Alas, a truly sustainable tequila with Elise Som of Mijenta Tequila

Jun 1, 2022

Up until now, not much attention has been paid to the sustainability of spirits. In this episode, we explore how tequila is made and how Mijenta Tequila is leading the spirits industry towards a more sustainable future with Elise Som, their Director of Sustainability.  Mijenta is an artisanal small batch tequila from the highlands of Jalisco, Mexico built on the desire to maintain nature and its wonders through environmentally responsible agriculture practices, conservation, a commitment to biodiversity and sustainable manufacturing.

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Pretty ok (not great) transcript:

This is Justin Mason with a mostly green life. The podcast that’s making sustainability and our connection to the environment. More fun and approachable for the eco curious today, we’re chatting with Elise som sustainability director. For me, hinted tequila, a company that cares as much about the planet as they do about their tequila.

We explore how tequila is made, how it can be made better. And what sustainability looks like in the spirits industry, please. Excuse some audio challenges. The remote connection got a little choppy at times.


[00:00:00] Jess: So Mason and I absolutely love a glass of wine or three, some evenings, but when we’re not drinking wine, tequila is my go-to spirit before. We’ve done two podcasts on organic sustainable wine. And we received feedback from our listeners that they’d be interested in learning more about sustainable spirits and as are we.

So today we are chatting with Elise director of sustainability and co-founder for Mahinda tequila and artisanal small batch tequila from the Highlands of hilly SKO, Mexico created by a passionate collective of people who believe in doing well by doing right. At least you have an extensive background in interior and furniture.

Can you talk to us a little bit about the transition from that to sustainable tequila?

[00:00:42] Elise Som of Mijenta Tequila: Yes, of course. First of all, thank you for inviting me. I’m really, really honored to talk about sustainable tequila. Um, where, where do we start?

Well actually before, working for the, uh, creating tequila tinkering, creating the hunter, we I’ve met Mike Dolan who used to be this year Bacardi. And I was already in talk with, with him and Bacardi and, um, I wanted to see like what they were doing with the glass, how they would recycle. It’s a huge problem in the spirits industry. And, When Mike Dolan left Bacardi, we went on the journey to create a sustainable spirit.

He asked me to join on board and say, Hey, would you help me to create the cleanest tequila, the most transparent one? Um, and I said under the condition that we would do only the right thing and just the right thing for the people, for the lens. And that’s how the journey started. So I’ve already, I was already in negotiation with the cardia before.

[00:01:42] Mason: Very cool. , I’d like to back up and start with a little primer on what makes tequila in college. I was a chemical engineer and actually did a project where I designed a tequila distillery. We called it Vegas tequila, which was a family name from back in Spain. And, uh, although my family was from, uh, Mexico, I learned a lot about the industry.

But that was many moons ago. So when I learned, in order for it to be called tequila, it had to be produced in Holly’s go. And back then, even the blue Gavi, which was a requirement of tequila had to also come from Calisco, I’m guessing that that can’t possibly still be the case with the explosion of tequila in America.

Uh, what are the current rules about what tequila.

[00:02:30] Elise Som of Mijenta Tequila: Well, it, you know, believe it or not, Mason, it’s still is the rule. You know, tequila is booming, but, you know, in order to call a tequila, a tequila and needs to be produced in the region of Harleysville, which is, um, uh, in Mexico, like. To the west, not north, Northwest, I would say, we, we have to get blue Webber.

I got way. So the blue Webber, I got a only grows in the region of a Holly SCO. It cannot be any other Gabby. Um, unlike mescal mescal can be produced anywhere and bring, you know, from any different. Many different region, but, um, it’s a bit, if you would like to compare it a bit like champagne and certain type of grapes needs to grow in certain region.

We do the same with tequila. It still is blue Webber, unless you have to specify on the bottle. If you would see I don’t know if you can see here, but it says like a hundred percent. I Gavi, uh, you have some mix and match. Other brands, but it can still be called tequila, but the tequila from her Briscoe, it’s only blue Weber I Gabby.

[00:03:37] Mason: Hmm. Interesting. Is there anything unique about the blue Weber Gavi compared to all the other Gabe’s that are available?

