those destilados de agave brands as competitors and desperately trying to get those uncertified producers which currently sit inside the DO to register as mezcal. 

Cross adds: “The CRM is there as a regulatory body to protect the DO and would be very happy if every producer would certify themselves, but number one, it’s expensive to do, and while CRM can offer financial support for this, there are lots of steps which need to be taken. Palenques (distilleries) need to be certified, you have to certify where your agave is coming from and some just don’t want to change their production methods to meet criteria. 

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