Monday, September 24, 2007

El Tinieblo

On the back of the bottle of El Tinieblo mezcal I bought in Abasolo, the label describes the “close relationship between man and maguey from time immemorial.” Stirring words for a guy who’s more comfortable with gin and craft-brewed beers.

South of the border (down Mexico way), we stopped at the El Tinieblo mezcal distillery and museum, on the side of the highway from Reynosa down to our hunting rancho. Son Doug (the one on the right, apparently standing in a pothole) and I gave pride of place in the photo above to the distillery’s signage – it’s a big sign. You can read more about the distillery itself here. Also, I offer a mystery. Read on and language experts will find a challenge built right into this post.

Any road, why not collect…evidence…of an interesting brand, since the popularity of tequilas and mezcals continues to grow? A half-empty bottle of just such evidence is sitting beside my computer right now…76 proof.

A Spanish-language explanation of El Tinieblo reveals that the rancho began producing mezcal in 1865, using the “juice of the maguey.” One of the best known forms of mezcal, if I understand this correctly, is tequila – in fact, agave-based liquors that aren’t tequilas are, well, mezcals. Or…tequilas have to be made with blue agave while mezcal can be made with any: blue, white or silver agave…depending on how you read Spanish. One website says, “Mezcal is made from the agave plant. The agave is also used to make tequila but in a different process.”

If this is confusing, Google up “tequila” and “mezcal.” Wade through the details for yourself.

This post is about the brand – which does not appear anywhere on one of the best tequila-related sites, We’ll just have to wing it.

El Tinieblo mezcals (joven, reposado, añejo) are made by Mezcales de Tamaulipas in Jiminez – a good thing since Jimenez is one of just 11 municipalities in the state that have been officially designated Envasado de Origen by the government. The registered proprietor is Alfredo Perez Salinas.

Part of its most recent incarnation as a brand and an attempt to recapture the spirit of mezcaleras (or mezcal-making artisans) is the marketing help the company has received from 706 Design. The firm’s new website is under construction; the existing one doesn’t work too well but the outfit seems to have several offices throughout Mexico, plus locations in Argentina and the US.

706 Design has done the promotional materials for El Tinieblo mezcal, as well as the brand’s website (which also doesn’t work too well, but has a lot of information if you can get to it). It is difficult to determine just what parts of the brand the design firm has worked on, since the mezcal label’s antlered deer head seems to be an older element. It’s related to the hunting rancho of the same name, in the same area of Tamps. The 706 Design firm has done this work, too.

The freshest elements of the brand look are the logotype, surrounded by Mexican flag-colored bars and a starburst of agave in the center. El Tinieblo has a homemade air, though, when you compare it to better-known mezcal brands like La Fogata and (especially) the sophisticated Divino.

That may be purposeful. If the State of Tamaulipas, for example, is trying to revive the handcrafted mezcal industry and using the effort to establish jobs and grow tourism, then slightly “crafty” brand design fits the bill. Shuffling through websites, you can find other, better executions of the folk-art persuasion among the mezcals of Oaxaca far to the south.

Support your “local” brands. To try hand-crafted mezcal, just drive 150 kilometers south of McAllen, TX – a couple of hours by car. Otherwise, you’ll end up in a big-city liquor store buying some fakey corporate brand off the shelf.

Oh – the language challenge. I’m offering a contest-winning Starbucks gift card to anyone who can tell me the origin and English meaning of the word “tinieblo” – and I don’t mean the Colombian version you can find with a little digging on Google. First, I can’t believe that anyone would consciously name a consumer product after what’s obviously Colombian slang usage. Second, wouldn’t you think the product name would have something to do with the area or the rancho?

If you’re a fan of fine mezcals and tequilas, you might want to start stocking up now. A recent article in The Monitor newspaper which covers the Rio Grande Valley here in Texas announced that there’ll be a shortage of agave – in about seven years.


Susan Kirkland said...

Sounds like a love affair to me.

TEQUILA said...

I'm embarrassed, I guess I need to get that bottle and add it to my site.

Tinieblo in spanish translates to "the darkness" or "the dark side".


Anonymous said...

I drive by the museum about once a month, and have grown attached to Don Alfredo. Just absolutely fantastic. In fact I am drinking some right now. And the name means something sinister and dark. Devilish perhaps, but not in a funny way.

Richard Laurence Baron said...

Thanks, Anonymous - I am glad to note El Tinieblo continues to produce and please.

See my follow-on revelations about the name at:

Best for Friday!

Nikko said...

For more information about El Tinieblo please visit their new and improved website...

(I believe the english version is currently under construction so just click on spanish) It will show you a side of Tinieblo you didn't know existed...

Truly yours,

Nikko Gibler
Previous Head of Marketing / PR @ HQ El Tinieblo, Monterrey, Mexico

Richard Laurence Baron said...

Nikko, thank you for this head's up - what has been done represents a heckuva change for El Tineblo. The new website, the blog: That's a major effort (and very professional). I appreciate your sharing it with the readers...and what are you on to next?