[00:03:45] Elise Som of Mijenta Tequila: Well, it’s a plant that is. Naturally from the region that grows naturally in a region of highly SCO. So, you know, it’s a plant that grow slowly and is

[00:03:58] Mason: yeah, what does it take to grow?

How long does it take

[00:04:01] Elise Som of Mijenta Tequila: to mature? I’ll take anyone. For example, we use a six years old. I Gavi. So it’s already a massive what we call a , which, you know, it’s already like 6, 7, 8 and it has to be depending on, on, on E tequila, you know, the other brands have different requirements, but we produce a premium tequila and therefore we use only what we call matured so they’re at least six years old.

And, um, I tell you right now , it’s really challenging

[00:04:33] Mason: planning cycle for sure. And so is

[00:04:36] Jess: that challenge waiting for it to grow, given how much there is in the region? If it has to grow. This

[00:04:42] Elise Som of Mijenta Tequila: is why? Right now there’s a bit of a, I’d say a lot, you say an English penury can you kind of use this word of, you know, there’s a lack of, um, finding plants, find the findings.

Yes. We have a bit of issue with finding, um, I got a right now because of the booming and therefore. You know, I, I think that we, we mentioned, um, before that we’re a small batch tequila we produce as we have, and as we grow and certain quantities are there, this is what we’re going to produce when there’s not, there’s more, we have to wait and wait for nature to do familiar Palmer the nature to, you know, work her

[00:05:25] Mason: back.

Yeah. And can you give us just a quick rundown? So you get the Penia, which is kind of the core of the blue, a Gavi, and how does that become tequila?

[00:05:36] Elise Som of Mijenta Tequila: So we get the Pena out to cook in what we called, um, or no, an oven or what we called an outdoor Clavis. So it’s a massive oven where the pinya is cooked for about 12 hours.

It’s cooked to 55 degrees and then it gets cooled down. And then the the pianos that are cooked and processed and we extract the choose from it. And then it gets stored into Allenby gaze into containers for independence, like for a Blanco. Uh, it gets stored for 30 days. If you want to have a Reposado, it gets taught for a little longer.

It goes into it goes into barrels also

[00:06:23] Mason: of, and those barrels, the old, those are all whiskey barrels, right. Or wine barrels. Bros. Yeah. And so even in the Blanco, does it flavor, does the flavor come from the Gavi or does it come from what your story now?

[00:06:39] Elise Som of Mijenta Tequila: The flavor comes from the aggravate, especially in a Blanca because in the Bronco it doesn’t get, it doesn’t really get stored in the, in the barrels.

You know, what gets stored in the barrels or the Reposado and what NDA ho the Blanca. It’s and you know, ours is not filtered. So you have like the full flavors into your mouth, really coming from the blue Weber. I gallery. So it’s an exceptional plant because it’s, you know, depending on how you cook it in the, when I say the recipes of, um, what we have in , she’s a woman, her name is Anna Marie.

And she, what we say creates a recipe because she, she defines herself how long, um, those, the liquid has to rest in order to have the perfect flavor. And then once, once it’s good, it’s it gets bottled.

[00:07:34] Mason: Cool. You know, growing up, especially in Texas, I think there’s a. Uh, I mean, at this point I would call it a myth that the Reposado or on YeahOh is better quality than Blanca, but we went to a tequila tasting and they were like a high quality Blanco should be as good and can be as good or better than Reposado or Anejo, it’s just different, uh, flavors.

Is that your take on it or do you think there is?

[00:08:03] Elise Som of Mijenta Tequila: Yes, absolutely. I think that, you know, Blanca. Choice of drink because it’s clean, you know, it’s it’s and then, you know, I’ll Blanca is, I don’t want to brag here, but I Blanca was so good that it could be a sipper, you know, it’s um, it was so well done. And we, the one thing that I’m really proud of.

Compared to other brands. We have no additives to work. We don’t have sugar, we don’t add caramel. We don’t add glycerin. Um, our liquid is just as it’s coming straight from the BGR strain from the and Gabby. So you you’ll feel the full flavor of it. And The Reposado it is age. So you feel the flavor of the bells and even more, uh, with the NBA hall when they’re sitting there for a little longer, so it’s complete different followups, but, um, all three categories have to be good.

