In 2019 Raicilla obtained its Designation of Origin. We, @Agavache, promote Mexican distillates, not just Mezcal, and for that reason, we are interested in knowing and divulging the new Raicilla’s official requirements.
In the Mexican official publication, Raicilla is described as “a spirit with aromas and flavours originated from the variety of maguey used and from the production process. Raicilla qualities are by the type of soil, topography, climate, water, style of the distiller (maestro raicillero), alcohol by volume, yeast and other factors that define the character and sensory perception of each Raicilla.”
This definition recognizes the importance or “terroir”, raw material and tradition in the production process of Raicilla to obtain its characteristics flavours and its own identity.
In reference to “terroir”, it describes the environmental conditions that define the product quality:
- Mountains and semi-arid
- A minimum altitude of 1401 meters above sea level
- Average rain fall of 1024 mm per year
- Average temperature of 20.2 C
- Rocks: granite and volcanic rock with elevated content of silex (Igneous rocks)
- Nature: temperate rainforest, temperate coniferous forest, humid subtropical and semi-arid
The law protects 16 regions from the state of Jalisco and 1 from the state of Nayarit.
Regarding raw material, any agave or maguey wild or cultivated, is allowed; except for Blue Agave Tequilana Webber (sic) which is exclusive for Tequila production. All the agave must be grown inside the geographical authorized area. Nevertheless, the most commonly used agave are:
- Agave maximiliana Baker, agave inaequidens Koch and agave valenciana (in the mountains)
- Agave angustifolia Haw and agave rodhacantha (in the coast)
These agave varieties establish two types of Raicilla: Raicilla de la Sierra (Raicilla from the mountains) and Raicilla de la Costa (Raicilla from the coast). They are easily differentiated because of the flavour profile of each agave variety and because of the environmental conditions.
Relating to the process production, there are three categories. They are likewise Mezcal’s categories and the division is based on the different equipment employed during the process.
- Cooking: pressurised steam oven (+RA/+RTA)*
- Crushing: mechanical milling machine (+RA/+RTA)*
- Fermentation: stainless steel tank (+RA/+RTA)*
- Distillation: continous column still and column still (+RA/+RTA)*
- Cooking: (=RTA)*
- Crushing: shereder (+RTA)*
- Fermentation: (=RTA)*
- Distillation: pot still or clay pot still directly heated with flames, still head made with copper or stainless steel, with a maximum capacity of 500 lt. The process may include agave fibers.
Ancestral Tradition Raicilla:
- Cooking: roasting pit or brick steam oven
- Crushing: hand mash or tahona
- Fermentation: inside holes made in stone, soil or tree trunk, brick tanks, wood or clay tanks and leather. The process must include agave fibers
- Distillation: clay pot still directly heated with firewood and still head made with clay or wood. The process must include agave fibers
* (+RA) Adding the tools used in Artisanal Raicilla. (+RTA) Adding the tools used in Ancestral Traditional Raicilla. (=RTA) The same tools than are used in Ancestral Traditional Raicilla.
Raicilla is classified by its post distillation process:
- Young, white or silver: no post-distillation operations
- Matured in glass: more than 12 months in glass vessels
- Reposado or gold: 2 to 12 months in wood barrels
- Aged: more than 12 months in wood barrels
- Abocado with: ingredients directly added to create flavours
- Distilled with: only in Ancestral Traditional Raicilla and it has an additional distillation with natural ingredients to add flavours
Even though this is a very detail oriented Designation of Origin, it does not escape of controversy. The Wine Enthusiast article “Like Tequila and Mezcal? Try Raicilla, Mexico’s original Moonshine” remarks that some raicilleros have contested the inclusion of Bahía de Banderas, Nayarit, and the inclusion of autoclave for cooking. The first objection is because Bahía de Banderas does not have history of Raicilla production; and the second objection is because the use of autoclave (pressurised steam oven) opens the door for mass production and has historically never been part of the Raicilla process.
In comparasion with other Designations of Origin of Mexican spirits, Raicilla’s Designation of Origin does not define some aspects such as the natural or artificial additives allowed to “abocar”; and it does not refer with other official laws about safety or labelling. Nevertheless, this is the first Mexican regulation that considers the “terroir” (natural and human factors) as the principal influence to determinate products characteristics. Maybe the others should include it.
DO Raicilla: https://dof.gob.mx/nota_detalle.php?codigo=5564454&fecha=28/06/2019COCKING, Lauren «Like Tequila and Mezcal?Try Raicilla,
Mexico’s original Moonshine», Wine Enthusiast, 07 de noviembre 2019, https://www.winemag.com/2019/11/07/raicilla-mexico-moonshine-tequila-mezcal/