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What is Additive-Free Tequila, Exactly?

People are growing ever more discerning when it comes to what we put in our bodies. The food and beverage industry has noticed, with a study showing as many as 73% of consumers willing to pay more for ‘clean labels.’ It’s no wonder brands are flashing our food and drinks with all kinds of labels: non-GMO, gluten-free, free range, organic. It might seem overwhelming when we start throwing another label into the mix with additive-free tequila.

So what is additive-free tequila?

As the name suggests, it’s tequila that is crafted without the addition of artificial substances, flavorings, or coloring agents. Made from only agave and water, it embraces a traditional and authentic approach to production, focusing on the inherent flavors and characteristics of the agave plant.

  • Agave Harvesting: The journey towards additive-free tequila begins in the agave fields. Artisanal producers carefully select fully matured agave plants to ensure optimal flavor development. At Valor, we are working towards developing relationships with the jornaleros and jimadores (the growers and harvesters of our agave), ensuring these skilled tradesmen are paid a fair wage and provided all the equipment needed to do their work safely and with dignity.

  • Roasting: How the piñas (cores) of the agave are roasted plays a pivotal role in the flavor profile of the tequila. At Valor, the piñas are cooked in an autoclave (low pressure), allowing the sugars to caramelize naturally, imparting a rich and complex flavor to the final product.

  • Fermentation: Once roasting is done, the agave juice is extracted, and natural fermentation is initiated. This may be done using wild yeast, carefully selected strains, or using open-air fermentation without any fibers, as Valor does. This step is crucial in developing the unique character of the tequila.

  • Distillation: Artisanal distillation methods, often involving copper or, as Valor prefers, stainless steel pot stills, are favored in the production of additive-free tequila. This meticulous process further refines the spirit, ensuring the preservation of its pure agave essence.

  • Aging: While some additive-free tequilas are enjoyed joven (young and unaged), like Valor’s additive-free tequila Blanco, others undergo aging in oak barrels. Valor Reposado is aged three months in American White Oak barrels, giving it its unique, robust color. This stage enhances the tequila’s complexity and imparts subtle notes of vanilla, caramel, and spice without the need for additives. A light char to ensure the expression of the agave shines through, even after the aging process

What might brands be adding to their tequila and why?

Some lower-grade or mixto tequilas (which can contain up to 49% non-agave sugars) may include additives for various reasons. Common additives in tequila include:

  • Glycerin: Glycerin is sometimes added to enhance the mouthfeel and viscosity of tequila. It can contribute to a smoother texture, especially in tequilas that may lack the complexity gained through longer aging.

  • Caramel Coloring: Some producers add caramel coloring to achieve a consistent and appealing hue. This is often done to mask variations in color that can result from the aging process or differences in agave batches.

  • Oak Extracts: To mimic the flavors of barrel aging, some tequilas may use oak extracts or artificial flavorings. This is common in mixtos or tequilas produced on a larger scale that may not undergo extended aging in oak barrels.

  • Sugar Syrup or Agave Nectar: In mixtos or lower-quality tequilas, additional sugars may be added to mask the harshness of the spirit or to provide sweetness. This is more common in tequilas that do not adhere to the strict “100% agave” standard.

  • Artificial Flavors: Some tequilas may contain artificial flavors to impart specific taste profiles. This is often seen in flavored or infused tequilas where additional elements like fruits, herbs, or spices are introduced.

Beyond honoring the artisanal history and practices of making fine tequila, additive-free has been shown to be the safer choice for individuals with sensitivities or allergies and it reduces the potential for hangovers – need I say more? (Don’t worry, we’ll go deeper into this in our next article – Why Additive-Free Matters!)

More than a trend; additive-free tequila embodies a return to the roots of tequila production. Choosing this spirit means embracing the rich flavors derived from a careful and traditional crafting process. From the agave fields to your glass, additive-free tequila offers a pure and unadulterated experience, inviting you to savor the true essence of Mexico’s beloved elixir. So, the next time you reach for a tequila, consider the beauty and authenticity that comes with choosing additive-free. Salud!

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