So personally I drink Blanca because it’s, um, it’s cleaner. It’s a, what we call it, clean drinking, you know? It’s we’re really proud of having no additives, even don’t want to name other brands, but a lot of other brands additives, and you’d have to look at the labels.

[00:09:16] Jess: And so is that why some tequilas are so bad from a flavor and hang over perspective, they have added sugars or added colorings like caramel.

[00:09:25] Elise Som of Mijenta Tequila: Absolutely. I think that’s a, we differentiate ourselves from the celebrity tequila. First of all, that is, you know, because. A lot of people are drinking tequila and as it becomes a drink of choice lately, um, and we have to make sure that, you differentiate the drinks where it’s, I don’t want to say, but the low quality drinks where they add the sugar for the flavor for the consumer, Like taste of it.

Um, we do it things, we do things a bit slowly or slower to make sure that we have the right taste and bottle. This is why it takes a bit longer for us to create a Blanco. And then we make a premium Blanco. So we make sure that there’s a risk that the right temperature it’s bottled, right. That it’s, uh, Yeah.

And then, you know, it gets cooked long enough to have the perfect Blanco. Other brands we’ll have, um, we’ll add a lot of stuff into it. And this is what gives you headaches when you drink it.

[00:10:32] Mason: Right. And so up until now, not much attention has been paid to sustainability in spirits. Is that. Disconnect, I think between product and product flavor, which is what most people are shopping for in case of this, which it’s been distilled many times.

So I think a lot of people think that because it’s distilled, it removes all the bad things that could be in it, but disconnect between that and then how a product was produced. Can you talk about the, uh, how y’all approach sustainability and kind of what your pillars are to.

[00:11:07] Elise Som of Mijenta Tequila: Yes, of course, I think for this I’m the right person, you know, I I’ve worked for sustainability, um, to make sure that we created a product that was done right.

And transparent. Um, we went from using, yeah. First of all, for, for the liquid, no pesticides. That’s something that is really important to us. I got these already a plant that grows naturally, you know, on the lens of how disco. So we don’t have to use pesticides and chemicals. To, you know, remove Herb’s because I think that, you know, in biodiversity you need to have actually, um, these other herbs, the good of the batters to give the specialties to the I Gabby, you know, it’s the whole buyer biodiversity of the soil that gives this special tastes.

Who are I Gabby? So. No pesticides. We using also the least of our Gavi to create them our labels. So although all of our labels are, um, Pope of my Gavi mixed with coffee, bean bags, uh, creates paper, and then that we transformed into. Uh, the last is also stocked glass. This is another thing that I like to emphasize because a lot of people want to use recycled glass, which use a lot more energy. So it goes from, you know, the, the stock glass that we use to,

[00:12:33] Mason: it’s a really interesting phrase.

I’d never seen that. And on brands talking about sustainability, talk about why a stock glass is more sustainable than some of these other brands.

[00:12:47] Elise Som of Mijenta Tequila: It is more sustainable because nobody’s using those, those, those models that are already have been produced. So the energy has been out there, you know, to produce those models and , in order to become sustainable.

There’s no better way than using what is already available. So we use glass that was sitting on shelves for month and month that no other brands wanted. And we were like, okay, what do you have in stock? We’ll take them, you know? And so you will see on certain bottles, they are not all the same. That’s, you know, some of them generally the shape is similar, but you have.

Some with a longer neck, some that are stockier because we use stock last. So we don’t have a specific mold and this bottle is also used by other brands. So this is what you, it’s different, uh, Reno recycled glass, which use a lot more energy or producing our own because you’ll use even more energy to produce.

So why not use what’s already available?

[00:13:42] Jess: Yeah, that’s a very cool concept. I hadn’t heard about brands doing that. In any sort of whether it’s the beverage industry or food industry, really. Um, I mean, and I haven’t been in the manufacturing side and actually looking to see what these, what the suppliers have, but even with it being unique in the bottles being a little bit different every time, I think that adds, uh, acute flare to it.

