Scarlet of ‘Tequila Matchmaker’ Talks Additive-Free Tequila, Highlands vs. Lowlands & More: Interview Part II

by Jim Casey
scarlet-of-tequila-matchmaker-talks-additive-free-tequila-highlands-vs-lowlands-more-interview-part-ii
photo courtesy of Scarlet Sanschagrin

The world of tequila can be a little intimidating, especially for newbies. However, a great resource for both newbies and experts—and everyone in between—is TasteTequila.com and its Tequila Matchmaker app. Founded and run by married couple Grover and Scarlet Sanschagrin—both of whom were born in the U.S., but now live in Mexico—the independent tequila blog features an additive-free tequila database, while the app is the go-to resource for detecting your individual tequila “flavor” fingerprint.

Of course, they both have “day” jobs, but Scarlet (consulting) and Grover (internet entrepreneur) use their formal “catador” training (the art and science of tequila tasting) on nights and weekends to keep their passion for tequila aging like an extra añejo.

Outsider caught up with Scarlet for a three-part tequila talk.

Check out Part I. And check out Part II below.

1. A lot of tequila distilleries have such a rich family history, passing down techniques from generation to generation. Even in this time of mass tequila production, are you still seeing a younger generation grounded in the roots of traditional tequila making?

Scarlet: Well, there’s definitely some younger family members who have stepped into the businesses. And they’re doing a really great job at reaching out to customers, introducing new products. I’m talking about “Chava” [Rosales Trejo] from Cascahuin Tequila. There’s Eduardo Orendain from the Orendain family [of Arette Tequila]. And there’s just members of certain classic tequila families that the younger generation is really running with it. There’s Willy (Guillermo) Bañuelos of El Mexicano Tequila. His family started Cazadores and then sold the brand, and they were under a non-compete for seven years. But now they’re out and they’re making new, great tequila. So there are all these people popping up.

Scarlet at the gates of the La Alteña Distillery in Jalisco, Mexico.

2. Has the interest in additive-free tequila and the popularity of Tequila Matchmaker surprised you?

Scarlet: For sure. If you check some of these tequila groups on social media, almost every post seems to be talking about additive-free tequila. And we didn’t see that before we started the program. We got some requests from aficionados like, “Hey, how can I tell if something has additives or not?” And there was really no guides for them, which is why we created the program, so we could be sure that the things that we’d labeled on our website and in our app as additive-free were actually additive-free. But now, it seems to have completely taken off. And people are a little obsessed about it, which is great. It is in the U.S., primarily, which is 85 percent of the market. In Mexico, it’s not really an issue. They don’t think about it in the same way as Americans do where they’re kind of hyper-interested in what’s in their food and drink.

3. How many additive-free tequilas have you documented so far, and what’s the future look like?

Scarlet: I think there’s around 67 additive-free tequilas on our site now. They’re mostly small brands. So I would say this would be a very conservative estimate that least 70 percent of all tequila sold has additives based on the sales volumes last year, probably higher than that. The majority in the market still has a lot of additives, and that includes most celebrity tequilas. And since celebrity tequilas are seeing so much growth, it’s going to be a long fight.

Highly respected tequileros Carlos Camarena (left) and Felipe Camarena (right) with Grover and Scarlet Sanschagrin.

4. Can you speak on the Highlands vs. Lowlands debate regarding growing agave, tequila production, and the differences in taste?

Scarlet: I think people have talked about Highlands versus the Valley for a long time. It is true that their agaves have a different flavor profile because of the soil and the growing conditions. Agaves in the Highlands tend to get more stressed and they produce more sugar so they’re sweeter. The stress is actually great for the agave because it starts hoarding sugar. And the agave is really comfortable in the Valley. They get tons of sun and they don’t grow quite as big.

So there is a difference, but I think it pales in comparison to the aromas and flavors produced in fermentation, which is so important. And people don’t talk a lot about it. Also, because agave prices are so high, people are sourcing affordable agave where they can get it, so just because [a distillery] is located in the Los Altos [Highlands region] doesn’t mean they’re not buying agaves from the Valley and vice versa. So it’s hard to say even just by location of the distillery where their agaves are coming from at this point.

5. Oh, that’s interesting. So it’s possible the agave is being sourced from different locations?

Scarlet: Yes. Unless they own their own fields and have long-term contracts with growers in that region. That’s the case in some instances. But there’s so much more difference in just the seasonality, like the tequila made in the winter’s going to taste different to tequila made in the summer because the fermentation is longer in the winter because it’s cooler. So all those factors are going to, I think, make a bigger difference than the Highlands/Valley debate.

Stayed tuned to Outsider for Part III of our chat with Scarlet Sanschagrin of TasteTequila.com.

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