The rule is clear: tequila comes from Mexico.
The famous schnapps from the blue agave is only an original and may only be called that if it was produced in the Central American country.
Because for several decades, tequila has been a so-called protected geographical indication, as in this country, for example, Aachener Printen or Black Forest ham.
Mexico defends this status with all possible means.
There is even a separate authority for the review and certification of regulations for tequila production: the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT), in English "Regulatory Committee for Tequila".
Because the Mexicans take it very seriously with their national drink.
A tequila beer without tequila
Heineken notices that too.
The second largest brewer in the world is arguing with the CRT in court about the use of the word tequila.
The reason is the Heineken “Desperados” brand, which is sold by the manufacturer as “tequila-flavored beer”.
The CRT considers this to be an unauthorized use of the word.
"Desperados is marketed with the term tequila, although it only contains a flavor and not the well-known schnapps," says Fernando Cano, the CRT's European representative.
From a Mexican point of view, there are therefore only two options.
"Either Heineken will stop using the word tequila, or in future enough tequila will be mixed into beer for us to approve."
For this, however, according to Cano, at least 25 percent of the alcohol content in the drink must be due to the tequila.
But that is not the case with Desperados.
"99.9 percent of the content is beer alone."
Talks about an amicable solution to this conflict have all failed so far.
So the courts have been meeting for a number of years.
Processes existed and existed on the one hand in France, where Desperados is produced, and on the other hand in the Netherlands, the headquarters of Heineken.
The results were very different: while the CRT was right in France, the verdict in the Netherlands was in favor of Heineken.
The group therefore rejects any misconduct.
“Desperados has been using real Mexican tequila in its flavor for 25 years.
It has always been compliant with EU law, including requirements for GI denomination labeling in all markets where it is sold, ”the company said in a statement.
GI stands for "Geographical Indication", which can be reproduced in German as "protected indication of origin".
An appeal procedure is now under way in Amsterdam.
Therefore, Heineken does not want to go into the case.
"We will await the decision of the appellate court before giving detailed comments on the process."
Compared to the "Financial Times" Heineken had once indicated that the flavors used are not produced artificially, but from a tequila imported from Mexico and that this producer is one of the 163 manufacturers represented by the CRT.
However, this does not change the attitude of the regulatory committee.
“Heineken imports tequila, empties the bottles into tanks, and then turns a liquor drink into an essence.
So no tequila is used in the contents of the drink, but the label is used, ”says CRT representative Cano.
In addition, due to the designation of origin, tequila should not be processed into an aroma or flavor.
In 2020, the regulatory committee no longer issued any certificates of authenticity to the supplier involved, as Cano reports.
"Because the company pretended to export bottled goods for end users, but in reality it supplied a Heineken subsidiary that uses them to produce the flavor."
Tequila is made from the blue Weber agave
Source: picture alliance / robertharding
As a result, Heineken, represented by the European brewers' association The Brewers of Europe, lodged a complaint with the EU Commission and reported Mexico there because of "technical barriers to trade".
The relevant investigation should actually be finished in March, but there is still no result.
The position of the EU Commission, which is expected in the near future, is not only waiting and looking at the Mexican tequila scene.
Because the scope of the procedure extends far beyond the individual case.
“It's not just about Mexico and tequila, it's about the protection of designations of origin in Europe in general,” says Cano, who even speaks of a “historic moment”.
Because the conflict is pointing the way for the entire system of protected geographical information.
"A decision to the disadvantage of Mexico would mean that ultimately every protected product can be infringed and thus become generic."
Over 40 lobby representatives came forward
In fact, the issue is attracting a great deal of attention: the EU Commission has received over 40 letters from representatives of European designations of origin, including the French Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac, the Scotch Whiskey Association, Origen España and the Consorzio Parmigiano.
The Federal Association of the German Spirits Industry and Importers (BSI) is also an attentive observer.
“The new Spirits Ordinance is based on the basic idea of strengthening geographical indications.
The jurisprudence is currently exploring the limits of the geographical protection indications ”, says managing director Angelika Wiesgen-Pick.
In fact, Brussels has made various promises of protection for protected geographical indications in recent years, most recently in 2019, but also in the 1997 agreement between Mexico and the EU on mutual recognition and protection of designations of origin in the spirits sector.
In addition, Tequila has been registered as a collective trademark with the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUPIO) since 2008.
In addition, the dispute coincides with the mutual ratification of the free trade agreement negotiated between Mexico and the EU in spring 2020.
In this text of the treaty, Mexico is supposed to recognize 300 European designations of origin, the EU, conversely, 18 Mexican ones, including tequila again.
The dispute with Heineken that has lasted for years now has a new topicality and additional explosiveness.
At the same time, Europe is an important customer for Mexican tequila producers, especially Germany and Spain.
According to the CRT, Germany is the second most important foreign market after the USA, with 4.1 million liters of agave distillate imported last year.
A total of 66 brands from 22 manufacturers are sold in this country, the majority of which is so-called tequila blanco, i.e. white schnapps.
In total, Mexico produced around 374 million liters of tequila in 2020, 6.3 percent more than in the previous year and a new record level.
Around 286 million liters were exported, an increase of 16.3 percent compared to 2019. The export value added up to around two billion dollars.
Tequila is made solely from the blue Weber agave.
The plants used have to grow for seven to nine years.
The agaves are grown in 181 communities in just five Mexican states, the majority of which come from the area around the city of Tequila in the state of Jalisco.
There are a total of 163 certified production sites, which are supplied by 8,000 agave farmers with around 220,000 hectares of cultivation area.
The agave landscape and tequila production have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2006.
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