Yeah. Well,

[00:14:02] Elise Som of Mijenta Tequila: it’s just common sense. You know, we use what’s already available. Why not using this bottle of in sitting and taking the dust for month and month? It’s just doesn’t make sense to, to wait, especially that right now, we have a huge glass problem in our industry. It’s it’s materials is becoming very expensive.

It’s very difficult to get your own bottle produced. So why not use WhatsApp?

[00:14:24] Jess: Absolutely. And so does that mean in terms of your packaging, you have to, you do have certain parameters for that, for those glass stock bottles, like with the boxes that it goes in?

[00:14:36] Elise Som of Mijenta Tequila: Yes, of

[00:14:37] Mason: course as well. We like our boxes, our last company, we had a food product and the cases had to be absolutely exact for the right amount of fit in.

And so when you said different size next, I was like, oh man,

[00:14:53] Elise Som of Mijenta Tequila: We have to still make sure that it fits our parameters. Because it’s such a common bottle, it’s it, hasn’t been very hard for us to, and then we have to fulfill our orders. Uh, and then also we have a bit of a challenge between the 700, which is the bottle size sold in the rest of the world and in the UK and in Europe and, um, seven 50, which is seven 50 millimeters, which is also sold, um, in the U S so I think we’re trying to.

And make sure that we have a, a box fits it all, you know, and then you change inserts. It hasn’t been a problem just yet.

[00:15:34] Mason: So we talked about organic agriculture, you’ve got the stock bottle. What else do you do from a sustainability perspective?

[00:15:44] Elise Som of Mijenta Tequila: From a sustainability point of view, we also offset all of our carbon emissions, which is.

Really, um, challenging for companies let alone big companies super challenging, but how we, we started to calculate our carbon emission of production from the glass perspective to the liquid, to logistic of transportation. So, because we produce in Mexico, we decide to offset in Mexico as well, which has been a challenge to find the right initiatives.

We chose this year to reforestation in the region of chopper. So it’s in the center of Mexico. Where we helping about 1500 families to, um, replant fruit trees and to keep biodiversity in that region. So for this year we chose reforestation because I think it was a really important as you take her away from the land that you give back to the land.

So it’s almost like hitting two birds in one stone because you’re, you’re. Producing in Mexico, but you’re also giving back in Mexico by setting your carbon emission and helping families and communities directly in Mexico.

[00:16:59] Mason: and how do you produce the label? I’m not sure if we’d caught that

[00:17:03] Elise Som of Mijenta Tequila: the labels are produced, uh, with Gabby leave.

So I can send you a really cool video of how it’s produced. We use, um, It’s really cool. Actually, we, we, we, we use the Gavi leaves that are cooked, so they’re a little darker. And then we use the, the leaves that are coming directly from the compost, from the field to be cooked first. And then they get the, they get cooked at 200 degrees for 24 hours.

And then it becomes like a mash and then it becomes like an eye Gavi pop. Then it gets mixed with a white powder and the water to get, you know, lift up with screens out of the water and then it creates a beautiful, um, I gave a paper, if it makes sense.

[00:17:52] Mason: Very fun.

[00:17:54] Elise Som of Mijenta Tequila: It’s it’s very artisanal. So I think that me sending you a video is probably easier than me trying to describe all the steps.

[00:18:04] Jess: We’d love to see that video and we can put it in the show notes as well.


And so how is conventional tequila bad for the environment? We know what you guys are doing, um, in the best way possible for those products, but for other tequila brands out there. And if they’re not following these same practices, how is it detrimental to the environment?

[00:18:23] Elise Som of Mijenta Tequila: I think the producing tequila is, um, it’s, it’s. I would say challenging more because you know, when you have a region like Calisco and you have a very profitable industry, like tequila, we run into the problem of creating, um, monocrop or mono culture all the way, always growing Agabus everywhere you create like soil depletion.

So I think the things that are really important is helping the farmers and the, uh, the land owners to do crop rotation, which is what we’re also doing with corn. For example, you have to let, uh, the, the land rest after you harvest the Gavi that grown for six to eight years. Um, I think it’s really important to, to.

