Quoted in: Tequila is being distilled in the shadow of organized crime by Duncan Tucker

tequila-onze-blackWhen the violence in Mexico’s tequila-producing region was nearing its peak, distillery owner Felipe Camarena awoke one night at his home in the town of Arandas to the sound of machine gun fire. It continued sporadically through the rest of the night.

“It was awful,” the distiller said, insisting he saw 15 bodies carried away as he peered through his bedroom window, though the local press later reported only two deaths. “I thought, ‘Is this a war or what?'”

Around the time of that incident in 2011, tequila producers in the highlands of Jalisco state in western Mexico faced a wave of threats, attempted kidnappings and extortion, Camarena told VICE News. He said criminal gangs would also charge them a quota for importing agave — the spiky blue cactus-like plant from which tequila is made — from neighboring Michoacán.

The violence, that was primarily blamed on the Zetas drug cartel, has faded in the last couple of years as the organization has lost influence in the region and the country after its main leaders were captured or killed by government forces, and it lost several key turf battles to rivals. But the shadow of organized crime still hangs over the emblematic industry in signs that smaller distillers are being pulled into networks laundering criminal profits for groups such as the New Generation Jalisco Cartel, or CJNG.

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Barrio Café–A Tequila Oasis

[In an industry of cookie-cutter airport cantinas, it was refreshing to experience a little bit of the local flavor at Barrio Café during a recent layover at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport’s Terminal 4.]


Frequent flyers are a highly sought after target market.  Just ask any company that pays top dollar to advertise in in-flight magazines.  They’ll admit that a temporarily sequestered audience with nowhere to go (but up?) is a gold mine.

But, with security protocols being what they are now, bored and isolated travelers awaiting the next leg of their trip desperately seek to pass the time at engaging airport bars/restaurants with strong food and drink selections, and even stronger wifi.

[Tweet “#BarrioCafe is Phoenix’s original comida chingona with a tequila menu to match! @chefSILVANA.”]

What struck me most about Barrio Café, however, was that it was a tequila oasis in a sea of food court cuisine.  Coupled with an informed and educated staff, and my ears perked up.

The Original Comida Chingona of Phoenix


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Tequila Aficionado Takes to The Open Road

On The Road Again

Lisa drives the RV.

Lisa drives the RV.

Unlike some tequilas, most of my moves have never been smooth–or without incident.

For the better part of 18 years, I lived in New Mexico.  After a year long stay in my home state of California, I moved my personal residence and headquarters to San Antonio, TX to helm the newly revamped Tequila Aficionado Media almost two years ago.  In all that time, I’ve spent hundreds of dollars in storage fees.


So, when my partner, Lisa Pietsch, suggested an RV road trip in late May/early June to get the rest of my possessions in Albuquerque, I was hesitant.

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Sauza–Expect Fake, er, Fresh

Originally Published May 20, 2009 by M.A. “Mike” Morales on Cocktailmatch

cocktailmatch, Sauza
Sauza–Expect Fake, er, Fresh

Sauza, tequila, mixtoSo I’m leafing through my June 2008 issue of New Mexico Beverage Analyst (based in Denver!), and I see this ad campaign for Sauza’s revamped mixto:

“Step into the refreshing and appetizing world of Sauza Gold and Blanco–a world where the Blue Agave is adored and nurtured. We gently extract the flavorful juices from the agave, and then double distill them for that smooth flavor and ultimate fresh experience you expect from Sauza Gold and Blanco. Whether it’s shots or cocktails, Sauza has your customers covered. Step into the unexpected, step into the world of Sauza Gold and Blanco, where you can always Expect Fresh.

Made with gently extracted Blue Agave for Freshness.”

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Dos Lunas Grand Reserve

Originally Published January 9, 2009 by M.A. “Mike” Morales on CocktailMatch

cocktailmatch, dos lunas, tequila

Dos Lunas Grand Reserve

dos lunas grand reserveThe Aztecs were the first to cultivate maguey (agave) plants for their sweet nectar. Left to ferment naturally, it became the foamy and viscous drink called pulque.

The Spanish Conquistadors first distilled pulque into mescal wine—tequila’s ancestor–in the 16th Century. Five centuries later, neither culture ever imagined that tequila would look like this.

El Paso’s Dos Lunas brand has raised the bar in the fast growing luxury spirits market with the ultimate rendition of artisan tequila, Grand Reserve ($2500).

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How to Drink Tequila Like a Millionaire

Originally Published Jan 22, 2010 by M.A. “Mike” Morales on CocktailMatch

How to Drink Tequila Like a Millionaire
In Today’s Economy…

Have you found yourself cutting back on extras? Dining out less and entertaining more at home? Have you eliminated frills and gotten back to basics? Many people have. Let’s face it…

2009 was a tough year, and 2010 could prove to be a steep, uphill climb.

In a September 23, 2009 entry in Wine & Spirits Daily, Nielsen, the marketing and media information company, reported that 55% of consumers were eating dinner at home more often. A total of 38% of consumers were going to a bar or nightclub less frequently.

Wine & Spirits Daily also reported in September that Zagat Survey, a hotel/restaurant guide publisher, discovered that people in Los Angeles were dining out less, with 19% of those surveyed cutting back on alcoholic drinks with their meals to save money.

In the liquor business, this situation is known as “soft on-premise” sales. A Nielsen representative concluded that “consumers are desperately seeking value, resulting in the re-prioritization of discretionary versus necessity” and a switch “from frills and luxuries to basics and value.”

In fact, global Swiss bank UBS says Generation Y consumers now believe that it’s “’not cool’ for them to spend money on expensive vodkas and other brands anymore….” Many are sticking to “tried and true” brands to get them through this economic downturn.

Consequently, in 2009 there was a huge push by spirits companies for the “off-premise” sales, which is selling the merits of their products through retail stores to consumers who consistently entertain at home.

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The Exploitation–and the Evolution–Of the Tequila Girl

Originally Published July 17, 2009 at Cocktailmatch.com

By M.A. “Mike” Morales

The Exploitation

Recently, I was invited to a tequila tasting at a local restaurant and bar in the Albuquerque area called The Range Cafe. I know the importer of this brand and I am very fond of it, so naturally, I wanted to lend my support. When I arrived that evening with my business partner and our wives, I was horrified! I’ll tell you why momentarily, but first, let me make one thing perfectly clear:

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