The Regulations Around Additives in Tequila and Why I Prefer Additive-Free

Lucas Assis02/26/23

If you know anything about me, it is that I love tequila, and always advocate for additive-free tequilas. In a TikTok video I made last month, I outlined two things I have against tequilas with additives: the importance of the agriculture of the agave plant and the lack of transparency about the amount of additives in many tequilas.

Let me dive a little deeper into this.

Agave takes anywhere from five to seven years to fully mature, and more than 90% of those agave are clones, so their DNAs are already pretty weak. The problem is that a lot of tequila brands (especially celebrity-owned ones) are made with premature agaves that were harvested after only three or four years. This process is detrimental to the agave plant and consequently numbers the days of tequila. That is not an exaggeration – if we don’t take care of issues like this the days of traditional tequila are numbered. That is where foundations like the Tequila Interchange Project can help. Together with UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) they have created the Bat Friendly Project. There are different ways agaves reproduce.

The most common being the offshoots or “hijuelos” which are clones of the mother plant that grow every year. This is why over 95% of agaves grown for Tequila are clones. The other way is the Quiote. Agaves shoot up a stalk or a “Quiote” when they are ready to reproduce. Quiotes produce a flower that blooms at night, which the bats eat and in turn will propagate wild agaves around Mexico. This process is also the last action of the plant, after the Quiote has grown the plant starts to die. Of course, the vast majority of brands are not letting the Quiotes grow. This is what ensures that over 95% of agaves grown for tequila today are clones. The Bat Friendly Project is urging brands to allow 5% of their agaves to flower so the bats can feed and propagate wild agaves. Ensuring a much stronger DNA for the next plants. 

 I’ve said this before, but using young agave is basically just making agave vodka, and then relying on the additives to make it palatable and to vaguely resemble additive-free tequila.  

On top of that, these brands are not transparent about the amount of additives they have in their tequilas. In my video, I made a common mistake when I originally said that these brands can have a total of 4%, or 1% of each allowed additive (glycerin, sugar-based syrup, caramel coloring, and oak extract), but Tequila Matchmaker clarified in a TikTok that it is actually a total of 1% for all four categories of additives, total. 

To figure out if it was a total of 4% or 1% of total additives, Grover talked to experts on the matter. The experts pointed to a line in the guidelines that read additives “must not be greater than 1% in relation to the total weight of the tequila before it is bottled.” This is confusing because earlier in the guidelines, it says that tequilas can have 75 g/L of sugars, which, if you do the math, is WAY more than 1%. This line is actually talking about flavored tequilas, where all added ingredients have to be specified on the label.

As the video says, the document that outlines the rules for tequila can be vague and everyone agrees that it isn’t a perfectly written document. 

Either way, as long as brands stay under 1% of total additives, they do not have to disclose anything. Keep in mind that this means the brand doesn’t have to tell you if they used a syrup that is 4,000 times sweeter than regular sugar. In fact, that sugary-syrup brand can still legally market their tequila as “traditional,” “small batch,” “tahona-crushed,” and even claiming to be “additive-free”… so now those terms are just meaningless. 

As long as this is the case, a consumer is not going to be able to discern if they’re drinking authentic traditional tequila. I mean, the tequila doesn’t even have to undergo a lab test to make sure that the producer of the tequila is in compliance with the 1% rule. I am a firm believer that if a brand uses ANY additives, they should tell people like you and me, the consumers, what additives they used right there on the label. This way, those of us who want a traditional and additive-free tequila can do so easily, while those who don’t care about additives can continue buying what they please.

That’s really all it’s about. Transparency in tequila. Drink what you enjoy (be it additive-free or not); decide for yourself if that is important to you. But I believe everyone should be able to know the honest truth of what is in the bottle. Otherwise, we risk losing the true art of traditional tequila.

In the meantime, I’ve put together a list of my recommended additive-free tequilas that I have enjoyed. 

I can’t wait to hear how many of the listed tequilas you guys have tried. Salucita!

@thelucasassis_ So whats the deal?! Why do talk so much against additives in tequila? #tequila #agave #mexico #casamigos #818 #drinks #thelucasassis ♬ original sound – Lucas Assis