To move with the rhythm of mother nature simply, you know, to, to not push for bigger production to create as much as mother nature gives you. So coopertation is one helping former to rest their lands and also helping them financially because, you know, I, Gavi is more expensive than, than corn, obviously.

And then we’re also, um, right now talking with the university of Guadalajara. To see how we can help better other than, you know, reforestation and helping with biodiversity, not using chemicals. Um, yeah, it’s, it becomes a challenge right now. Uh, the monoculture of, uh, the, this blue web black

[00:19:55] Mason: Gavi.

Yeah, I would get so, especially, I mean, Holly SKO is bigger than the champagne region, but I talk about that with people, as well as the analogy, but the champagne region of France, they even, they tore down cities in order to grow more champagne grapes, because that was a better use for the land than urban development.

Uh, but at least goes quite a bit bigger. So you’ll probably aren’t quite the entire place planted, but, uh, I can imagine it being an issue.

[00:20:25] Elise Som of Mijenta Tequila: When you take away from the land, your house, you have to find ways to give back whether you give back to the community and give back to the lens itself.

[00:20:33] Jess: What is, what does conservation mean to a tequila company? And what role does it play in sustainability efforts?

[00:20:39] Elise Som of Mijenta Tequila: For example, in the region of, um, Holly SKO, we, we have this monoculture and we have to be plant on the species of trees, for example So it’s not really, I wouldn’t say land reclamation, but I would say planting more than what we’re taking in order to rebalance the soil, if it makes sense.

[00:21:01] Mason: Great.

[00:21:01] Jess: And are there any certifications within the spirits industry that credit crafting a sustainable product, like, you know, in the food industry, there’s the organic seal, there’s a gluten-free seal or non. Do those translate over to spirits as well? Or are there, you know, spirits specific certifications.

[00:21:18] Elise Som of Mijenta Tequila: So do you know what it’s very difficult to certify your spirit organic because the spirit is an ethanol you can only certify the, I Gavi to be organic. We have right now in a process with tequila matchmaker to have our certification for no additives. So that is really important because they’re testing the liquids.

Um, Cooking the liquids and many different pulling, you know, different anthems of the liquid to make sure that it’s, it is additive free, as we say. So there are smaller, um, certifications,

[00:21:54] Jess: you know? Yeah. That makes sense. Well, the packaging is absolutely beautiful and, you know, we appreciate how much thought went into the sourcing of all of the materials. Like you mentioned, with the Gavi wastes labels and those locally sourced stock bottles.

And you know, what we also love is that you’re not shouting sustainability on your label and necessarily. But as a consumer, are there ways or easy ways to decipher a sustainability at the shelf or does everybody just need to do some research

[00:22:20] Elise Som of Mijenta Tequila: prior? And, you know, I think that you said that we don’t shout sustainability on our packaging.

And I think that, um, I, at the beginning I was just really proud to do the work in the background, but I think that now it’s becoming more and more that the consumer wants to know and needs to be, needs to be available for the consumer right away. So. We’ve added smaller stickers and in the next production, in the next batch with changing our label, to make sure that there’s a kiosk QR code that they can scan to see like what we do, what we are doing to be carbon neutral.

And what does it mean to be sustainable? We also have a foundation called the manta foundation, which is helping farmers and Hema daughters.

The people that are cutting out Gavi we’re providing them. Healthcare, for example. So I think that, yes, we haven’t put it on our label because we thought that it was, you know, it was our responsibility as a modern company to do the right thing. But I think that. More and more people wants to know now.

So we have to, we have to, you know, put it up the, the sticker with the QR code where people will be able to scan it right away and find exactly what we’re doing. I think it, it makes a difference with a lot of other brands. I shoved this way. I want, I always look for what are they doing better because it’s more expensive.

Yes. It is more expensive. Why, what, how do they justify the price?

[00:23:43] Mason: Well, I think there’s ways to communicate it without cause some we get, I think we get suspicious when a brand has that all over their label. And if all they’re doing is saying it’s grain and natural and sustainable.

