Organic Tequila

There’s a great deal of talk about sustainable beverages here at OA. Organic wine, beer and even vodka make frequent appearances on the site, commonly accompanied by a seasonal dish. But there’s one type of liquor that hasn’t been seen around here too often: Tequila.

Tequila is made from agave, a primarily Mexican-grown plant resembling a cactus. Compared to the average 6-12 months needed to grow ingredients used in other liquors (for example, barley), agave isn’t ready for use until it has thrived for ten years. As environmental blog Eco-Snobbery Sucks points out, therefore, agave may have been treated with the likes of pesticides and more for at least a decade if conventionally farmed.

At the dawn of margarita season, we recently conducted a taste test to determine which makes a better cocktail: Organic versus conventional tequila. The panel of judges consisted of four individuals who have considerable experience with (and an equal need for) tequila:

  • Brittany: The hard-working but fun-loving Alaskan
  • Eric: The DJ
  • Nick: The advertising executive
  • Phil: The MIT grad student

Each judge was given two margaritas, one made with Casa Noble USDA certified organic tequila – served in a pink cup – and the other with Jose Cuervo in an orange cup. Each was comprised of one part tequila, two parts Stirrings all natural margarita mix, a splash of club soda and a lime wedge. Prior to the tasting, the judges did not know which type of tequila was used in each cocktail and had only the cup color to differentiate the two.

The results were shocking. All four judges said that, if given a choice, they would choose to drink the margarita served in an orange cup, which was made with non-organic Jose Cuervo. Their feedback:

  • Brittany: The orange one just tastes better. It’s sweeter.
  • Eric: With the orange one, you don’t even know you’re drinking tequila. When I get a margarita, I don’t need to taste the tequila.
  • Nick: The pink one was a little too harsh and you taste tequila in the first sip. I’d have to pace myself with it. The orange one, I would drink very fast.
  • Phil: The orange one is smoother, but it doesn’t taste like a traditional margarita. But, to me, the pink one doesn’t taste like a good, quality tequila. It’s bitter.

When told that they had each selected the non-organic tequila, however, the judges were equally shocked, which stirred quite the discussion: Shouldn’t the organic tequila taste better? Perhaps it does, but we’re just not used to it. That’s when we reached an appalling realization: The average American consumer is simply unaccustomed to tasting most things in their raw or natural form.

The preference for the conventional tequila, it seems, is symptomatic of an overall U.S. partiality for the artificial, even though the organic tequila is generally healthier. It’s untreated with chemicals and closer to the raw form of agave, which likely explains its stronger nature: The absence of superfluous flavors or processing. It’s the same reason most Americans prefer Splenda over evaporated cane juice and a Big Mac over grass-fed sirloin: It’s the most accessible and affordable, and, therefore, what most people are comfortable consuming.

An increasing number of bars and liquor stores must be credited with their efforts to carry organic options. As more venues begin to do the same, the evolving tastes and preferences of consumers will be fascinating to note.

Image: mnapoleon