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What’s a Tequila NOM? The 4-Digit Number on Your Tequila Bottle Label You Shouldn’t Ignore

Editor's Note: This is part three of a beginners series on Tequila Basics. Click here to read part one on the types of tequilas, and part two on the difference between 100% agave and mixto tequilas.

 

 

In an ocean of tequila brands, it’s hard as a consumer to get a grasp on what exactly you’re drinking, or to figure out what differentiates one from another. Add to that a constant conundrum of discerning whether the bottle you have in your hand is truly of high-quality (cue sweet memories of the first time your lips touched a Fortaleza) or if it may wind up landing you smack straight into the worst hangover of your life (cue nightmares of Jose Cuervo shots in your college dorm room).

Yet, dear tequila drinker, there’s been a secret weapon at your disposal all along: an unassuming four digit number printed on the back of every tequila bottle label. 

Put simply, this is known as the NOM, or Norma Oficial Mexicana.

 

What is a Tequila NOM? 

The NOM, this four-digit number, essentially tells you which distillery the liquid in your hand was produced at – a key starting point to establishing the quality and credibility of the tequila.

Simply input the 4-digit code into the Tequila Matchmaker database and this will pull up information on the distillery, as well as a full history of what other brands are currently or have previously been produced at the same distillery.

 

The 4-digit number that is the NOM can always be found on the label of tequila bottles.

 

The NOM is a code assigned by the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT), overseen by the Mexican government. The general principle of the NOM system is to introduce greater transparency to the tequila consumer, which is a pretty beautiful thing. 

 

The Misleading Nature of Tequila Production

 

(Image source: Garret McCord)

 

There is a couple of reasons why more transparency is needed when it comes to tequila. This is due to misleading dynamics of the way in which this spirit is produced.

Firstly, it’s very common for multiple brands of tequila to be produced at the same distillery. In fact, here’s a mind-boggling figure: There are over 1,400 registered brands of tequila on the market, yet only 140 licenses tequilas in Mexico, according to Adriana Baca, the global brand ambassador for Volcan Tequila. This implies that single brand tequila distilleries are somewhat of a rarity, with 97.8% of all tequila produced being made at multi-brand distilleries.

Specifically, there are many mega distilleries that can even produce up to 60 brands of tequila at a time. While it’s not necessarily a strict indication of quality, it’s reasonable to expect that many of these brands share the same fermentation and distillation processes. This makes churning out authentically unique expressions for each brand difficult, and could create pressure to manufacture differences in the flavors through shortcuts – such as additives or other artificial flavorings. The temptation to do is further heightened by the fact that distilleries don’t have to declare this on the labels.

 

Patron uses a dedicated distillery to produces its tequila. It’s a badge of honor for the brand – so much so that it created a “Know Your NOM” online tool, likely designed to draw attention to the fact that many of its competitors use shared distilleries. (Image source: Patron)

 

If you’re keen to try out tequila brands made from a dedicated distillery, some favorites include Tequileño (NOM 1108), Fortaleza (NOM 1493) and Patron (NOM 1492).

Secondly, it’s possible for the same brand of tequila to be produced by different distilleries simultaneously, or have moved production from one distillery to another over time. For example, Casamigos used to be produced at the same distillery as Avion and Clase Azul, Productos Finos de Agave, S.A. de C.V. (NOM 1416) – which has been rumored to use additives and other flavor manipulations. It later moved to its own dedicated distillery, Diageo México Operaciones (NOM 1609), with some reviewers noting subtle changes in its taste since. If you ever find yourself detecting differences between bottles of the same brand, and questioning your own taste buds, a quick NOM search may provide some clues as to whether anything on the production side has changed.

 

Why You Should Pay Attention to the NOM

Increase your knowledge and appreciation for tequila.

If you’re looking to become a more discerning tequila drinker, or simply to understand how the liquid you’re drinking was made, the NOM is basically your ticket to crucial information about the provenance of the bottle.

A quick NOM look-up on the Tequila Matchmaker gives you the key stats surrounding the type of fermentation and distillation equipment used, the type of barrels used to age tequila in, and even the water source that the distillery draws from.

 

Patron uses a dedicated distillery to produces its tequila. It’s a badge of honor for the brand – so much so that it created a “Know Your NOM” online tool, likely designed to draw attention to the fact that many of its competitors use shared distilleries. (Image source: Patron)

 

As you try out different expressions over the course of your tequila tasting journey, referencing this data via the NOM is a great way to learn about how subtle differences in each distillery’s production techniques can shape the flavours and aromas of your drink.

Discover new tequila brands you might like ... or find out which to steer clear of.

There may be some brands of tequila that you absolutely love and others that you absolutely despise. Whatever the case, it’s worth doing a quick search of the NOM on either of those bottles. While production methods can vary somewhat for different brands within the same distillery, there are - generally speaking – bound to be certain shared production philosophies and methods shared across these brands.

This can be both a good thing and a bad thing. A more positive example: Having recently tried Tapatio tequila and loving it, I felt compelled to search up its NOM to find out more. This led to me to discover another brand called El Tesoro, also made by the La Altena Distillery (NOM 1139), which I similarly fell in love with!

 

Searching up the NOM on the bottle of Tapatio Tequila I was enjoying led me to discover another brand, El Tesoro! (Image source: Tequila Matchmaker)

 

Alternatively, if you’re not a fan of, say, Jose Cuervo, searching up its NOM will inform you that the current distillery that produces it, Casa Cuervo (NOM 1122), is also responsible for the production of 21 other brands. If you’re worried you’ll chance upon the same flavor and aroma profiles that doesn’t suit your taste, it may be worth doing a bit more research into any of those brands to ascertain if their production methods are too close to Jose Cuervo’s for comfort – before shelling out on a bottle.

 

 

What’s in a Name NOM…

“… that which we call a rose by any other name NOM would smell as sweet.” Shakespeare’s Juliet would perhaps scoff at a NOM labelling system, if her infamous line in Romeo and Juliet is anything to go by. 

Yet, can one really say that the NOM just an arbitrary label? Where your tequila is produced inevitably shapes a large degree of the experience in your glass. Hence, understanding the what, where and how of the distilleries behind your bottle should be a key starting point for anyone keen to become a more discerning tequila drinker! Rather, think instead of the NOM system as an indispensable tool in the arsenal of every tequila drinker, bringing a refreshing level of transparency to the palms of any curious consumer.

 

@lotusroot518