Additives in Your Tequila? Here’s How to Find Out (Even if the Label Doesn’t Tell You)
When you pick up a bottle of “100% Blue Weber Agave” tequila from a liquor store shelf, it’s easy to assume that it’s exactly that; no unnecessary sugars, pure additive-free tequila.
But that isn’t always the case.
The Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT) – the government-certified organization tasked with regulating and certifying new tequila releases – allows for the inclusion of additives in 100% agave tequila so long as they make up under 1% of the total liquid.
Depending on the power of the additives, that “1%” can mean a lot of different things.
As a result of the CRT’s guidelines, many top-tier tequilas are allowed to include all manner of saccharine sweet sugars and fake oak aromas without revealing any details on their labeling.
Though you might find a bottle of Clase Azul, Casamigos and Fortaleza sitting next to each other on a pricy liquor shelf, only one of those brands is actually confirmed additive-free.
What are Tequila Additives?
To be clear, additives are not an end-all litmus test to determine a good or bad tequila.
Small amounts of additives are often used by distillers in the process of “rectification”; if one batch of aged añejo comes out slightly clearer than another, they might use some coloring to achieve an even look across the product line.
However, additives come in all shapes and sizes, some more innocuous than others.
The CRT classifies additives into one of four categories: glycerin (for achieving a smooth mouthfeel), oak extract (for adding aromas and flavors of barrel aging), caramel coloring (to add a darker tint) and sugar based-syrup (for sweetening).
Though tequila enthusiasts might scoff at the inclusion of any of these four ingredients, it’s the addition of sugar-based syrup that usually ruffles the most feathers.
Tequila Matchmaker co-founder Scarlet Sanschagrin explains, “There’s a type of aspartame-sweetener that is 8000% sweeter than sugar, so you can imagine how little it takes to impact the tequila. If you’re using a super-efficient production process where you speed things up and don’t let the agave bestow all the aromas and flavors you can shortcut the process by putting in additives at the end.”
If you’ve ever tried a celebrity-owned tequila brand and thought that it tasted a little too strongly of cake batter or synthetic caramel, there’s a decent chance that sugary additives might be in the mix.
Are Tequilas Tested For Additives?
It’s because of the general mystery surrounding additives that Scarlet launched the Additive-Free Tequila Program, an independent initiative that tours distilleries and lab tests samples to get to the bottom of what’s really in your tequila.
If you’re interested, you can find Tequila Matchmaker’s full list of confirmed additive-free tequilas here.
Of course, it isn’t an exhaustive list; Tequila Matchmaker is a small organization eclipsed in size by the likes of the CRT, and it can take years for even the biggest of brand names to get properly tested.
How Can I Test for Additives Myself?
If you’re interested in doing some testing yourself, there’s actually a remarkably easy way that consumers can suss out the inclusion of additives in their latest tequila purchase.
Simply pour a small amount of tequila into your palm, then rub it between your hands as you would hand sanitizer.
If after a few seconds the tequila maintains its consistency and your hands feel dry as they would from a few drops of water, then you likely have an additive-free tequila.
Meanwhile, if the liquid begins to stick to your hands, taking the consistency of syrup or honey, there’s a good chance of foul play.
This DIY test is no substitute for rigorous lab testing. But it is a simple way that consumers can take power into their own hands and begin to do the investigating for themselves.
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