Is NOM 199 the Biggest Threat to Traditional Mezcal? Maybe so…

Ancestral Mezcal, NOM 199, Sola de Vega

Maestro Mezcalero Macedonio Juarez at his palenque outside of Sola de Vega, Oaxaca.

It’s the big day. You’ve been practicing for months and now the race is about to begin.

Leading up to the start of today’s race, you received lots of encouragement. You’ve been in a few prelims and each time you’ve emerged a winner. In fact in your last competition, you finished more than 20 meters in front of your nearest rival.

As you’re standing on the track, at the starting blocks, you see him. Walking. His eyes are fixed on you as he comes nearer. And then he stops, about 50 meters from you, in the middle of some commotion. You squint into the sun trying to figure out what is going on and your eyes are drawn to a guy walking onto the track from the infield. He has a separate starting block.

You start to shake your head, not really believing what you are seeing. Within a few minutes, right in front of you, 50 meters down the track, the judges have decided that your rival gets a head start. And they are bolting his starting block to the track. A position that gives your number one rival an unbeatable advantage.

No matter how fast you run, towards the very same finish line, there is no way you will ever win this race. The rules have been changed and you are no longer going to be able to compete fairly against this new rival.

Most people would be aghast if the story above was lived out in the Olympics, or some other world wide sports competition. It isn’t fair they’d scream. You can’t change the rules mid stream. Worse, you’ve given that other guy an unfair advantage.

Yet that is exactly what is about to take place. But not in the world of sports and athletics. Rather, the Government of Mexico, through a proposal known as NOM 199, is poised to make a change in the world of alcohol based spirits in Mexico that could forever hamper the development and marketing of traditional, indigenous Mexican spirits.

Think tequila, mezcal, raicilla, sotol and more.

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Traditional Mezcaleros like Macedonio Juarez are at risk of losing their livelihood if NOM 199 is adopted.

Imagine a Mexico where small craft spirit distillers are unable to compete in the market place because the “bug guys” are essentially starting with a 50 meter advantage. While some like to say the small guys can still sell their product personally, is it really hard to imagine a time when only those commercially produced and approved products are able to be shared across borders and in the larger economy?

Is it beyond the imagination to consider that one day makers of small batch mezcal in Mexico will only be able to continue their craft if they are willing to risk going to jail?

More than half of the mezcal in my personal collection is either unbranded, or is not sold commercially in the US. Are we close to a point in time when we will not be able to share the work of traditional Maestro Mezcaleros like Asunción Matilde or Macedonio Juarez with a friend just because it is not officially approved by the Mexican Government?

Maybe so.

But it gets worse. Imagine if you, or your family invented a product and for 500 years everyone knew that product by a certain name. Now imagine some bureaucrat just decided that for you to be able to sell your product, you had to change its name. What would happen to your sales? Yet that is exactly what will happen if NOM 199 is approved as written. 

In a nutshell, most of my collection of mezcal would have to be called “Komil” instead.

I urge you to please take a look at NOM 199, the latest proposal from the Mexican Secretary of the Economy to regulate the sale, definition and marketing of mezcal and a host of other spirits. Literally, the future of traditionally made mezcal is on the line.

Also check out what Clayton Szczech of Experience Tequila has to say. He’s done a great job of summarizing the proposal if you are not fluent in Spanish. He also provides a download of the original government proposal.

Then before April 29th, do your part to save traditional mezcal and the livelihood of mezcaleros across Mexico by signing this petition to stop consideration of NOM 199.

Want more info? Read more at the following links…  From La Jornada…  from Mezcalistas…  from the Tequila Interchange Project…

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