I’m like, well, man, if, if you have to scream it that loud, then maybe you don’t have that much you’re screaming about. And so a lot of

[00:24:04] Elise Som of Mijenta Tequila: greenwashing. Yeah.

[00:24:05] Jess: Right. But with y’all’s packaging, you know, it doesn’t say much of it at all right now. And it’s like, y’all are doing so much. So I am excited to hear that you guys are transitioning to put something on there.

Cause I think it will really resonate with people it’ll it would resonate with us. For sure. If we were walking down the liquor aisle and saw that there was a brand doing something better out there.

[00:24:23] Elise Som of Mijenta Tequila: Yeah, I, I thought it was a responsibility as a brand to just do the right thing because the consumer is so lost with you have nowadays just in spirits, just in the tequila industry, there is 2000 brands out there.

Wow. You know, so,

[00:24:36] Mason: and so it’s expanded a little bit. How is the industry, do you think, is it moving in a good direction or is it moving in the bad direction? And there’s just a few companies. Holden’s bill.

[00:24:50] Elise Som of Mijenta Tequila: I think it’s moving in a, in a good direction. We’re able to do our best because we’re smaller. We’re small batch. We. We are a three-year old brand. So we control everything. It was important when we chose our distillery. It’s important when we chose that packaging, you know, it’s, it’s very, it’s much easier for a modern brand that starts everything on a clean sheet, like clean canvas to create the perfect combination as opposed to bigger brands but are huge and have it and produce like millions of bottles.

I think that the consumers are aware now and they’re looking for, to pay an extra five-year-olds five pounds, $5, because it’s better. It’s better for me because I’m, it’s a, it’s a better drink. The liquid is better. There’s no additives. And then it’s better for the world. Glass is infinitely recycled. We recycle everything.

We make sure that everything is biodegradable. Um, and then, and then really we minimize eye footprints. And I think that, um, as we grow our generation care, the journey to the generation of my daughters are going to care about it as well. And I think that’s, um, the bigger brands have a huge challenge to adjust with the newer brands that are creating better creating, um, I don’t want to say faster, but creating weather, weather, responsible heart.


[00:00:00] Mason: Fascinating info in there. I know both of our minds went spinning when she mentioned all the bottles are not the same size. What was that

[00:00:06] Jess: term again?

[00:00:08] Mason: The stock bottles that they use. Yeah. Especially in spirits, which can be a very high dollar product. I think we forget sometimes a lot of things can still be done by hand and that’s still good.

And that’s what makes a product. Also when she described where the flavors can come from, it made me want to do more tequila tastings. Yeah. I think for tequila in particular, my biggest consideration is how it makes me feel the next day, but we sip enough of it. We should pay more attention to the subtleties of the flavor profiles.

[00:00:38] Jess: We ordered a bottle from their website and we are of course, incredibly impressed with the flavor, but also what their packaging is kind of funny because when we first opened it and we saw those packing peanuts, I was like, oh my God, we need to tell Elise about this immediately. She would not be okay with the warehouse, packaging, everything like this.

We found a note that talked about their passion for sustainability and that the peanuts were dissolvable in water. And that was pretty cool. Yeah.

[00:01:01] Mason: And I immediately stuck them in water and the dissolves almost immediately, it just kind of turned into a foam, right. With warm

[00:01:06] Jess: water.

It was super

[00:01:07] Mason: quick, super fast. Yeah. So that was really cool. We, more people should discover those peanuts. And I guess it’s important to have the note in there to let you know.

[00:01:16] Jess: It was actually kind of small. It was on the invoice and it was written kind of small. I’m like, this should be a little bit better than a little

[00:01:21] Mason: bit bigger for sure.

Speaking of that bottle, we should go crack it open and have a sip. Yeah.

[00:01:26] Jess: Yeah. You know, actually we’ve got some great fruit juice in the fridge. Oh,

[00:01:30] Mason: let’s do it. Well, we’re going to take a short summer break coming up and we’ll replace a couple of classic episodes while we focus on cranking out. Dog food keeps subscribed to our show for when we start releasing new episodes.

Thanks for listening.

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